Bally’s Lays Down Its Cards In Draft Casino Agreement With Chicago Officials
Two weeks after Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot tapped Bally’s to build a controversial $1.7B casino in the city’s River West neighborhood, details of the proposed contract between the city and the casino operator are beginning to filter out.
A draft agreement provided to Crain’s Chicago Business details Bally’s financial arrangement with the city and its plans for infrastructure improvements to support the venue, as well as a promise to hire local residents and iron out differences with organized labor. The draft comes ahead of a key casino committee vote Friday and a plan to put the agreement before the full city council May 25.
Under the agreement, Bally’s will pay the city a flat $40M within five days of signing the agreement, in addition to $4M in yearly payments, and agreed to never protest the value of the land — the site of the Chicago Tribune’s former printing facility — as less than its current assessed value of $125M.
To mitigate traffic, Bally’s will tie the Tribune Publishing site to the existing street grid by extending Jefferson Street through the site between Grand and Chicago avenues and connecting it to Halstead Street via three east-west side streets. It is also offering to provide 3,300 on-site parking spaces to serve the casino, which will include five restaurants and a food hall, four bars and a 3,000-seat indoor-outdoor theater venue in addition to gaming.
Lightfoot’s office previously announced the project would also feature an Immerse Agency exhibition experience, an extension of Chicago’s Riverwalk, a new pedestrian bridge, a 500-room hotel tower, an outdoor park and an amenity terrace featuring a pool, spa, fitness center and sun deck.
Lightfoot called the project “a world-class entertainment district in our city that will delight residents and tourists alike,” in her May 5 selection announcement and said the casino complex would shore up city pension funds, create thousands of well-paid jobs and boost economic development. All told, Bally’s is expected to make $74M in infrastructure improvements and contribute $200M annually to the city.
But the proposal has met with scorn from neighbors, who turned out in droves to protest Lightfoot’s decision at a town hall earlier this month, citing fears about property values, crime and traffic. A survey of River North residents earlier this year indicated almost 80% of respondents opposed the casino project.
Aldermen, including Brendan Reilly, who represents the 42nd ward, have also balked at Bally’s plans to open a temporary casino at the vacant Medinah Temple, a former Bloomingdale’s store at 600 North Wabash Ave., until the larger project is complete in 2026.
Reilly called the idea, still included in the draft contract, “horrible” and highlighted that a liquor moratorium in the ward would be waived for the temporary casino.
“The reason why we have a liquor moratorium is exactly why Medinah Temple is not a great site for a casino,” Reilly told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s a super-intense use. The downtown police districts are spread super-thin — especially overnight. We see a major uptick in violent crime down here. To add this on top of all that we are already dealing with — an under-resourced police department and calls for service off the charts? A big mistake.”
The Bally project has garnered strong labor union support, however, and to that end, the draft agreement pledges not to interfere with employee attempts to organize and to notify the heads of five unions when it begins hiring for open positions.
Bally’s further committed in the agreement to filling at least 50% of openings with Chicago residents, setting aside 15.5% of those for residents of socioeconomically disadvantaged areas and making a “good faith effort” of hitting city contracting targets of 36% minority-owned businesses and 10% women-owned businesses. Bally’s is also looking to raise $30M through a crowdsourced investment vehicle to meet city requirements the casino must be 25% minority-owned.