Second public hearing

Bally's pitches Chicago casino project, highlights traffic solutions to address local neighbors' concerns

Bally's Chairman Soo Kim during Wednesday's public hearing.
2022-04-07
United States
Reading time 3:13 min

Bally’s Corporation on Wednesday became the second of the three finalist Chicago casino bidders to present its proposal in a public meeting, as part of the process to win the city's sole casino license. Hard Rock was the first Tuesday, as reported by Yogonet, and next up is Rush Street Gaming's Rivers 78, scheduled for tonight.

Bally's River West project comprises a gambling complex on a 30-acre plot near Halsted Street and Chicago Avenue, which is currently home to the Chicago Tribune’s printing plant, and the source of traffic headaches on a daily basis, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. Executives led by Chairman Soo Kim insisted the project would ease traffic in the congested neighborhood, but they faced opposition and concerns from many possible future neighbors at the 300-capacity crowd of neighborhood residents who gathered Wednesday in a warehouse at the proposed casino site.

“The Bally’s Casino complex is simply the wrong project for this location,” said Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association. “The additional strain on infrastructure, noise lighting, traffic and impact on property values are unreasonable burdens.”

Similar criticisms have been lodged against Bally’s competitors for the casino license: a Hard Rock casino proposed across the street from Soldier Field, and a Rivers casino eyed for the South Loop green field known as the 78.

Chairman Kim highlighted studies suggesting their $1.7 billion casino plan — which also calls for a 3,000-seat theater, an outdoor music venue and a Chicago Riverwalk extension — would actually cut down on traffic, as their budget includes millions toward 30 infrastructure improvements in the area, including a resurfacing of Halsted and a series of new traffic and pedestrian signals. “Our project is complementary to the problems that you have,” Kim said.

City officials lent some support to that claim in a report evaluating the casino applicants last month, writing that Bally’s plan “should result in less traffic in the weekday morning, similar traffic levels in the weekday evenings, and additional traffic during weekend evenings.”

The city’s report on Bally’s didn’t have much negative to say about their plan — but Jennie Huang Bennett, the city’s chief financial officer, suggested the city wasn’t on board with a controversial provision of the corporation’s minority investment program. It initially held that the corporation would have the option to buy out minority shareholders after six years. Bennett said last month that the city “values having longevity of minority ownership” — and Bally’s promptly backed off that fine-print provision.

On Wednesday, Kim dismissed the criticism as “noise,” saying “we’ve continued to evolve [on] this.” Women and minorities will account for “at least” 25% of the ownership group, he added.

The casino will offer space for 3,400 slots and 173 table games. The bidder has projected the development will add 9,750 construction jobs and 2,002 permanent casino jobs. Bally’s is slated to open a temporary casino in Q2 2023 with the permanent location anticipated for Q1 2026.  

Bally’s has also offered up a $25 million upfront payment directly to the city if they land the casino, a quick cash infusion that the other bidders haven’t yet offered up. The city already projects Bally’s River West proposal as the most lucrative of the finalists, churning out estimated annual tax revenues of almost $192 million, according to the city report.

The Rivers 78 site will be discussed from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the University of Illinois Chicago’s Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, and like the previous two, it will also be streamed online.

Following the community engagement meetings, the City will continue its discussions with each of the shortlisted teams. The community engagement and negotiations will provide the basis for the City’s selection of a winning team. The finalists will be evaluated with respect to the same core goals laid out in the initial RFP.  

Once a finalist is selected, a comprehensive host community agreement memorializing the agreed-upon terms will be prepared. The host community agreement will then be evaluated by an Aldermanic special committee. The committee will consist of all the Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen of City Council Committees as well as President Pro Tempore Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward. The Special Committee will be chaired by Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward and vice chaired by Alderman Jason Ervin, 28th Ward. All of City Council will be involved in the process for the final recommendation. 

The formal development process will begin following City Council approval and approval from the Illinois Gaming Board, before the selected developer could set up a temporary casino while building a permanent facility. 

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