Home Local Chicago casino set for final City Council vote as aldermen support zoning

Chicago casino set for final City Council vote as aldermen support zoning

by staff

A first-ever casino in Chicago stands on the brink of city approval Wednesday as council members backed zoning for the project after the alderman of the ward where it would be built toned down his reservations over whether the project would result in enough jobs for minorities and nearby residents.

Approval of the $1.74 billion Bally’s casino complex in River West would be a political boon for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who has made opening a casino in Chicago a goal of her tenure in office. If the full City Council approves the plan Wednesday, the last bureaucratic step for the casino would be to secure approval from the Illinois Gaming Board.

Advertisement

Lightfoot has billed the promise of the city’s first casino as a key goal for shoring up pension funds and stimulating economic activity after a trying pandemic capsized much of her first term. In May, she took a victory lap while announcing the complex will be located at what is now the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing plant. The casino will be run by Rhode Island-based Bally’s, which owns and manages more than a dozen casinos across the nation, as its flagship location.

The jubilation from Lightfoot and supporters of the casino pick was tempered, however, by some within the City Council who sought to make the deal out to be a rush job and raised concerns over safety and traffic. Those opponents failed to convince their colleagues when the overall package passed the City Council shortly after Lightfoot’s pick was unveiled, and again on Tuesday when Aldermen Brian Hopkins, 2nd, Anthony Beale, 9th, Raymond Lopez, 15th, and Brendan Reilly, 42nd, failed to gain traction with their criticism before voting against the plan in the Zoning Committee meeting.

Advertisement

The committee advanced the proposal 10-4. The proposed casino complex would include an exhibition hall, a 500-room hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, 11 restaurants and 4,000 gaming positions, including slot machines and table games.

Ald. Walter Burnett, who represents the 27th Ward, where the casino would be located, at first rattled supporters of the casino project when he said during Monday’s Plan Commission that he would recuse himself, pending review of Bally’s hiring plans. Burnett, who for months was one of the casino’s biggest cheerleaders, said he needed to review Bally’s plans to hire minorities and neighborhood residents “because I need to make sure that people from our community can get a job.”

The panel still approved the measure, sending it to the Zoning Committee on Tuesday, at which time Burnett changed his tune and expressed no reservations about the project’s plans on hiring.

Burnett told the Tribune he received “100 calls” from representatives with the city, Bally’s and unions hoping to get their workers on the casino payroll. He did not elaborate on what they told or showed him but said they “reassured” him of their commitment to getting his ward residents casino jobs.

“We’re married from this point on, right, so they’re going to continue to need me throughout the process,” Burnett said when explaining his boost in morale. “So that gives me more confidence.”

Burnett indeed showed a confident front during Tuesday’s meeting, clarifying before the vote that he supports the casino plan “100%.”

“I’m sure that if they don’t want to see me upset in the future, that they’re going to keep their commitment,” Burnett said about Bally’s, adding that company representatives have shown him “several documents” that show “we’re hiring people in our neighborhood. So I feel confident that this is going to be OK.”

Bally’s seeks to employ 60% minorities and 45% women in its workforce, which is expected to contain 3,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, according to Meg George, an attorney representing the casino chain. And while Burnett said his concerns on that topic were alleviated, another alderman questioned the company’s ability to achieve its goals.

Advertisement

“I’ve never seen, in my 24 years of being in office, a development with 60% minority participation,” Beale said. “I understand your goal, but I think your goal is unrealistic, and I think you need to revisit your saying that because I don’t think that’s an accurate statement that you’re going to hit that 60%.”

Reilly also reiterated his concerns about the casino plan. He represents the downtown neighborhood that is close to the Freedom Center site and will host the temporary casino at the historic Medinah Temple building, slated to open next year.

Reilly said one of his reasons for continuing his opposition is the lack of a “final public safety plan” for either of the two sites.

“Public safety is front of mind for every Chicagoan, and there is, I think, a valid concern that we need to have a rock-solid plan in place to mitigate those potential threats,” Reilly said.

Burnett, for his part, defended the planning about safety and said Bally’s is working with Chicago police. The city should be proud, Burnett added, that the area is being revitalized into what he said will be a “one of the most vibrant communities in the city of Chicago.”

But, Burnett warned, the plan can only succeed if it incorporates the surrounding community into its workforce.

Advertisement

“One of the things that was committed to me early on, and one of the main reasons why I supported this, was that the jobs was going to come to our community,” Burnett said. “We want to make sure that they get them. Bally’s has given me a commitment. I’ve seen several documents. The administration has given me a commitment.”

Also on Tuesday, a separate City Council committee advanced Lightfoot’s selection for the next alderman of the 12th Ward, replacing George Cardenas after he retired to join the Cook County Board of Review. Anabel Abarca, Cardenas’ former chief of staff, will seek final approval from the full council on Wednesday.

ayin@chicagotribune.com

Related Articles

Leave a Comment