POTENTIAL WIN: Serious Bid to Locate New Chicago Casino at Lakeside Center (Chicago 7 2016 & 2021)

Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, 1971, C.F. Murphy and architect Gene Summers in 1971. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, 1971, C.F. Murphy and architect Gene Summers in 1971. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, 1971, C.F. Murphy and architect Gene Summers in 1971. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, 1971, C.F. Murphy and architect Gene Summers in 1971. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, 1971, C.F. Murphy and architect Gene Summers in 1971. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933 and 1934. Postcard Credit: Chuckman Postcard Collection

“McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center would become the ‘gem’ of a south lakefront entertainment district under a proposal to transform the 50-year-old structure into Chicago’s mega-casino.

“A group of developers who are already behind a $4 billion redevelopment of the former Michael Reese Hospital site near Bronzeville said Wednesday they’re ready to go all in with another billion-dollar investment to turn the ‘iconic’ but ‘sparsely used’ convention space into an ‘entertainment mecca.’

“For years, we’ve been talking about how do we revitalize this thing, even way, way, way before the casino was in the lexicon here,’ said Scott Goodman, founding principal of Farpoint Development. ‘Bringing more and more people to the lakefront has always been a goal of ours, and we think this is something that will help do that.’

“Goodman’s firm is partnered with McLaurin Development and the nonprofit Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives on the Lakeside Center proposal, which was one of five bids submitted to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office last week to launch the big-city casino that officials and developers alike have coveted for decades. The developers say minority investors will have a 25% ownership stake.

“Also in on the Lakeside Center proposal is billionaire casino mogul Neil Bluhm and his Rush Street Gaming company, which already runs Illinois’ most lucrative casino — Rivers Casino in Des Plaines — and which is hedging bets with different partners on a separate casino bid at another South Loop site.

“‘Clearly, [Bluhm’s] got competing interests because he’s in two bids, but we are very confident in our bid,’ Goodman said. ‘We think that with all objectivity, we check as many boxes as are capable of being checked.’

“Their Lakeside plan calls for ‘significant capital improvements’ to the aging facility, which has only hosted a handful of large shows over the past few years, but has the “perfect” dimensions for a casino, Goodman said.

“The so-called Rivers Chicago McCormick would include indoor and outdoor entertainment spaces plus bars and restaurants, as part of a roughly $1 billion plan that would create a ‘tremendous residual domino effect’ of economic growth for the Cermak Road district near McCormick Place, developer Zeb McLaurin said.

“The group said they’d add about 2,000 parking spots within the building, which is just south of Soldier Field. Whether the Chicago Bears stay there or take their flirtation with Arlington Heights to the next level with a suburban stadium ‘doesn’t have any effect on us one way or another,’ Goodman said.” (Armentrout, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/3/21)

If a casino will be built in Chicago, Preservation Chicago strongly supports the adaptive reuse of Lakeside Center for use as a Chicago Casino. Other complementary uses include and Park District fieldhouse, or arts and cultural center. If the Chicago Casino were to be located at Lakeside Center, perhaps the proposal could accommodate and support all three uses.

Lakeside Center at McCormick Place is a widely recognized, massive convention building that many Chicagoans know but few Chicagoans ever visit. Lakeside Center at McCormick Place is located in an incredibly prime location on the Lake Michigan shore, specifically on the grounds of the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair on a promontory of land the stretches into the lake towards Northerly Island.

From this point during the fair, a curving pedestrian bridge crossed the narrow mouth to the harbor and provided some of the most extraordinary views of the Chicago skyline. Called the Swift Bridge, it also included an integrated orchestra Swift Band Shell to allow Chicagoans to enjoy live music accompanied by summer lake breezes and great skyline views. In the summer of 1934, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presented 125 concerts at the Swift Bridge and Band Shell.

Lakeside Center is the oldest building at McCormick Place and for years there have been rumblings from McCormick Place about plans to demolish it, and replace it with a parking garage and new building. If Lakeside Center is functionally obsolete as a convention center, then the historic building and the lakefront land it sits on should be repurposed for the benefit of the people of Chicago. The enormous interior spans and glass walls overlooking the lake make the building an ideal candidate for adaptive reuse for a people-centric use such as a Chicago Casino or flagship Chicago Park District Fieldhouse or both.

The loss of Lakeside Center at McCormick Place, situated at 23rd Street and the lakefront, would be tragic for Chicago. Lakeside Center is an extraordinary building by architecture firm C.F. Murphy and designers Gene Summers and Helmut Jahn, both acclaimed students of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at Illinois Institute of Technology. In Lakeside Center they took Mies van der Rohe’s design principles and the numerous published design studies by Mies, his office, and his graduate students and applied them on an enormous, convention hall scale. The construction of Lakeside Center was an amazing feat and is on par with the City’s other superstructures of that period, specifically the John Hancock Building and the Sears Tower. However, unlike the vertically oriented Hancock, Sears and Standard Oil Buildings, Lakeside Center is a mammoth horizontal long-span structure. The Hancock Building roof is 1,128 feet tall while Lakeside Center is 1,366 feet wide. The result was a monumental architectural achievement for Chicago which helped to reinforce Chicago’s title of convention city with the largest roof, convention hall and was, and perhaps still is, the largest space-frame structure in the world. To provide some relative scale, a football field, including end zones, is 1.3 acres. Lakeside Center’s rooftop is 19 acres.

Lakeside Center was a model convention facility that influenced architect I. M. Pei, when designing the Javits Center’s glass convention halls in New York City, decades later. The building has been featured in the book “Chicago’s Famous Buildings” in multiple editions by various editors and scholars over the past 50 years since its construction. Prior to the current Lakeside Center glass and steel building, the earlier convention building was a windowless exposition hall, dubbed the “mistake on the lake”, erected hastily in 1960 and destroyed by fire in 1967. In reaction to solid block walls on the lakefront, the replacement Lakeside Center building was a modernist steel and glass building designed to optimize the location. and construction grand opening was held on January 3, 1971.

Lakeside Center is a massive building which could easily become the largest casino in the world with plenty of space to spare. The WinStar World Casino, which opened in 2009, is the world’s largest casino with 370,000 square feet of casino floor. Lakeside Center at McCormick Place has 583,000 square feet of exhibit space.

In addition to the building’s architectural significance, a dynamic adaptive reuse presents a wonderful opportunity to return this prominent lakefront building and location to use by Chicagoans while its current use is largely restricted to out-of-town conventioneers. In fact, a Chicago Casino, would likely help to boost McCormick Place’s popularity and ability to attract and retain major conventions.

If a Chicago Casino were to be built at Lakeside Center, the Arie Crown Theater would be an excellent complementary use with for concerts and cultural events. The Arie Crown Theater is one of the largest theaters in Chicago with seating for 4,250. Only the long-shuttered Uptown Theatre in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood has a larger seating capacity. Additionally, the Arie Crown Theater has been well maintained with a significant renovation in 1997 which reduced the seating capacity, rebuilt the stage and improved the acoustics.

If Lakeside Center were to be repurposed for a Chicago Casino, perhaps some portion of the building could be retrofitted into a flagship Chicago Park District Fieldhouse, the cavernous column-free space could accommodate a wide variety of first-rate facilities all under one roof. The upper levels of the center could be used for indoor tennis courts, running track, yoga, Zumba and weights, and other recreational uses overlooking Lake Michigan, harbors and parks. The expansive lower-level halls could be used for an Olympic-sized swimming pool, basketball courts, climbing walls, squash courts, roller rink, roller derby track and perhaps even a bike velodrome track. The massive rooftop could be greened and activated with a jogging path, tennis courts, and basketball courts.

A cafés and restaurants located at the northeast corner of the Lakeside Center rooftop would have such incredible, panoramic views of the city and lakefront that it would likely become a must-see destination for locals and tourists alike. The building’s enormous terrace overlooking Lake Michigan is ideal for activation such as Chicago Summer Dance, music festivals and other outdoor activities under the broad overhang. The historic Humboldt Park Boat House is a great example of the type of successful programming that could activate and enliven this extraordinary and underutilized community resource.

Located along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, the Mid-South Cultural Center and Field House would be easily accessible as a central destination to joggers, bikers, rollerbladers and others from Ardmore Street on the North Side to 71st Street on the South Side.

Additionally, Lakeside Center is directly across a narrow channel from Northerly Island Park. Despite its large size and incredible location on a peninsula, this 120-acre park is difficult to access and suffers from low attendance and poor maintenance. A bike and pedestrian bridge could be built directly from Lakeside Center’s expansive terrace to increase access to this neglected Northerly Island Park.

The idea of demolishing a first-class building of great architectural and historical note would be a huge embarrassment for the City and another drain on Chicago’s taxpayers to fund another and bigger windowless convention center on Chicago’s Lakefront. Preservation Chicago applauds Mayor Lightfoot’s previous decision to slow down the rush to demolition and encourages the City of Chicago, McPier, the Chicago Park District and other decision makers to find a creative way to better integrate the convention center into the daily fabric of Chicagoan. The Chicago Casino would accomplish this.

Other proposed ideas for Lakeside Center by architecture critic and photographer Lee Bey in 2015 was the creation of a Veterans Memorial and Military Museum, similar to the successful Nationaal Militair Museum in a highly similar structure located in Soesterberg, Netherlands.

Read the full story at Chicago Sun-Times

McCormick Place casino proposal looks to change luck at ‘sparsely used’ Lakeside Center: The proposal — one of two Chicago casino bids backed by billionaire Neil Bluhm — calls for “significant capital improvements” to the aging facility, which has only hosted a handful of large shows over the past few years, but has the “perfect” dimensions for a casino, developers say, Mitchell Armentrout, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/3/21

Lightfoot now holds all the cards on Chicago’s big casino deal: With five bids to consider, the location options are now hers to mull: On the lakefront or off, in a new neighborhood or a repurposed older one? Greg Hinz, Crain’s Chicago Business, 11/5/21

More details on Chicago casino bidders—and how the Bears factor in: As the Bears eye the suburbs, several bidders propose putting a Chicago casino a stone’s throw from Soldier Field. Here are the latest details on the gambling bids and how the NFL team’s moves might make a difference. Greg Hinz, Crain’s Chicago Business, 11/2/21

That restaurant tax to pay for McCormick revamp? Looks like it’s dead; Mayor Lightfoot’s opposition to expanding the tax zone up to 10 miles from the convention center was a fatal blow—or so says at least one insider, Greg Hinz, Crain’s Chicago Business, May 30, 2019

McCormick Place revamp picks up steam in end-of-session sprint; The outmoded convention center would get a $600 million new building with funding from an expanded restaurant and bar tax. People as far as 10 miles away would pay for the redo every time they eat or drink. Greg Hinz, Crain’s Chicago Business, May 39, 2019

Aging Lakeside Center: Keep the building. Change the use, By Lee Bey: The Urban Observer Blog, Architecture criticism, photography and commentary from America’s first city of architecture: Chicago, November 10, 2015


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