In 2022, the Cook County Assessor chased the pending sale the Chicago Bears had with the previous owner of the Arlington Park Racecourse. The prior owner appealed at the Assessor level but was denied a reduction. After further negotiations at the Board of Review (the next level in the property tax appeal process), the two sides agreed on a value of roughly $95 million. Well, the Assessor, Fritz Kaegi is back at it again — becoming a major thorn in the McCaskeys' side.
Before we dive into the numbers, let's review the property tax assessment process.
Cook County is divided into 38 townships and reassessed once every three years. Cook County operates three separate groups of properties — the city of Chicago, the southern and western suburbs, and the northern suburbs. This allows the Assessor's office to work with one group every year, alternating which group is reassessed. For example, in 2023, the south and west suburbs are being reassessed. In 2022, it was the north suburbs being reassessed and in 2021 it was the city.
We should note that the Assessor has the authority to reassess properties located in townships that are not scheduled for reassessment if there is a change due to a division, permit applications, or other special circumstances. As I mentioned in my article last June, "other special circumstances" feels a little vague and opens the door for the Cook County Assessor and his staff to essentially make up their own rules. This leads us to the appeals process.
Recent news could derail any hopes the Chicago Bears had for Arlington Heights
The Chicago Bears closed on the Arlington Heights property in February of 2023. Arlington Heights falls under Palatine Township, which was to be reassessed in 2022. This means that the Assessor chased a sale that took place after the lien date — the date (January 1 of the tax year) the county is supposed to base the value of the property on. In this case, that date would have been January 1, 2022. Again, the $197 million sale took place in February 2023. Yikes.
Of course, the prior owners appealed the property. As mentioned, after failing to receive a reduction at the Assessor level (first level of appeals), the owners successfully negotiated a reduction of just over $100 million with the Board of Review (second level of appeals). It should be noted however that in 2021, the property was only valued at roughly $33 million. This was a 600% increase in tax dollars owed by the previous owners and a huge issue for the Chicago Bears moving forward as they plan to fully develop the land with a new stadium, restaurants, hotels, stores, and even residential property.
Now, the Cook County Assessor is back at it again. After originally proposing the exact same value they refused to reduce in 2022, the Assessor reduced the value of the property from nearly $197 million down to roughly $192 million. The catch here is that they shifted the value of the property from the improvements (buildings) to the land. Reducing the improvement value made sense knowing the Bears (permits were filed) were to demolish the old racecourse. However, shifting it to the land to increase the aggregate value to basically the same as originally proposed is for a lack of better term — ballsy.
In fact, when we break down the value from a per-square-foot value, the Assessor increased the land value from $2.18 per square foot to $14.00 per square foot. The Chicago Bears are arguing that the land values were inflated relative to similar sales in the area. Without doing my own research, I don't doubt it.
Now, after presenting a case with multiple appraisals and requesting a value of $60 million, the Chicago Bears are looking to settle with the school districts once again. The school districts are intervening and presented an argument that the land should be valued at $160 million — $100 million over the value the Bears are proposing and $65 million over the value the previous owners settled at the Board of Review in 2022.
This property tax issue is really dragging things along for the Chicago Bears and Kevin Warren looks to have walked into a hornet's nest as the franchise is struggling to move forward with their stadium district project until they have reassurances that the property taxes will level off at a reasonable value. A once-promising development for the Bears is starting to look more and more like a nightmare.
Hearings just wrapped up last week at the Board of Review for the Palatine Township. I'd suspect if a settlement cannot be made, a decision by the Board should be made in roughly 4 to 6 weeks. Strap yourselves in. This one looks like it is going to be a roller coaster ride that might even put the team in Indiana!
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