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River North Group Wants Bally’s Casino To Scrap Riverfront Music Venue For A Public Park

Bally's officials said they'd consider the group's push for a park as negotiations continue. "I like to go to concerts but not across the street from my house,” one River North leader said.

A rendering of Bally’s proposal for a $1.7 billion casino to be built at the Tribune Publishing site at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

RIVER NORTH — A River North group is pushing Bally’s to drop the outdoor music venue its planning at Chicago’s first casino and replace it with a public park.

The request comes after the River North Residents Association lobbied against Bally’s $1.7 billion casino planned for the Chicago Tribune Publishing site with support from Downtown Alds. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Brian Hopkins (2nd) — but ultimately lost when City Council approved the casino in May.

But the loss hasn’t stopped the group from making bold recommendations to casino officials to make the site more bearable for residents.

A public park is just one in a 42-item wish list the group submitted to Bally’s. Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association, said residents across the river don’t want to bothered by the loud noise a riverfront music venue would bring.

“A lot of people obviously like to go to concerts, I like to go to concerts but not across the street from my house,” Israel said.

Bally’s did not respond to questions from Block Club. Israel said Bally’s leaders indicated in a July 7 meeting with the River North Residents Association that they’d consider their request. Bally’s responses to their 42-item checklist were captured on a document by the association.

Initially Bally’s executives assumed the 1,000-seat outdoor music venue would be a welcomed amenity, according to the document. Casino officials now plan to meet with eight to 10 other groups that represent the area’s interests to identify common and unique requests, Israel said.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), whose ward includes the River West casino site, said the River North Residents Association hasn’t met with him to discuss its concerns. But if Bally’s agrees to eliminate the outdoor music venue for a public park, he said he’d be “open” to the idea.

“I don’t know how that would affect the deal that was voted on and if that that legally can happen, because I’m sure it’s a part of the financial package in the agreement,” Burnett said.

The West Central Association, the chamber of commerce for the West Loop, hasn’t met with casino officials yet but will in the near future, said President Armando Chacon.

Other notable requests from the River North Residents Association included:

  • Build an eastbound exit ramp and westbound entrance ramp connecting the casino directly to the Ohio-Ontario feeder.
  • Extend Jefferson Street to Grand Avenue to relieve Halsted congestion
  • Dedicate 2% of annual revenues received by the city to establish “neighborhood-based gaming outreach and treatment” for gambling addiction.
  • Move all concerts and performances indoors and limit to 15 days a month.
  • Extend security patrol four blocks in every direction from both the temporary and permanent casino site.

Bally’s officials said large-scale events would likely take place three to four days a week, according to the River North Residents Association’s meeting document.

Credit: Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
Residents line up to ask Bally’s executives and city officials questions on the casino proposal for the Tribune Publishing Site.

Bally’s rejected the eastbound exist and westbound entrance ramps, perceivably one of the most costly requests, saying the idea was “thoroughly evaluated but was rejected due to high cost, extended construction timeframe, amount of land required and low probability of approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation,” according to the document.

River North association officials acknowledged that request was a “long shot.”

“The idea was if [visitors] could get directly on and off the highway, it would definitely be a relief, but we knew it was an unlikely proposition,” Israel said.

On security, Bally’s officials said they will work with the Chicago Police Department to add external patrols around the temporary Medinah Temple casino site and permanent River West casino site in addition to installing additional exterior surveillance cameras and possibly license plate readers, the document said.

Currently, Bally’s is preparing its final submission for the Illinois Gaming Board and plans to meet with other local groups before making a final decision on various requests, Israel said. But he’s hoping the company will circle back with concrete answers in the next several weeks.

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