PRINTERS ROW — If the team behind the Hard Rock casino proposal hoped to win over the public, they may have their work cut out for them.
In a contentious Tuesday night meeting at Harold Washington Library in the Loop, residents blasted city officials and company leaders for the lack of details around the project, and questioned how it would affect crime in the area and spur community investment. Some roundly rejected the idea, saying they worried about the scale of the project on the southern end of One Central, a massive mixed-use project covering 32 acres between Museum Campus and McCormick Place.
The entertainment complex would be built near 18th Street. The 3,000-slot casino would come with a 3,500-seat entertainment venue, a 500-room hotel, 8 restaurants, 6 lounges and 166 table games. If chosen, the team is prepared to go from groundbreaking to grand opening within 30 months, company leaders said.
The team, comprised of Loop Capital CEO Jim Reynolds, Hard Rock Chairman Jim Allen, Landmark Development President Bob Dunn and Urban League Chicago President Karen Freeman-Wilson made their pitch to the audience with a series of short video presentations laying out their plans for the site near Soldier Field, which also featured appearances from predominantly Black businesses owners — including Josephine’s Cooking owner Josephine Wade — voicing support.
Reynolds touted the project’s diversity bonafides, saying Hard Rock would have record minority involvement with stakeholders making key decisions in every step of the process. Reynolds, whose investment firm is controlling partner, shares 50 percent ownership with Landmark Development. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has owned a majority stake in the casino for 15 years.
Members of the community would also have an opportunity to invest in the casino through a community investment corporation, receiving their dividends first before larger stakeholders, Reynolds said.
But some residents weren’t impressed.
In a heated exchange with Reynolds, Ex Cons for Community and Social Change (ECCSC) Founder Tyrone Muhammad challenged the diversity claim, drawing comparisons to the city’s cannabis equity efforts.
“We never had these tables to give economic opportunity to young men. I’m not talking about Brown, because when I ride past these billion-dollar construction sites, I see white and Latino. I don’t see Black men,” Muhammad said.
Reynolds offered to speak with the activist privately after the meeting. Pointing to his ties to Englewood and work in the community, the financier told Reynolds he was committed to making good on his promise to bring economic opportunities to those previously denied.
South Loop resident Marge Halper took aim at the proposal itself.
“We don’t even know what it is because there is no actual proposal. That’s what Ald. [Pat] Dowell tells us when she’s she says she’s not taking a position because there is no proposal. We don’t know what One Central is, but we do know that statewide, we don’t want to spend $6.5 billion to subsidize something you said we’ll own but didn’t ask for,” Halper said.
Dunn maintained the casino would be “separately financed, separately designed and separately owned.”
“Hard Rock is a project that can and will advance on its own, regardless of what happens with One Central,” said Dunn, who added that community meetings to discuss One Central have been ongoing.
The city’s Chief Engagement Officer Martina Hone also clashed with residents who pushed back or interrupted some of the speakers. Twice she told attendees to “chill,” threatened to cut the mic for one resident and urged the audience to be calm as tensions rose toward the end of the meeting. In another instance, she warned the crowd about “screaming and hollering.”
Allen said his team will try to incorporate the work of local artists into the design. A team of employees will be dispatched to the city to meet with local artists to “try to understand that history,” ultimately creating a palette that will complement the area, Allen said.
The Hard Rock team encouraged residents to continue giving feedback, promising to work with them so that the final vision is something everyone can enjoy.
Two more teams, Bally’s and Rivers 78, will share their plans at their respective community forums Wednesday and Thursday. Bally’s will be talking to residents Wednesday at the Tribune Publishing Center, 700 W. Chicago Ave., and the Rivers 78 team at the Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road. Both meetings start at 6 p.m. and will be livestreamed on chicago.gov.
Check out more renderings of what the Hard Rock casino could look like:
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: