“Some experts are calling Bally’s River West – the much-ballyhooed site for Chicago’s $1.6 billion gaming extravaganza – Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s ‘casino-for-dummies.’ Mr. Zak observed, a veteran professional gambler, ‘The Chicago & Halsted site is the worst possible place they could put it.’
“This bustling intersection is boxed in by the Chicago River, bridges, and Metra railroad tracks – not an ideal site for a mega development. Traffic congestion on Chicago Avenue west of Halsted Street also includes a steady flow of trucks from a cement plant on Goose Island.
“The Chicago Tribune’s 30-acre Freedom Center printing plant at 777 West Chicago Avenue currently occupies the proposed casino location along with the newspaper’s newsroom.
“Bally also plans to open a temporary casino in the Medinah Temple building at 600 North Wabash Avenue in the third quarter of 2023. That’s a crazy idea because of River North’s traffic congestion
“However, Mr. Zak – and this writer – agree that the only logical startup casino site is Lakeside Center – the original McCormick Place East – for an instant ‘pop-up’ downtown casino that could raise millions in gaming tax dollars for the city by late 2022.
“Construction experts say Lakeside Center originally was designed and wired decades ago for a future casino, and there is plenty of nearby parking.
“High-tech construction perks, along with other cosmetic upgrades, could create hundreds of jobs, and the work could create an instant gambling casino.
“Move in 1,000 slots and video poker machines, add 200 manned gaming tables, toss in a few restaurants and bars, and Mayor Lightfoot’s cash register could start going ka-ching by late 2022.
“The seldom-used, 50-year-old Lakeside Center has 583,000 square feet of exhibit space. It is located near 2,900 hotel rooms, designed for high-traffic events, and would help draw thousands of eager conventioneer gamblers.
“However, to make Lakeside Center work – as a common sense, temporary casino – a two-year lease would have to be drafted between Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, managers of McCormick Place, and Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming. The company is headed by Chicago real estate developer Neil Bluhm, who owns four casinos, including Rivers Casino Des Plaines, the top grossing venue in Illinois.
“Scott Goodman, principal of Chicago-based Farpoint Development, Rush Street Gaming’s partner, said Lakeside Center – also known as Rivers Chicago at McCormick – is ‘a perfect adjunct to what’s already there, infrastructure, parking, and access.’
“And there are no traffic problems because Lakeside Center is conveniently situated on Lake Shore Drive. (DeBat, Loop North News, 5/23/22)
“The city passed on the two proposals involving the McCormick Place campus after the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns the convention center complex, said it was not interested in transforming any of its facilities into a casino.
“The rejected proposals for what is expected to be Illinois’ largest gambling establishment include a $1.3 billion Rivers Chicago McCormick bid to redevelop Lakeside Center, which developers touted as an opportunity to repurpose and renovate the 50-year-old steel-and-glass exhibition hall. McCormick Place said it has 235 events scheduled there that could not be rescheduled without a replacement.” (Channick and Pratt, Chicago Tribune, 3/22/22)
“But full disclosure: I thought Rivers McCormick Place was the front-runner, too, until convention officials declared they couldn’t possibly do without the crumbling Lakeside East building Rivers wanted. So officials get to keep the money trap. I wish them luck finding the $400 million-plus needed to repair it without raising taxes, a political nonstarter anymore.” (Hinz, Crain’s Chicago Business, 3/28/22)
City Council approves Bally’s $1.7 billion casino in River West; The plan for a casino along the Chicago River passed 41-7, but not before a screaming match between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who accused her of being “more worried about campaign contributions than doing the right thing for the city of Chicago.”, Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/25/22
Chicago Casino Approved By City Council After Screaming Match Between Mayor, Alderman; After a heated vote, the $1.7 billion casino planned for the Tribune Publishing site now goes to the state’s gaming board for final approval. Here’s what it will look like, Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago, 5/25/22
Playing oddsmaker on the Chicago casino sweepstakes; With the field now narrowed to three bids from five, the competition is intensifying—and at least one factor has shifted in one participant’s favor, Greg Hinz, Crain’s Chicago Business, 3/28/22
Did Lightfoot act too fast in rejecting a McCormick Place casino? Was the bid to put a casino at Lakeside Center any more or less flawed than the ones that made the city’s shortlist? The latest twist in the Chicago casino chase raises some tantalizing questions. Greg Hinz, Crains Chicago Business, 4/11/22
Casino or not, city has big decisions to make regarding Lakeside Center; While the future of Soldier Field takes up a lot of oxygen in Chicago’s political and civic discourse, its neighbor to the south, Lakeside Center, looms just as large, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 3/21/22