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Sears eyeing move to Ohio or Texas

By Prescott Carlson in News on Oct 6, 2011 6:20PM

Executives at Sears say they are considering abandoning their sprawling campus in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates and moving to Texas or Ohio unless their extortion demands are met current tax breaks are extended.

Sears sits on a property that was deemed an economic development area in 1989, which is what helped entice the company to move its headquarters there from the Sears "It Will Never Be Willis, Dammit" Tower in the early 1990s, and stay there when it merged with Kmart six years ago. The EDA works similarly to a tax increment financing district in that it freezes property taxes in the district at a certain rate, with the rest going into a fund -- a lot of which went into developing the industrial park where Sears is located. The EDA is scheduled to expire in 2013.

Now an amendment to a bill that ironically reforms TIF practices in the state seeks to extend the Sears EDA for an additional 15 years. The bill was passed by the Illinois House in May, and is currently scheduled for a vote by the Illinois State Senate in late October.

The amendment is getting serious push back from the local School District 300, which, like many other districts in the state, are facing a budget deficit in large part because Illinois is late paying its bills. The district wants the EDA to expire so it can reap the extra property tax dollars, and has been pleading with Hoffman Estates officials to help join the fight to have the amendment removed from the bill. There are just a few problems, however. Hoffman Estates wants Sears to stay, the village isn't likely to give up its massive slush fund, and the only property in the village that sits within D300 boundaries is commercial -- not a single Hoffman Estates resident attends D300 schools, so the negative political cost to extending the EDA is virtually zero.

According to the Daily Herald, sources at Sears say the company is being lured with tax breaks and other financial incentives from Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio, and the company is far from being coy about their plans if they don't get their way in Illinois:

"Our commitment to our associates and shareholders is to be thorough in our review of our opportunities in the hopes of resolving this matter in the near future," Sears spokesman Chris Braithwaite said in a statement. "We have received offers from a number of states and recently conducted site visits and facility tours at a pair of them. We also look forward to continuing our productive and positive discussions with officials here in Illinois."

Officials in Texas and Ohio are refusing to lay their cards on the table and are keeping quiet as to what goodies they are dangling in front of Sears.

Gov. Pat Quinn spokeswoman Annie Thompson told the paper, "Sears plays an important role in our state's economy, which is why the governor and his administration are continuing extensive talks with the company."

She added, "The governor's door is always open to business leaders to continue discussing other ways we can improve Illinois' business climate to create more jobs and expand the economy."