Ahead of permanent venue

Chicago: Bally's, city officials adress traffic and safety concerns on temporary Medinah Temple casino

Medinah Temple.
Reading time 2:38 min

As the planned transformation of Medinah Temple in downtown Chicago into a temporary casino unfolds, city officials and Bally’s Corp. leaders aim to allay some concerns from residents.

Bally’s casino is set to temporarily occupy the historic Medinah Temple before moving to its permanent riverfront location on Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. The gambling company won the city’s approval for a new site in River West in May. 

In the ensuing months, Bally’s and city officials have held meetings with members of the community to answer their concerns, which include increased traffic in the neighborhood and job opportunities for minorities. 

During a Tuesday meeting, Christopher Jewett, Bally’s vice president of corporate development, and Ameet Patel, senior vice president of regional operations, discussed job fairs and some of the community-based initiatives the company has planned in the coming months. 

Rendering for Bally's permanent Chicago casino

Tim Doron, who works for Fish Transportation and is a senior traffic consultant on the project, presented findings in a report commissioned by Bally’s on the parking surrounding the site, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times

Doron said there are 5,000 parking spaces in nearby garages, with nearly 1,000 spaces available most evenings. With a maximum capacity of 1,500 patrons at the casino, the study estimates 60% will arrive by car, resulting in a peak demand for 500 additional spaces.

Doron also presented diagrams showing how the valet parking, loading and unloading zones and ride-share systems would operate on the streets surrounding the casino. 

There will be four vehicles arriving and four vehicles departing the casino per minute during rush hour, according to Doron. To keep traffic flowing, Bally’s has committed to employing three traffic controllers for “at least” the first 90 days of operation, Doron said, adding that there is "plentiful parking in the area."

Some neighbors were not convinced by Doron’s report. The Rev. Lisa Hackney-James of St. James Cathedral, which is a block away from the temple, was concerned about parishioners being able to find parking to attend Sunday services. 

Chicago police First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter gave a brief presentation on the department’s plan to work with Bally’s to keep patrons safe. The plan includes more patrols in addition to Bally hiring private security, increased surveillance cameras and training officers on safety issues generally associated with casinos, reports the cited source.

Bally’s filed its application with the Illinois Gaming Board in August, seeking approval for the riverfront casino-resort at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. The project still needs approval from the Chicago Plan Commission, which will have a hearing on the proposal next month. 

The 2019 state law that created the Chicago casino license and five others across Illinois gives the gaming board up to a year to review Bally’s application, with the possibility of an extension beyond that. Officials will discuss plans for the permanent casino at the next community meeting, which will take place December 5 at the Chicago Tribune Publishing Center.

The historic Medinah Temple building is slated to open in June and operate as a temporary casino for up to three years until the permanent Chicago casino is completed. Adapting the 110-year-old Moorish-style amphitheater, and the neighborhood, to a 24/7 gambling palace remains a work in progress.

Everything that we do here is going to be on a test mode to make sure we have the right customer experience, we have easy access, we have people really comfortable with the traffic flow, and how people come in and out during peak times,” Patel said, as reported by Chicago Tribune.  “Ultimately, we plan to make all the lessons learned from Medinah Temple to a permanent site as we develop that in the next four years."

Regarding safety, protocols include a single point of entry on Wabash Avenue, concealed weapons detection technology and a 24/7 video surveillance system. Outside the casino, license plate readers, private security patrols, traffic coordinators and the police plan to work together to keep the perimeter safe. 

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