DOWNTOWN — Chicago’s first casino will be a Bally’s in River West, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Thursday — despite the objections of some neighbors and aldermen.
Bally’s proposal is for a $1.7 billion casino to be built at the Tribune Publishing site at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. The casino would double as a resort with 3,400 slots, 170 table games, 500 hotel rooms, six restaurants, three bars, a 3,000-seat theater, an outdoor park and other amenities, according to the proposal.
Lightfoot will still need City Council and the Illinois Gaming Board to sign off on the deal.
Bally’s claimed this casino would have the highest annual payout for the city: nearly $200 million. All the companies had pledged to open a temporary casino in spring 2023 and finish a permanent one by late 2025 or early 2026.
The temporary casino will be located at the Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., “due to its proximity to major transit and retail/hospitality corridors” and in an effort to boost nearby businesses struggling during COVID-19, according to the mayor’s office.
Lightfoot cited Bally’s financial benefits when announcing why it was picked, saying it will provide a $40 million upfront payment to the city and $4 million annually for the Host Community Agreement, and it’s the only operator that didn’t have a competing casino in the region.
Bally’s also has an agreement with organized labor, and the company has “committed to take input from the community” on how it redevelops the Tribune site, Lightfoot said.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward the casino would be in, said in a news release he supports Bally’s coming to the Tribune Publishing site.
But neighboring officials have voiced opposition to the Bally’s plan — and some had concerns about Lightfoot announcing it without including City Council.
“My understanding was we would have the opportunity to evaluate the options and … actually vote on it,” nearby Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said Wednesday. “If [Lightfoot is] going to usurp that entire process … before we’ve completed our work and just making a decision, I wish she would have told us that at the outset.”
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) also opposes the Bally’s proposal, airing his grievances with Crain’s Chicago Business political reporter A.D. Quig on an April 25 episode of her podcast.
Reilly said on the podcast the Bally’s site makes “no sense” logistically and accused the site of getting preferential treatment for not having to pay a second $300,000 filing fee for another casino proposal it submitted with the city. City officials deny that claim, saying another applicant who paid multiple filing fees did so because its entities were completely different, unlike Bally’s, which were the same.
“I’m concerned that there’s a select number of people in the Mayor’s Office dictating the course of this entire discussion, and it sure feels like Bally’s has been given a leg up and that’s not fair,” Reilly said on the podcast.
Local resident groups have also repeatedly said they don’t want the casino.
Leaders of the River North Residents Association said Wednesday it would be “very discouraging and disappointing” if Bally’s were to be announced as the city’s ultimate choice.
The organization has an ongoing residents’ survey where more than 80 percent of the 2,300 respondents have said they oppose the Bally’s proposal.
“We were expecting this to get towards the decision-making process in early summer … with many more meetings of the special committee and more opportunities for public input,” said Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association.
Members of the City Council’s Special Committee on the Chicago Casino received a 102-page packet of public comments and City Council correspondence on the three proposals last month. It included a 74-page submission from the River North Residents Association comprising multiple letters and hundreds of individual comments from neighbors saying they oppose the Bally’s plan.
At last month’s meeting, city officials promised they will hold additional community meetings before they make a final decision.
Casino committee chair Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has scheduled the committee’s next public meeting for 11 a.m. Monday. The agenda describes the hearing as a “subject matter hearing” to “discuss the finalists selected to develop a casino in Chicago.”
See renderings of the Bally’s proposal here:
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: