Bridgeview officials stung by a costly soccer stadium got an earful from angry residents Wednesday who complained of a lack of answers on how much the struggling venture will cost them.
“I would really like to know what the village plan is to handle this enormous debt,” resident Marge Woods said. “You can’t do it on the backs of us taxpayers.”
The exchange came Wednesday night at Bridgeview’s first village board meeting since the Tribune published a report detailing the small southwest suburb’s financial woes tied to its biggest bet, the 20,000-seat Toyota Park.
The taxpayer-owned home of the Chicago Fire has come up millions of dollars short of making its debt payments since opening in 2006. Meanwhile, the town has nearly tripled property taxes in less than a decade, even as the town offset some of the financial sting by taking out more loans to help make payments.
In all, the blue-collar suburb is now more than $200 million in debt.
In comparing towns’ debt to property values, the Tribune found Bridgeview had the highest debt rate in the Chicago area. Much of the debt is tied to a stadium deal in which the newspaper found insiders landed contracts and town officials enriched their political funds with stadium vendor donations.
Mayor Steven Landek, who is also an appointed state senator running for election this fall, at first offered to meet privately in the homes of the handful of residents who complained.
But resident Julie Padilla told Landek that her husband was so angry he wouldn’t let Landek in their house, and then she and two other residents asked Landek to hold a public forum. Landek said he would, although no date has been set.
Landek did tell the crowd that he was confident the stadium would pick up when the economy improved, and the village would make all of its loan payments. But he couldn’t say how much taxes could rise.
“Given the terrible economic downturn, we are still confident that everything is stable,” he said, adding later “we are confident that some of our economic projects will take hold.”