Bally’s Corporation was chosen earlier this year to bring the first casino to Chicago, Illinois, set to be located in River West. While the project has been welcomed by many, it has also seen opposition from some locals that believe it could lead to traffic congestion in the city. However, following a new impact study, Chicago officials believe that River North, where Bally’s is proposing a temporary casino at Medinah Temple, can handle the increased traffic expected for the venue.
The second traffic impact study of the area released Friday gives "further final evidence that this is something that we think from a traffic point of view can be accommodated in the River North area," said Chicago Department of Transportation Managing Deputy Commissioner Kevin O’Malley.
The latest traffic study estimates the temporary casino would generate 462 trips during the weekday evening commuter peak hour, between 4 and 6 p.m., and 516 during the Friday evening casino peak hours of 8 to 11 p.m., both inbound and outbound.
However, local alderman Brendan Reilly, who opposes Bally building its temporary facility in the area, rated the report as "seriously flawed, overly vague and clearly written for the sole purpose of concluding a casino will work at Medinah Temple," as reported by the Chicago Tribune. He is now pushing for an independent review of the traffic study that gave the casino operator's temporary casino plan a green light.
Reilly, who said he's previously read hundreds of traffic reports, described this one as "thin gruel" and lacking "the credibility that an independent analysis would’ve provided." The study looked at the traffic and the availability of parking on Thursday and Friday this past May.
Bally's and city officials hope to open the $70 million temporary casino at Medinah Temple by June 2023. The building has been vacant for more than two years, and Commissioner O'Malley acknowledged it’s difficult to know how patterns might change as Chicago continues to emerge from the pandemic. Meanwhile, the $1.7 billion permanent hotel-casino will be located at the former Chicago Tribune site downtown along the Chicago River, which is expected to open in Q1, 2026.
Rendering for the permanent casino
Reilly had also previously criticized the city for not making such studies available ahead of final casino hearings. Back in May, he argued that locating a temporary casino there was a "horrible idea." In the original proposal, the temporary casino was to be located on the Freedom Center, a Tribune printing facility west of the river. However, it later moved to what is known to be one of the most traffic-dense and busy areas of the city.
Earlier this year, Deborah Gershbein, president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, said that members were "very, very surprised" to learn of the temporary casino plans "because it is such a congested area already, and I just can’t imagine how it would accommodate the additional traffic," the above-cited media recalled.
However, the study suggests that there is no cause for concern: "Based on the completed parking observations, there is adequate parking in the area to accommodate this demand," the report said.
While there is no on-site parking at the temple itself, there are roughly 5,000 spaces available in garages at nearby buildings. At its peak, demand for spaces from casino patrons and employees would be approximately 500, the report estimates, 450 for patrons and 50 for workers. In mid-May, when the study team made its observations, there were roughly 850 open spaces in nearby buildings at peak times.
According to O'Malley, the "key to preventing congestion will be a well-oiled valet operation, quick drop-offs, and pickups for patrons taking Ubers, Lyfts, cabs, and space for charter buses. There will be designated areas for each," the commissioner explained.
In an email Friday, Reilly said he "fundamentally" disagreed with the report’s conclusions, "from vastly lowballing the number of vehicular trips to the casino and vastly overestimating the number of people who will be dumb enough to take the CTA or walk to this casino with cash in their pockets."
While O'Malley sustained that the city will require traffic control aides "at many of their intersections in, around the area to manage all that, to make sure pedestrians can move in and out of there, making sure traffic moves along as well as shushing out all those double-parkers and other kinds of activities," he added that "we think we have enough resources in place here, from what they’re proposing to keep that manageable.”
Bally’s "has not yet determined parking pricing for valet operations," the report says, but "they would be open to discussions with CDOT staff about developing a pricing differential between self-park and valet to encourage self-park to minimize the curbside valet volumes."
At full capacity, the casino can welcome roughly as many guests as The Vic Theater, O’Malley said. The theater has 1,000 seats and a maximum capacity of 1,400, according to its operator’s website, while Medinah Temple has a maximum capacity of 1,500 people and 1,100 planned "gaming positions."
"We don’t think it’ll add any kind of congestion to either people trying to go to the casino or anybody trying to visit or go to any of the areas around there. It will be something that’s very familiar and common in entertainment areas in the city,"
O’Malley told the Tribune. "This is something that we’re very used to and it will not be a problem."