Facing a chorus of opposition from Chicagoans near the remaining three possible casino locations, a committee of aldermen will begin meeting Monday to discuss where to allow the city’s first flashy gaming and entertainment district to be built.
The locations still in the running are: a site from Bally’s Corporation at the Tribune Publishing Center in River West, a site from Hard Rock just west of Soldier Field at a proposed development known as One Central and a site from Rush Street Gaming west of the South Loop in a megadevelopment known as The 78.
Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, chairs the new Special Committee on the Chicago Casino created by the mayor and approved by City Council last month.
“We’ll probably be narrowing it down,” Tunney said. “Sometime between April and May, I think we’re going to reconvene with the mayor and really try to fine tune and announce a finalist.”
No vote will be taken Monday, Tunney said, but rather aldermen will have a chance to talk to city officials and department leaders who have been involved in the casino planning process. The three bidders will not be at the meeting, but Tunney said there may be revisions submitted to the committee that take into account community feedback.
Earlier this month, the city held town hall meetings for each of the three proposals and got an earful from neighbors opposed to a casino being built close to their homes. Their overwhelming message: Not in my backyard.
“This casino does not belong in a neighborhood,” said Antonio Romanucci, a resident of River North, where the Bally’s casino would be built, if approved. “You are putting a square peg into a round hole.”
Others at the Bally’s meeting raised concerns about traffic, crime and noise from concerts.
At the meeting for the Hard Rock Casino at One Central, South Loop resident and political consultant Marj Halperin raised concerns about the plan being tied up with the bigger development. One Central got approval from the state legislature in 2019 for a tax subsidy, but there are a number of other hurdles the project still faces, including zoning approval from City Council.
“You put together a comprehensive proposal, but One Central is the millstone around your neck,” Halpern testified. “The community doesn’t want it.”
And while The 78 is marketed as an entirely new neighborhood, residents from the South Loop, Chinatown and Pilsen spoke in opposition to including a casino in the already approved megadevelopment.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t blow it on a casino,” said an 11-year-old named Sean, who spoke at the town hall for the Rivers 78 proposal. “A casino does not make a neighborhood. Things that attract families are what make a neighborhood.”
Last week, Lightfoot responded to the community blowback saying there is always “a level of NIMBYism” with large development projects.
“This has got to be a decision that’s made for the future of our city and not specific to a particular neighborhood,” she said. “One of the questions that folks have to ask [is] … would you rather that your taxes go up?”
It’s not just residents that will need convincing, but also their elected representatives.
The City Council members who represent the three sites and the surrounding communities have all come out against the specific proposals in their backyards.
Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr., 28th Ward, told Block Club Chicago he hoped the Bally’s proposal in his ward would not be chosen. He declined an interview request from WBEZ.
Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, issued a lengthy statement opposing the Hard Rock proposal at One Central in her ward. She said it would be “dropped into an existing, well-established family community” and added that even though the developer insists the casino and the megadevelopment are separate projects, it’s difficult to see them as anything but “interrelated projects.”
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, is against the Rivers casino at The 78 in his ward.
“It is clear that the residents of the 25th Ward — 80% of the residents — do not support this proposal,” Sigcho-Lopez said. He is the only alderman who has a finalist in his ward but is not on the special committee.
Tunney said he wants all Council members to participate in the meetings and said Sigcho-Lopez will not get left out despite not being on the committee.
“We have a tendency to support the local alderpersons on a project that has such an impact,” he said.
Both Tunney and Sigcho-Lopez said they liked the idea of a casino at McCormick Place — Tunney called it his “personal favorite” — but Lightfoot took both bids at that location off the table.
Tunney said if Lightfoot and the City Council come to a consensus, there would likely be a vote on a finalist in June or July.
“Whatever happens, you gotta have 26 votes,” he said. “I think at the end, there’s going to be a lot of negotiations.”
Becky Vevea covers Chicago government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.