Chicago Tribune Op-ed: Turning McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center into a casino would be a win for Chicago
“If a casino is coming to Chicago, then adapting Lakeside Center at McCormick Place for that use is the ideal choice.
“Lakeside Center is architecturally ambitious, innovative and massive. It’s also underused and has an uncertain future. Preservation Chicago considered it a “most endangered” structure in 2016 — and again in 2021 as part of the Chicago lakefront category.
“In 2019, an end-of-session legislative maneuver in Springfield attempted to raise $600 million in additional taxes to demolish and replace Lakeside Center. Fortunately for taxpayers and architecture aficionados, this effort failed. But the risk persists, and the loss of Lakeside Center would be tragic for Chicago.
“Alternatively, the Rivers Chicago McCormick plan would fully renovate the historical building at no cost to taxpayers, contribute about $200 million annually in additional tax revenue to pay down pension debt, generate hundreds of well-paid union jobs and create a dynamic south lakefront entertainment district.
“Chicago is a city of architectural innovation. This makes for great architecture tours and attracts visitors, but more importantly, massive buildings such as the old main post office, Sears Tower, Merchandise Mart and the old Cook County Hospital are powerful economic engines.
“Completed in 1971, Lakeside Center at McCormick Place was designed by Gene Summers and Helmut Jahn while they were at the C.F. Murphy Associates architecture firm. Both were students of world-renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and they applied many of Mies’ studies and design principles to Lakeside Center — on an enormous scale.
“The result was an architecturally innovative and monumental achievement for Chicago that helped reinforce Chicago’s title of “convention city,” by featuring the largest roof, the largest convention hall and the largest space-frame structure in the world. To provide scale, a football field is 1.3 acres. Lakeside Center’s rooftop is 19 acres.
“Lakeside Center is on a par with other legendary superstructures of that period. However, unlike the vertically oriented Hancock Center and Sears Tower, Lakeside Center is essentially “a horizontal skyscraper.”
“In true Chicago form, Lakeside Center could easily become the world’s largest casino. The WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Oklahoma, with 370,000 square feet of casino floor, is currently the largest. Lakeside Center has 583,000 square feet of exhibit space, leaving plenty of room for restaurants, bars, food halls, and concerts and cultural events, anchored by a fully renovated Arie Crown Theater.
“The Arie Crown is one of the largest theaters in Chicago with seating for more than 4,200 people. Additionally, the Arie Crown has been well-maintained, with a significant 1997 renovation.
“A dynamic adaptive reuse presents a wonderful opportunity to return this prominent lakefront building and a portion of the lakefront to use by Chicagoans and compensate for decades during which it has been reserved largely for out-of-town conventioneers.
“Additionally, the Rivers Chicago McCormick plan would likely help boost McCormick Place’s ability to attract and retain major conventions, which Las Vegas has slowly eroded over the past few decades.
“Cafes and restaurants located at the northeast corner of the Lakeside Center, along with its enormous terraces and rooftop, would all have panoramic views of the lake and lakefront, likely becoming a must-see destination for locals and tourists alike. These are some of the greatest views of the city skyline that most Chicagoans have never experienced.
“If a casino is coming to Chicago, Preservation Chicago
strongly supports the adaptive reuse of Lakeside Center for it. The plan offers a once-in-a-generation chance to create a dynamic south lakefront entertainment and cultural district — and a way to embrace our past and strengthen our future.” (Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago’s Op-ed in the Chicago Tribune)