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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot Acknowledges Fumble On Casino Announcement

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Lori Lightfoot

Lori Lightfoot speaks at an April 2019 press conference. On Thursday, Lightfoot said her administration failed in how it rolled out sites for a proposed casino in Chicago.

Manuel Martinez

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has acknowledged that she could have handled the rollout of potential Chicago casino locations better. That was after some aldermen complained they weren’t given notice of five locations the city said it will study.

“The headline should never be, ‘Aldermen Surprised.’ That should never happen and if that happened that’s a failure on our part. We will own it and we will correct it,” Lightfoot said Thursday.

Two South Side aldermen were quick to reject potential sites in their wards when the mayor revealed the preliminary site list in a press release. But the mayor also seemed to consider the opposition a bit premature, adding that none of the five potential locations on the city’s South and West Sides are set in stone.

“Don’t get fixated on those, because those may or may not be the actual sites,” the mayor added, saying the city had to identify potential locations for an independent consultant it is paying to determine if a casino is worth the investment.

The Nevada-based consultant, Union Gaming, has 45 days to complete its report. That means its findings — including revenue projections — will land right as the city council braces for budget season. That’s when they’ll have to decide how to close an ever-growing pension hole likely on an already fatigued constituency.

Potential Casino Sites

  • Former Michael Reese hospital (31st and Cottage Grove); Originally acquired by former Mayor Richard M. Daley for his failed 2016 Olympic bid, the city of Chicago has yet to figure out what to do with the large, lakefront adjacent parcel it is still making debt payments on. Mayor Rahm Emanuel pitched it to Amazon. Local Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward, said it was “appalling and offensive” to put a casino in a predominantly black neighborhood when casinos are known to have “deleterious impacts on existing communities, especially communities of color.” Freshman State Rep. Kam Buckner is also opposed, telling WBEZ, local neighborhood groups have been working on developing the property.

  • U.S. Steel/South Works (80th and Lake Shore Dr): Located in Ald. Sue Sadlowski-Gara’s 10th Ward, it’s one of the last pieces of developable property on the lakefront that isn’t under a strict Lakefront Protection covenant. This sprawling property borders Indiana, a state the city would compete with for casino dollars. Like Michael Reese, the U.S. Steel site was a potential Amazon site after developer McCaffery Interests scrapped a $4 billion proposal to build 13,000 homes. Buckner’s ward overlaps this site, too. He said a casino could be “a once in a lifetime chance” for the city to finally redevelop the area that’s been vacant since the steel plant closed.

  • Former Silver Shovel Site (Roosevelt & Kostner): The only West Side location on the list, this North Lawndale property has a colorful history involving a mob boss-turned federal informant who sent several aldermen to jail for accepting bribes in exchange for allowing illegal dumping on vacant lots. As a former federal prosecutor in the 1990s, Lightfoot sent one of those aldermen to jail. Ald. Michael Scott Jr., 24th Ward, has expressed interest in hosting the casino. It would join a burgeoning North Lawndale business corridor. Lagunita Brewery and Cinespace, the movie studio where Empire is filmed, are nearby.

  • Harborside Golf Course (111th and the Bishop Ford Freeway): also located in Ald. Garza’s 10th ward on the Far South Side.

  • Bronzeville (Pershing & State): One of the immediately rejected sites. Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, said a supermarket is “exactly what her community needs,” not a casino. “The Bronzeville community has a great need for additional retail and jobs, which this commercial development brings,” she said in a statement. Dowell is also just beginning what will likely be an exhausting community process on Chicago’s latest development: One Central.

Claudia Morell covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @claudiamorell.

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