Warning from McCormick Place head

Chicago City urged to decide on property uses involved in three of five casino proposals

Larita Clark, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns McCormick Place in Chicago.
United States
Reading time 2:40 min

Chicago's first casino project, with five different proposals on the table, moves forward to a decision on a winning casino bid. However, the head of one of the properties involved in the bids raised potential roadblocks Tuesday and warned that changes in state law may be needed before the venue can host gambling.

Three of the five proposals unveiled in late October and presented publicly in December by Bally's, Hard Rock and Rush Street Gaming plan to use the McCormick Place campus, but the property has yet to strike a deal with the city or the developers in order to rethink any of its convention center facilities as a casino.

We’re waiting for the city to make their decision, and they know we’re waiting,” said Larita Clark, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), which owns McCormick Place, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. “Once they get to the point where either they’ve shortlisted or made a decision, if it includes our property, we expect them to then come and have a conversation with us.”

In a report to the MPEA board this week, Clark expressed concerns about plans to turn McCormick Place’s truck yards, Lakeside Center or North Building into gambling palaces without providing alternative space for the functions they serve now. Any change in their use would disrupt operations and may cost Chicago convention bookings, she said. The MPEA, a municipal corporation whose board is split between gubernatorial and mayoral appointees, needs to approve any decision by the city to use McCormick Place for its casino.

According to Clark, none of the developers have discussed their proposals with MPEA. The city has “asked questions” and taken a tour of the facilities, but revealed little else about the proposals, she said.

The only two proposals that would not involve McCormick Place are a Bally’s bid for the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center printing site, 777 W. Chicago Ave., or one from Chicago magnate Neil Bluhm’s Rivers Casino that relies on 62 vacant acres southwest of Roosevelt Road and Clark Street.

Another Bally’s proposal would put the casino in the marshaling yards, while a second Rivers plan places it in the Lakeside Center. A bid from Hard Rock suggests Lakeside Center or McCormick Place North as temporary sites until a permanent one can be finished nearby on a development site known as One Central.

Bally's proposed plans to build a $1.6 billion casino at the McCormick Place Truck Marshaling Yard on Chicago's South Side could face some hurdles due to a 2017 agreement the land owner made with another developer. GRIT Chicago LLC already has a letter of intent to redevelop the property, which is now used as a parking lot for trucks making deliveries to nearby McCormick Place, according to Chicago Business Journal.

The letter of intent is good until May 2023 and the land is not for sale, according to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns the 1.2 million-square-foot property. “The letter of intent is for a long-term lease, not for a sale. MPEA’s letter of intent with GRIT Chicago LLC was entered into on May 21, 2020,” Cynthia McCafferty, a spokeswoman for the MPEA, told the cited news website in December.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office has previously said it expects to name a winner by early 2022, during the first quarter. Once the mayor’s office makes its selection, the winning bidder will need approval from the City Council and the Illinois Gaming Board, with Chicago’s first casino expected to open within three years. But the licensee can operate in a temporary facility for up to two years.

The Chicago casino would be the largest in the state, with a capacity of 4,000 gaming positions, twice those allowed at any other casino in Illinois. It would also carry with it the highest casino tax rate in the state at about 40% of adjusted gross revenue.


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