CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s announcement Wednesday that she had asked a consultant to study the feasibility of building Chicago’s casino at one of five locations on the South or West sides was immediately rejected by 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell and 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King.
Nevada-based Union Gaming Group LLC has been retained as a consultant and will study the feasibility of a casino in five locations:
- Near the Harborside Golf Course near 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway;
- The former Michael Reese Hospital site at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue
- A site near the White Sox’ stadium at Pershing Road and State Street
- The former U.S. Steel South Works foundry, between 79th and 91st streets along South Lake Shore Drive
- Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue on the West Side.
Illinois’ gaming expansion law, signed by Gov. JB Pritzker last month, gives the city one of six new casino licenses — with permission to build a “mega-casino” with up to 4,000 gaming positions, which is double the amount of the newly increased limit on gaming positions in the state’s other casinos.
Per the new law, Union Gaming must report back to state and local officials on its findings within 45 days — but King and Dowell declared both the Michael Reese Hospital site and the Pershing Road and State Street site off the table.
King, whose ward includes the northern end of Bronzeville, called the suggestion that a casino would be built in the neighborhood “appalling and offensive given the deep and storied African-American history in Bronzeville.”
“It would be like putting a casino in Harlem,” King said.
King said she planned to unveil a plan for a “mixed-use community” developed by the Michael Reese Advisory Committee with the GRIT development team “soon.”
That plan will “offer the best and highest use of the former Michael Reese site and add vibrancy to the community,” King said.
A casino would destroy Bronzeville’s vibrancy and cause social ills, King said.
“The image that sends to a historic African American community with all of the history it provides is a very negative one,” King said.
Dowell said she had a commitment from Pete’s Fresh Market to build a full-service grocery store at Pershing and State.
“A Pete’s Fresh Market is exactly what my community needs at this location,” Dowell said. “The Bronzeville community has a great need for additional retail and jobs, which this commercial development brings.”
A casino “would not appropriate” at Pershing and State, Dowell said.
“There are other more suitable locations in the city where a casino could be built,” Dowell said. “We need to focus on building upon the historic legacy of Bronzeville by prioritizing additional housing, small business and retail growth, cultural attractions, public safety and improved educational opportunities.”
Lauren Huffman, a spokesperson for Lightfoot, said the mayor’s office will conduct a separate site selection process that will take place in public and consider aldermanic and public input once the consultant’s feasibility study is complete.
“While a Chicago casino had been talked about for more than 30 years, today we are moving forward to ensure the new casino is viable for Chicago and all of its communities,” Lightfoot said in a statement.
Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) has repeatedly urged city and state officials to pick Harborside for the casino, saying it would provide a much needed boost for the Southeast Side, which has suffered from a lack of investment for decades.
The former U.S. Steel site is also in the 10th Ward.
Likewise, Ald. Michael Scott (24th) has said he would welcome a casino at Roosevelt and Kostner, which was used as a dumping ground for FBI informant John Christopher, who helped send several aldermen to jail as part of Operation Silver Shovel in the 1990s.
None of the proposed sites are Downtown, where most business and leisure travelers to Chicago end up, thanks to aggressive development by the city’s tourism bureau, Choose Chicago According to statistics released by the agency in January, the city saw an unprecedented 57.6 million visitors in 2018 — a 4.3 percent jump over the previous year’s record of 55.2 million.
Pritzker has also said he’d rather not place a Chicago casino anywhere near McCormick Place or the city’s central business district, telling newspaper editorial boards last month that he’d like to see the casino developed in an area of Chicago that has not benefited from the recent development boom downtown.
However, King said the casino should be Downtown, perhaps in the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop. The state-owned building serves as the biggest hub of Illinois government employees and agencies outside of Springfield, but within two years it should be off Illinois’ books.
Pritzker signed SB 886 approving the sale of the Thompson Center in April, and the state is still in the first phase of the sale, which is expected to conclude in early 2021.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he was not disappointed a Downtown casino wasn’t on Lightfoot’s initial list.
“We’ve got a lot of good things happening Downtown, and we’ve got a lot of areas of the city that could do better,” Reilly said. “This could be a real economic magnet for communities that are struggling. If you put [a casino] in a neighborhood that just needs a little bit of a boost to make it over the hump, that could go a long way.”
But Reilly also said any casino the city eventually approves should be close enough to Downtown so business travelers and tourists would be able to travel there easily.