Nearby residents oppose a casino proposal for The 78 megadevelopment, survey shows

The 78 skyline
A rendering of The 78 megadevelopment (foreground) to be built in the South Loop community. A survey of residents from the South Loop and surrounding communities shows strong opposition to a proposal that calls for a casino to be included in The 78. Rendering courtesy of Related Midwest
The 78 skyline
A rendering of The 78 megadevelopment (foreground) to be built in the South Loop community. A survey of residents from the South Loop and surrounding communities shows strong opposition to a proposal that calls for a casino to be included in The 78. Rendering courtesy of Related Midwest

Nearby residents oppose a casino proposal for The 78 megadevelopment, survey shows

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the old Michael Reese Hospital site in Bronzeville as one of five finalist proposals for a Chicago casino.

A majority of survey respondents from Chicago’s South Loop and neighboring communities oppose a proposal that would put a casino in a megadevelopment coming to that area.

The 78 Community Advisory Council hosted a virtual meeting Tuesday night to unveil results of its survey of more than 380 area residents. More than 100 community members joined the Zoom call.

The 78 Community Advisory Council convened the survey after city officials unveiled five finalist proposals for a Chicago casino last November. In addition to a proposal for a casino in The 78 megadevelopment, other proposed sites include the Lakeside Center of McCormick Place, the Marshaling Yards near McCormick Place, the Chicago Tribune printing site in the River West neighborhood, and the One Central development near Soldier Field.

About 74% of those surveyed said they were “highly unsupportive” of the casino proposal in The 78 megadevelopment.

More than 75% of survey respondents said a casino is not an appropriate use “for a healthy, vibrant riverfront.” The 78 megadevelopment, to be built by Related Midwest, is bordered by the Chicago River to its west, Roosevelt Road to its north, Clark Street to its east and Ping Tom Park to its south.

“We believe it was important to take the temperature of folks in … South Loop, Chinatown, Pilsen [and] Bronzeville, regarding a proposal for casino as part of the 78,” said Josh Ellis, a member of the The 78 council. Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the council in December 2019 to serve “as a conduit for community input as construction moves forward over the next three years.

Ellis told participants on the Zoom call that initially, “a casino was not part of the original proposal. It wasn’t part of anybody’s proposal in Chicago” — until in 2019, when the Illinois General Assembly passed its capital bill that substantially expanded gaming throughout the state. Ellis also pointed out that four of the five casino proposals the city has received are for sites in or near the South Loop or on Chicago’s South Side.

The 78 council’s survey results showed that while a minority of respondents were optimistic about new jobs and increased revenue for the city and state, the majority of residents are opposed to the casino coming to The 78. Those surveyed said they are concerned about increased crime and traffic, gambling addiction among low-income residents, a potential exodus of families and negative impacts on young children who attend nearby schools.

Most of the survey participants, 69%, live in the South Loop. About 14% live in Chinatown. Other respondents live in Pilsen, McKinley Park, University Village and Bronzeville. About 52% of participants identified as white, and 31% as Asian. Nearly 6% of respondents were Black, and about 8.5% were Latino.

Debbie Liu, another member of The 78 council, said the racial makeup of the survey respondents reflects the South Loop’s demographics, and that the group hopes to circulate the survey more widely to include diverse voices.

After the council presented its findings, community members weighed in with comments.

“This is got to be the absolute worst site they can possibly pick for a casino,” said Shadan Tofighi, a resident who lives in a condo building that overlooks the future site of The 78. “I can’t imagine where in the world you would have a casino next to a neighborhood with an elementary school, a whole bunch of children’s activities, parks, and people who have been living there for 30 years or so.”

Elisa Bell, another South Loop resident, echoed Tofighi’s sentiments.

“I can only imagine the increase in traffic, crime and the possibility of harm to our youth and community activities in that park and other places around in these areas,” said Bell, a child and adult psychiatrist who has lived in the South Loop for 21 years. “I’m really against this project because I foresee a lot of problems.”

These comments from South Loop residents reflected sentiments dating back to 2019, when a series of community meetings, including gatherings in nearby Chinatown and Bronzeville, showed a wariness from residents about a casino potentially coming to their neighborhood.

Liu, with The 78 council, said her group invited the aldermen whose wards are potential casino sites, including Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward, and Ald. Sophia King, 4th Ward. Only Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Sigcho-Lopez said he is “listening very carefully” to the feedback from residents. “We should never proceed or move forward without consulting with neighbors, especially those neighbors who are directly affected” by the casino, he said, adding that he shared their concerns about gambling addictions and “quality of life” issues. Sigcho-Lopez also questioned whether the Chicago City Council has provided the residents with due process, and whether the original proposal for The 78, which included public financing in the form of TIFs, should be revisited “if this is going to change completely into a casino proposal.”

Liu said her group would be presenting the results of the survey to city officials this Thursday, before the city narrows down the list of five proposals to two. She added that the survey will remain open for a couple of days, and that her group would send the city updated data as needed.

A community group called South Loop Community Against a Casino is also collecting signatures for its petition opposing the gaming industry from coming to their community.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.