Mayor Scott Wehrli said conversations he’s had with the Chicago Bears about potential business opportunities in Naperville are just that, conversations.
At the start of Tuesday’s Naperville City Council meeting, Wehrli said he reached out to the football franchise and met with team officials last week about building a new stadium in Naperville to explore a possibility that could benefit the city economically.
“Discussions like this are standard and principled economic development practice, especially in a competitive regional environment like ours. … No development proposal was submitted to the city. No incentives were discussed, requested or offered by either party in these meetings,” Wehrli said.
The Bears issued a statement June 2, the days officials met with the mayor, that said plans to build “the largest single development project in Illinois history” in Arlington Heights are “at risk” and they are exploring other options.
Many have suggested the action was a ploy to pressure a reduction in the tax assessment for the Arlington Heights site they’ve already purchased for the new stadium. The former Arlington Park race track land was assessed at a value that Bears officials say is far higher than the property’s worth given no stadium has been built on it and it’s not being used for any other purpose.
News of Bears President/CEO Kevin Warren meeting Friday with Wehrli, members of the Naperville Development Partnership, a city staffer and a city council representative sparked excitement and debate on social media about transparency and the need for public input.
Among the critics was Naperville City Councilman Ian Holzhauer, who said on Facebook he had no knowledge of the May 24 letter sent by the mayor to Warren suggesting they discuss possible city stadium sites, although Wehrli said he was writing “on behalf of the city of Naperville.”
Holzhauer said he learned of the Bears statement and the mayor’s letter and meeting at the same time the public did. In his post, he raised questions about the economic benefits of a stadium in Naperville and concerns about the possibility that local school districts could be shortchanged by such a deal.
However, City Councilman Josh McBroom, also speaking on Facebook, said he was encouraged that the mayor was using his business acumen to seek out potential economic opportunities that could be a source of revenue for Naperville’s tax base.
It’s within the purview of the mayor to have discussions with developers and investors who may have interest in doing business in Naperville, he said.
“If nothing else comes of this besides our mayor sending a signal to the state that Naperville is open for business and willing to listen to economic development ideas, that’s a win in my book,” McBroom said.
Resident Steve Shamrock urged the council Tuesday to consider the social objective and overall economic goal of a stadium in Naperville before considering any proposal.
A massive stadium project would fundamentally change “the character, ability, cost, environment and healthiness of our town,” he said.
If the concept presented to the Bears evolves into an official development proposal from the the team, the city will follow established procedures, Wehrli said.
“Our city applies a robust public input and review process, including numerous opportunities for community input, review by relevant boards and commissions, and ultimately a very public process before the City Council,” the mayor said.
Finding ways to put underutilized commercial properties to work, especially those in the Interstate 88 tollway corridor, is “mission critical for our community as we strive to keep our schools funded and our property tax rate low,” he said.
Wehrli told the Bears several available or soon-to-be-available sites may fit the characteristics the organization is looking for in a future home.
He did not disclose what locations he suggested, but one site large enough for such a development is the 178-acre former BP campus property along Warrenville Road between Washington and Mill streets. Located on the north side of the I-88 corridor, it would be accessible from I-88′s Naperville Road and Winfield Road exits.
Wehrli said the city will continue to work as a team to attract jobs, investment and economic development opportunities “to keep Naperville one of the best cities in America.”
The Bears have a stadium lease at Soldier Field in Chicago through 2033, but want to build their own stadium in order to make money from new seat licenses, luxury suites, naming rights and other amenities, officials have said.
The team will continue with demolition of the race track on the Arlington Heights land it now owns but, based on last week’s announcement, the site is “no longer our singular focus.”
The organization maintains its plan to build an enclosed stadium with an accompanying entertainment and residential development in Arlington Heights is not a done deal. Many questions remain unsettled on such things as property tax limits and public subsidies being sought for the needed infrastructure.
Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/06/07/naperville-mayor-defends-meeting-with-bears-about-stadium-stressing-protocols-will-be-followed-if-proposals-made/