City Hall publishes details on casino proposals

City Hall on Friday unveiled five competing proposals for the downtown casino that have eluded Chicago mayors for generations and established a rigid schedule to roll in the expected $ 200 million in annual revenue.

The broad outlines of the proposals to build a casino at McCormick Place Lakeside Center, the truck’s rankings next to McCormick Place, the vacant South Loop site known as “The 78” and the Chicago Tribune’s Near North Side publishing house have been known in weekly.

But Friday’s unveiling of the five concluding proposals from Bally’s, Hard Rock and casino magnate Neil Bluhms Rivers Casino put more meat on the bones. Bally’s and Rivers both secured their bets with two proposals each.

A preview of Rivers Casino's proposal to recycle the Lakeside Center on McCormick Place.

A preview of Rivers Casino’s proposal to recycle the Lakeside Center on McCormick Place.
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The proposals differ in their location, dollar commitments and in how quickly they could be up and running. Another big difference is the number of additional planned hotel rooms.

Rivers Chicago McCormick, for example, highlights its plan to use the 2,900 existing Chicago hotel rooms near the Lakeside Center and build 250 more if necessary.

During a virtual briefing on Friday, CFO Jennie Huang Bennett and Samir Mayekar, Deputy Mayor of Economic Development and Neighborhood Development, said they are confident that all five proposals will generate “in the ballpark” of $ 200 million annually,

Maximizing revenue is critical because the money is earmarked for police and fire pension funds on the verge of bankruptcy. The same is true of minimizing the need for a city subsidy. Both mayoral assistants stressed that the casino proposals are “independent”, but did not rule out a tax subsidy for funding.

The summary proposals:

Rivers Chicago McCormick: This proposed rebirth of the underutilized Lakeside Center could be the cheapest and fastest to market in an estimated 12 months. The estimated cost of 2,600 gaming positions is $ 1.3 billion – $ 700 million less than the most expensive proposal. It requires an updated Arie Crown Theater and will provide direct access to the existing, more modern and better utilized McCormick Place convention halls. It is not necessarily positive. Some in the conference industry do not want a casino so close to the existing complex for fear that it will distract convention attendees from the show floor.

Rivers hails its proposal as a bankrolling of “much-needed restoration and deferred maintenance” of the Lakeside Center, which McCormick Place officials would otherwise find difficult to fund. Developers further claim that there is “ample parking” and that the 2,900 existing hotel rooms are already connected by a covered walkway.

Rivers 78: This proposal for the long vacant, 62-acre South Loop site, once owned by convicted political player Tony Rezko, carries a cost of $ 1.6 billion. But it also has a potential political problem. This may conflict with Governor JB Pritzker’s plan to use part of the property for a technology research center at the University of Illinois.

“My understanding is that if this is chosen, the developers have a vision where these two would coexist,” Mayekar said.

The South Loop development includes a 450,000-square-foot casino with 3,300 gaming positions, a “world-class sports book” and an entertainment complex that includes what partners call a “reborn Mister Kelly nightclub.” It also has a design flair that includes a “1,000-foot-high observation tower, with breathtaking, custom-built viewing and event spaces inspired by Chicago’s historic bridges.” The site is described as “shovel-ready” and the “most accessible” of the five sites, with the potential to draw 7 million annual visitors. But it can draw a lot of opposition from South Loop residents, especially in Dearborn Park, which is next door to the east.

The observation tower could also be a flash point because it would be almost as high as 875 N. Michigan Ave., formerly known as the John Hancock Center.

A rendering of a Hard Rock casino at the One Central development site near Soldier Field.

A rendering of a Hard Rock casino at the One Central development site near Soldier Field.
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Hard rock: This $ 1.7 billion casino and entertainment complex will be located next to the proposed One Central project, which developer Bob Dunn wants on a platform over Metra tracks near Soldier Field. The problem is that the One Central project relies on a $ 6.5 billion publicly subsidized transit center. And both Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have been cool on that idea.

If they can be persuaded to get around, the developers plan to build a new Hard Rock Hotel with up to 500 rooms. Hard Rock, playing to its strengths, highlights its “entertainment-focused strategy with nearly 35,000 booked live acts annually.” They call the development a “holistic, destination development to attract locals, the existing tourist base [including conventioneers] and evoke new tourism. ”

They even claim that the site would generate an additional $ 70 million in gaming revenue for the city and $ 81 million more for the state “compared to any other location in Chicago.” Hard Rock developers also plan to set up a temporary casino – within six to nine months – at the Lakeside Center and use existing parking at the convention center. This plan also faces a potential buzz saw of opposition from South Loop residents. They have already mobilized in opposition to Dunn’s proposed wall of new high-rise buildings to be built on the “transit tabletop.”

The Bally's proposal for a casino at the Chicago Tribune's Freedom Center printing office, 777 W. Chicago Ave.

The Bally’s proposal for a casino at the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing office, 777 W. Chicago Ave.
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Bally is at the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center: This development would be at a location at 777 W. Chicago Ave., where the Tribune and Sun-Times are now printed. Developers are proposing to use adjacent property north of Chicago Avenue as a temporary casino site. The permanent casino will include 2,700 slots and 95 table games. The price is $ 1 billion for Phase 1 with the potential for $ 600 million more in a “follow-up phase, subject to achieving a sustainable, 20% initial investment.” The entertainment component would include a River West outpost for the legendary comedy club “Second City”. The Bally Sports Bar would offer “constant celebrity athlete events” and a “truly immersive sports experience” that includes a museum that highlights Chicago’s sporting history. Bally’s primary selling point is a global brand that it claims will draw additional visitors to Chicago. Without mentioning Rivers and its existing Des Plaines casino, the company claims that it is “conflict free” with no other interest in the Chicago market. “We do not operate, own or otherwise own any casino property located elsewhere on the Chicagoland Market,” it said. Bally’s further claims that its proposal would “accelerate revenue” for the city through an “advance incentive payment of $ 25 million” if granted a gaming license.

What a Bally's casino could look like if it were built on a truck shunting ground near McCormick Place.

What a Bally’s casino could look like if it were built on a truck shunting ground near McCormick Place.
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Bally’s McCormick Place: This version of Bally’s casino would be located at the truck’s marshalling yards to McCormick Place at 31st Street and DuSable Lake Shore Drive. Local Ald. Sophia King (4th), chair of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, is sharply opposed to this place because of its proximity to her developmental baby: housing and medical research complex on the site of Michael Reese Hospital bought by the city for an Olympic Village that was never built . Neighbors have embraced that development but do not want a casino near it. Neither does King. Mayekar and Bennett said a “partnership” with city council members to approve the final casino site is important. But they do not exclude the rankings. This Bally’s proposal promises a $ 50 million “advance incentive payment” to the city, double its Freedom Center promise. Like the second Bally’s proposal, Phase One promises a $ 1 billion investment with the potential for $ 600 million more. The plan includes 2,700 slot machines and 95 table games; a luxury hotel with 100 suites; an outdoor music venue with 500 to 1,000 seats; and “green space for relaxation and recreation.” Phase 2 will add a 400-room hotel, “up to 4,000 total gaming positions” and a “flexible 3,000-seat indoor entertainment venue that can accommodate large performances, small meetings and private events.” Bally’s McCormick is unique in his proposal to use “part of the available 4,000 gaming positions allocated to the project” for O’Hare and Midway airports.

Lightfoot wants to make a final recommendation to the Illinois Gaming Board during the first quarter of next year.

To this end, City Hall is poised to launch the public engagement process with a public hearing on December 16, where developers will make presentations and answer questions.

It will be followed in early 2022 by negotiations with a developer recommended by a city audit committee and elected by the mayor and approved by the city council and the Chicago Plan Commission.

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