JULY 19, 2019|JENNIFER WATERS
Chicago Officials Spurn Mayor’s Short List of Potential Casino Sites Five Economically Challenged Areas Outside Downtown Core Are Chosen as Part of Viability Study
Chicago Alderman Sophia King is supporting Farpoint Development's vision of the Burnham Lakefront, instead of a casino. (Farpoint Development)After nearly three decades of chatter about a casino in Chicago, the revenues from which will help finance sorely underfunded pension obligations, Mayor Lori Lightfoot suggested five city sites she sees as viable for further study.
Not all the City Council aldermen agree with her.
The sites include Harborside International Golf Center at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway, near the Pullman neighborhood; the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Ave.; a site at Pershing Road and State Street, not far from Guaranteed Field, home of the Chicago White Sox baseball team; the former U.S. Steel site known as South Works at 80th Street and Lake Shore Drive; and a vacant site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue.
None of the locations are in or even very close to the downtown core, following recommendations by the state to build it on the city’s outskirts. The first four are on the South Side, and the last one is on the West Side. The state passed legislation to allow a Chicago casino earlier this year,
All the areas are considered economically challenged and in need of a redevelopment boost. All also have been bandied about as potential casino sites and “are largely comprised of publicly owned land,” according to Lightfoot’s office.
“While a Chicago casino had been talked about for more than 30 years, today we are moving forward to ensure the new casino is viable for Chicago and all of its communities,” Lightfoot said in a statement announcing the sites. She also said that Union Gaming has been chosen to “analyze the economic viability of a Chicago casino within the legislative framework established by the new legislation.”
Pat Dowell, whose 3rd Ward encompasses the Pershing Road site, quickly released a statement pooh-poohing the choice. Citing the need for retail and jobs, Dowell said she already had a commitment in hand for Pete’s Fresh Market to build a full-service grocery store and adjacent outlots for other retailers.
“A Pete's Fresh Market is exactly what my community needs at this location,” she said.
“A casino would not be appropriate for the site,” she added. “There are other more suitable locations in the city where a casino could be built.
“We need to focus on building upon the historic legacy of Bronzeville by prioritizing additional housing, small business and retail growth, cultural attractions, public safety, and improved educational opportunities,” she added.
Sophia King was more harsh in her statement nixing the 100-acre Michael Reese site, which Farpoint Development has drawn up plans for as a mixed-use project. That site was one of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s picks for tax increment financing before he left office, but it fell off the agenda in the final weeks of his administration.
Both Dowell and King represent parts of Bronzeville, a South Side neighborhood once known as the “Black Metropolis” because of its heavy concentration of black culture and establishments across a range of economic stratification, according to the City of Neighborhoods Project. A number of influential African Americans, ranging from poet Gwendolyn Brooks to jazz great Nat King Cole, once called Bronzeville home.
Calling the proposal “appalling and offensive given the deep and storied African American history in Bronzeville,” King said another proposal for the site will be unveiled soon.
“The community is adamantly against a casino at the former Michael Reese site,” she said. “Casinos are known to have deleterious impacts on existing communities, especially communities of color. They siphon all of the inviting amenities that sustain vibrant communities.”
“It would be like putting a casino in Harlem,” she added.
None of the other aldermen whose wards the other sites sit in issued public statements. However, Sue Garza, whose Southeast Side 10th Ward includes both the U.S. Steel and Harborside site, told the Chicago Tribune that a casino at Harborside would make it a “recreation destination.”
“I have the Horseshoe Casino directly to the east of me that takes in $47 million a month,” Garza said, referring to a casino in nearby Hammond, Indiana. “Seventy-eight percent of the license plates that are parked in that lot are from Illinois.”
Union Gaming’s feasibility study is expected to evaluate how financeable the sites are and what the impact of the gaming facility might be. The group has 45 days to complete its revenue forecast for the city and the state, but Lightfoot’s office stressed that “this process is not designed to select a site.”