What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune


Chicago is one step closer to a potential big revenue boost and achieving a goal that has eluded local mayors for decades: its first casino.

Still, the project will have to clear major hurdles as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration sorts through the proposals — which have been whittled down from five to three — and picks a winner.

The three remaining bids advanced by the city may represent the path of least resistance for a Chicago casino. But none has landed without some objections or concerns, which the city may have to confront before it narrows the group down to a single favored plan, which officials said will be by early summer. It would still need to win state approval.

A Chicago casino study in summer 2019 pointed to the merits of a downtown location close to hotels and other attractions, instead of in outlying neighborhoods that out-of-towners with money to spend might deem unsafe. But the same study also argued that the project could fail to attract developers because the original tax structure lawmakers approved was “very onerous” and would have left razor-thin profit margins for the potential owner.

Lightfoot plans to select the operator and location of a Chicago casino in “early 2022,” officials said.

Here’s what you need to know about the whole process, from the bids to their locations.

What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune

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.

The city also turned down Bally’s proposal for a $1.6 billion casino at the McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yards, a 28-acre freight staging area at 31st Street and Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive. The proposed site not only faced opposition from nearby Bronzeville residents, but was also committed to another developer by McCormick Place until 2023.

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What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune

The city, which is banking on a casino to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue to plug its public pension funding holes, plans to submit its choice to the Illinois Gaming Board for approval in time to include upfront payments from the winning bidder in the 2023 fiscal budget this fall, said Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, chairman of the the Special Committee on the Chicago Casino.

“We would like to be able to, hopefully, within the next month, get narrowed down to one and then obviously go through this process with the nominee,” Tunney said April 25.

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What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune

If Rivers 78 gets the nod as the Chicago casino, developers plan to launch the temporary facility in an old-school vessel: a renovated riverboat docked at the South Loop site along the Chicago River.

The riverboat, which holds about 1,000 gaming positions, could be up and running within six months of approval, providing a temporary “mini-Rivers” casino on the river while the permanent facility is built, Tim Drehkoff, the new CEO of Rush Street Gaming, said during a community engagement meeting April 7.

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What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune

Bally’s plans to use a former Tribune Publishing warehouse once earmarked for a residential and office development as its temporary casino while Freedom Center is demolished and the permanent facility is built.

That was perhaps the biggest takeaway as Bally’s met with hundreds of skeptical River West neighbors inside the vacant 120,000-square-foot building April 6 to pitch a proposed $1.74 billion casino, hotel and entertainment complex that would supplant the nearby Freedom Center printing plant, if approved as the Chicago casino.

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What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune

“Big changes can be made,” said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest, the developer behind the proposed Rivers 78 casino in the South Loop. “We want to be great neighbors and want the neighbors to want to be around us.”

The effort to win over neighbors and the mayor’s office before the city’s anticipated early summer decision to forward a proposal to the Illinois Gaming Board for final approval has already led to some changes.

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What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune

As Chicago nears a decision on a winning casino bid, there is a lot at stake for the city, which could boost its financial fortunes and help plug its public pension funding holes with upward of $150 million in annual casino tax revenue, according to projections.

But with three of the five proposals planning to use the McCormick Place campus, there may be a wild card in the works. McCormick Place has yet to strike a deal with the city or the developers, and is something less than all in on repurposing any of its convention center facilities as a casino.

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What to know about the bids, from the locations to the possible roadblocks – Chicago Tribune

City officials are sifting through the bids, including one from Hard Rock International that would set the gambling emporium in a massive mixed-use project, One Central, which developers hope to build over train tracks west of Soldier Field. City Hall staff members are tasked with recommending to the mayor which casino plan she should present to aldermen for approval.

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