O'Donnell: Is Bears' Arlington Park redevelopment about to devolve into a beggars banquet?

  • Bears chairman George H. McCaskey smiles as he listens to a question at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

    Bears chairman George H. McCaskey smiles as he listens to a question at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. Associated PRess/Jan. 31, 2022

Updated 9/7/2022 2:25 PM

THERE WILL BE NO HONEY BEARS at Hersey High School Thursday night.

There will, apparently, be Money Bears, though, and that's not good news for anyone rooting for the Chicago Bears to wind up at Arlington Park.


Those Money Bears will be led by chairman George McCaskey. He is expected to be front and center at the team's "informational community meeting."

The team has downscaled estimates of available public seating for the 7 p.m. event to 2,000 -- or less than 5% of the registered voters in Arlington Heights.

There will also be no livestreaming or broadcast audio or video of any kind.

IN A SIX-PARAGRAPH NEWS RELEASE Tuesday, McCaskey's organization made it clear that they will likely seek no public money to build a new stadium. But there is probable internal intent to cajole a significant chunk of taxpayer's dough to redevelop the remainder of the 326 acres.

The Money Bears called it "partnering with the various governmental bodies."

The mere thought of that -- public money to bring the Chicago Bears to Arlington Heights during these trying economic times -- suggests the team's latest initiative to move northwest might wind up where all of the others have since George Halas first discussed such a transfer with Arlington Park empress Marje Everett back in 1968.

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And that's in the trash bin.

IT DOESN'T TAKE A LIMITED POLL by a conservative group, a liberal vanguard or a phalanx of inquiring Martians to understand that the majority of residents of Arlington Heights don't want to spend one manhole nickel to bring the Staleys to their suburb of 78,000.

What can't be overlooked in the ongoing fog over the Bears-to-Arlington gambit is that to date, it's accomplishing two things notably favorable to power:

• It's enabling the calloused masters of Churchill Downs Inc. to dance away from their strangulation of Arlington Park, still potentially one of the most regal race tracks on the planet; and,

• It is giving McCaskey and historically overwhelmed associates the whiff of a clean Etch-a-Sketch to forge with into the 21st century.

THERE CAN ALSO BE little doubt about the timing of the Bears' initial public overture to the citizens of Arlington Heights.


The live meeting is the team's hurry-up answer to the August poll by the conservative Americans For Prosperity.

Those "Americans" received a rush of publicity in August when they announced the results of a poll of "300 residents" of Arlington Heights. That's like having two people with clipboards stand in the midst of the village's Arlington Alfresco restaurant district on a summer Thursday and bug passing strollers.

The Prosperity poll claimed that "72 percent" of those asked were in favor of the Bears at Arlington Park. But "68 percent" were against the use any public money to bring them there.

An extremely informal poll of the Arlington Heights-based Insouciants For Transparency will take it one step farther:

Only the most pretentious and the most lobotomized in Arlington Heights want to spend any taxpayer money to bring the Chicago Bears to replace the storied racing palace lingering on the doorstep of obscene ruin by the greed of Churchill Downs Inc.

SO GEORGE MCCASKEY AND MONEY BEARS will begin their tin-cupping at Hersey High School Thursday night.

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes has said public funding for the proposed stadium at AP will be considered only as "a last resort."

Here's a note for Hayes, who hopefully is a huge devotee of civic transparencies:

To begin cogent consideration of all options by his constituency, why not commission an external forensic accounting of all who have profited from the frenzied TIF-fueled redevelopment of the Arlington Heights downtown area since 1978?

Some people have made out very well from all those big buildings and profitable restaurants, almost all in the privileged district south of the Metra tracks.

Has the village done as well? Should TIF even be considered as "a weapon in the arsenal" of the Hayes administration regarding the Bears/AP maneuvering?

LET YOUR PUBLIC, MAYOR HAYES, see exactly who those fortunate builders and investors have been.

For Hayes or any future mayor of Arlington Heights to turn away a multibillion sports entertainment corporation and its clammy profiteering, it's going to take fact piled upon fact, resolve triggered by clarity and a platinum standard of ethical, open leadership.

In the meantime, opening Thursday night at Hersey High School, the debut presentation of "Benefit for the Money Bears."

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears Sunday. And Thursday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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