Get more in-depth, daily coverage of Chicago politics at The Daily Line.
CHICAGO — The City Council is set to give its official blessing on Wednesday to a plan tying the fate of Chicago’s finances with Bally’s $1.7 billion blueprint for a casino, hotel and entertainment district in River West. The council is also on track to take a vote on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s controversial proposal to move up the city’s youth curfew to 10 p.m.
Following the abbreviated City Council meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, aldermen are set to reconvene for an impromptu 3 p.m. hearing forced by aldermen to grill police, parks and school district officials on their plans to get ahead of summer violence.
Following weeks of debate and multiple rounds of edits, the council’s Special Committee on the Casino voted 27-3 on Monday to advance a casino authorization ordinance (SO2022-1316) and corresponding “Host Community Agreement” (SR2022-587) designed to vault the city toward its goal of opening a downtown casino by this time next year.
Related: Casino plan survives bumpy debate, breezes through committee as Lightfoot’s curfew crackdown stalls
The seven-page ordinance up for final approval on Wednesday will authorize a casino as an allowable use in the city’s zoning code and exempt it from liquor moratoria. And thanks to a fresh edit last week, the ordinance will also require a $40 million upfront payment due from Bally’s be deposited directly into the city’s pension funds, and it requires regular reporting on minority hiring to the City Council Committee on Contracting Oversight and Equity.
The 147-page community benefits agreement includes a litany of commitments from Bally’s on hiring, labor practices, transportation logistics and other areas. It includes that within a year, at least one-quarter of the project equity “will be owned by Minority individuals and Minority-Owned and Controlled Businesses.” The provision had been previously written to sunset after five years, but officials cut that language following pushback from aldermen.
The agreement also charts out the following other commitments:
- That the developer “will use reasonable efforts” to enlist Chicago residents for at least 50 percent of work hours, including that 15.5 percent of work hours be “performed by actual residents of Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Areas of the City.”
- Submission of a “projected utilization schedule” and “workforce compliance plan” to the city charting out how it plans to meet minority hiring goals, with “quarterly written progress reports” detailing “compliance” with the requirements.
- That the developer will make a “good faith effort” to hire minority-owned businesses to oversee at least 26 percent of the total value of recurring maintenance, construction, renovation and other services. At least 10 percent of the work value must be completed by women-owned businesses, 2 percent by businesses owned by people with disabilities and 2 percent by veteran-owned businesses. Manufacturers of gaming equipment are exempt from the minority hiring goals.
- “Hiring a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion expert” to consult on staffing decisions.
The firm will be required to “provide an explanation” in its quarterly reports if it falls behind any “applicable goal” by more than 7.5 percent.
Related: Casino plan stumbles but remains on course for approval this week as aldermen demand more oversight
Bolstered by analysis from the firm Union Gaming, city leaders are projecting the casino to bring in more than $200 million in tax revenues by 2027. They include combined projected earnings from direct taxes on winning, property taxes, parking taxes and amusement taxes, finance officials told aldermen Monday.
But downtown aldermen Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) said Monday that they did not believe those projections. They and Ald. Michele Smith (43) have fervently opposed the Bally’s casino plan on a wide range of grounds, from the strength of its legal commitments to its potential for traffic congestion to its ecological impact on the Chicago River.
Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett and Deputy Mayor for Neighborhood and Economic Development Samir Mayekar spent more than two hours deflecting challenges from the trio of aldermen on Monday. They noted that the City Council will be empowered to fine-tune planning and transportation logistics through the zoning process later this year — but first, aldermen must pass the authorization ordinance and Host Community Agreement so the city can pursue a potentially lengthy application process with the Illinois Gaming Board.
Reilly, Hopkins and Smith were ultimately the only aldermen who voted against advancing the casino plan out of committee on Monday.
Bally’s has set a goal of opening a temporary gaming site at the Medinah Temple in River North by next spring and cutting the ribbon on the final casino in River West in early 2026.
Allies of the mayor deferred and published both proposals on Monday in a move to circumvent parliamentary stall tactics by practically guaranteeing a vote on the council floor Wednesday.
Curfew ordinance faces another test
Also deferred and published on Monday was Lightfoot’s ordinance (O2022-1596) codifying an earlier executive order that would require minors to be home or under the supervision of a “responsible adult” every night by 10 p.m. unless they are returning from a ticketed or organized event.
While members of the public safety committee voted 14-3 on Friday to send Lightfoot’s proposal to the City Council for a final vote on Monday, plenty of aldermen expressed concern that the new policy wasn’t properly researched and were skeptical it would do anything to tamp down violent crime.
Related: Lightfoot’s curfew ordinance clears committee as some aldermen decry it as ill-researched, lacking ‘teeth’
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37), two allies of the mayor, deferred and published the ordinance on Monday to kick it to Wednesday’s meeting. The move was interpreted as a potential sign that the plan lacked enough City Council support to pass — but the aldermen may have also been simply getting ahead of a delay tactic from detractors, similar to the casino ordinance. Sposato did not respond to a request for comment after the move on Monday.
If the ordinance is not called for a vote Wednesday, it would be the second time this year a crime-related proposal has breezed through the public safety committee only to hit a wall on the council floor. Lightfoot’s “Victim’s Justice Ordinance” (O2021-4130) passed committee in a 10-4 vote earlier this year. They mayor’s allies then deferred and published the ordinance on the council floor and have not resurfaced it since.
Related: Lightfoot’s proposal to sue gang leaders hits another delay as aldermen approve mayor’s COPA nomination
Lightfoot issued her executive order in response to the “emergency” created by “an increase in the number and seriousness of violent and property crimes committed by minors within the City,” according to the order. Seandell Holliday, a 16-year-old boy, was shot dead near “The Bean” in Millennium Park last Saturday.
Public safety committee chair Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29) filed a Rule 41 notice Monday morning bring the ordinance back to the council floor during Wednesday’s meeting.
The City Council is also set during Wednesday’s 10 a.m. meeting to give a final stamp to the items that cleared the council’s zoning and rules committees, including Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s (25) move to downzone (O2019-5785) the Saint Adalbert Church.
- Zoning committee set to consider downzone of closed Pilsen church ‘to guarantee an open process’
- Aldermen set to vet 14 nominees for interim police oversight commission, tossing appointments to Lightfoot
Special meeting on summer violence
In an echo of a similar move he and his City Council allies pulled last summer, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) filed notice on Monday for a special in-person meeting of the full council at 3 p.m. Wednesday to haul in leaders of three major city agencies so they can present and defend their plans to blunt an inevitable wave of summer violence.
State law allows any three aldermen to band together to call a City Council meeting with 48 hours’ notice. But Lopez scored the signatures of 29 of his colleagues before submitting the notice to the City Clerk’s Office midday Monday.
The notice calls on Chicago Police Department Supt. David Brown, Chicago Park District Supt. Rosa Escareño and Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez to give “reports” on how their respective agencies are planning to foster safe public spaces this summer.
When Lopez called a similar emergency meeting to interrogate Brown in early July last year, the superintendent “complained that it was too close to the holidays and it was going to be too disruptive,” the alderman told reporters Monday.
“So now, at the start of the season before Memorial Day, we’re going to invite him and all of our key players for an all-hands-on-deck City Council meeting Wednesday, when everyone will already be here. There’s no excuse for anyone not to participate.”
- Aldermen move to force special meeting to put Brown ‘on the stand’ over CPD summer plans
- Aldermen pounce as Brown, Lightfoot stand by ‘false narrative’ linking courts to shootings
Spokespeople for the police department, school district and park district did not respond to requests for comment Monday and Tuesday on whether the three leaders would attend.
While Brown, Escareño and Martinez have held multiple press availabilities to talk about safety programming, the leaders have “never held conferences where aldermen are able to ask questions,” Lopez said.
“We’ve seen weekend after weekend where headline after headline shows ‘mass shootings again,’ ‘superintendent in the hot seat again’ — I’m tired of that word ‘again, again, again,’” Lopez said. “We need to have some resolution, a cohesive strategy, and they need to hear from all 50 of the people who represent the 2.7 million people of the city, what our concerns are so that moving into the summer months, we have a legitimate plan in place to keep people safe.”
A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not respond to requests for comment on the casino vote, the curfew ordinance or the special meeting.