Why Rolling Meadows -- but not Arlington Heights -- got tax proceeds from Bears land deal
The state of Illinois and Cook County reaped nearly $300,000 in taxes from the Chicago Bears' purchase of Arlington Park, but -- because of the peculiarities of Illinois property tax code and decades-old annexations -- Rolling Meadows collected nearly $4,000 and Arlington Heights got nothing, the Daily Herald has learned.
The $197.2 million sale of the 326-acre racetrack that closed Feb. 15 provided $197,200.50 in real estate transfer taxes to state coffers, according to Illinois Department of Revenue records. The county got $98,600.25.
Both amounts were paid by the seller, Louisville, Kentucky-based Churchill Downs Inc.
But Churchill Downs' tax preparer at Sidley Austin had to fill out two separate state real estate transfer declaration documents: one for the 323.7-acre piece of property in Arlington Heights, and the other for a 2-acre sliver within Rolling Meadows' city limits.
For the small parcel -- located east of Rohlwing Road on the north side of Industrial Avenue, which leads to the old backstretch barns -- Rolling Meadows received $3,746.20, City Manager Rob Sabo confirmed.
About 70 municipalities in Illinois have a local transfer tax, including Rolling Meadows, which charges $3 for every $1,000 of the purchase price.
Rolling Meadows' tax has been on the books for decades. But Arlington Heights has never adopted such a tax.
Were the village to have had the same tax as its neighboring city, Arlington Heights would have collected more than $587,000 from the sale of the sprawling racetrack grounds.
"It would help, but we're confident that before this thing is all said and done, there's gonna be a significant amount of revenue generated from this site," said Arlington Heights Village Manager Randy Recklaus. "There will be opportunities to generate revenue for the village."
After changes to the property tax code in 1997 -- amid a heavy lobbying campaign by the Illinois Realtors association -- any new local transfer taxes by home-rule communities can be approved only by voters via referendum.
Recklaus said there isn't a high degree of likelihood that such a ballot measure could pass, since it would affect anyone selling a home in the village.
On the state level, transfer tax revenue is deposited into the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development Fund, and the Natural Area Acquisition Fund. Cook County and Rolling Meadows' tax revenue goes into general funds, officials said.
Meanwhile, the revelation that one of the five parcels in the Bears' Arlington Park land purchase is outside Arlington Heights' village limits has implications for the complex zoning and entitlement process the NFL franchise has only just begun.
Rolling Meadows has authority -- including zoning and permitting -- over the vacant parcel, so if the Bears propose to do any development or construction work on it, those plans would be subject to review by the city, Sabo said.
The traffic light at Rohlwing and Industrial -- in the shadow of the Route 53 bridge -- is controlled by Rolling Meadows, while the roadway that leads to the old stables at Arlington Park is a private drive and had been maintained by the racetrack.
The Bears' conceptual redevelopment plans show the street being used for primary vehicle circulation to the stadium, with landscaping on either side of the road.
Charles Witherington-Perkins, Arlington Heights' director of planning and community development, said he and village officials have promised to work with Rolling Meadows and the other units of local government that would be affected by the Bears' redevelopment.
"(Industrial Avenue) will probably have to be improved anyway, and there's going to be so many other things that we'll be talking with our neighbors, Rolling Meadows and Palatine, and others about when we get to that point and when the Bears submit plans," he said.
How the small strip of land ended up in Rolling Meadows' jurisdiction likely goes back to when much -- but not all -- of the property was annexed into Arlington Heights from Rolling Meadows in 1969.
The plat of annexation recorded on Nov. 4 of that year shows three large parcels being brought into Arlington Heights, including the south side of Industrial Avenue, while the north side of the street remains in Rolling Meadows.