Officials from Bally’s recently met with community leaders in Chicago’s River North district. Specifically, the goal was to allay fears about a temporary Illinois casino expected to open at the Medinah Temple in 2023. Residents have concerns about traffic, parking, safety and job opportunities for minorities.
The two-hour meeting at the Voco hotel was attended by Christopher Jewett, Bally’s vice president of corporate development, and Ameet Patel, the company’s senior vice president of regional operations.
During public comments, Stéphane Brahy, president of the condo association for 55 East Erie, said (as quoted by Melody Mercardo for Block Club Chicago):
“I think it’s pretty clear that the casino is a disruptive force in any neighborhood… These are families, these are children that live here.”
Further, the St. James Cathedral is located a block away from the 110-year-old Medinah Temple. Rev. Lisa Hackney-James said she was concerned the volume of casino patrons would make it difficult for parishioners attending Sunday services at St. James to find parking.
“I have families with children who drive down and drag their kids to church, and I’m wondering what assurance they’ll have that they’re not going to show up to a saturated parking situation,” Hackney-James said, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Bally’s says 5,000 area parking spaces more than enough
But Bally’s senior traffic consultant, Tim Doron, said a report commissioned by the casino company concluded that some 5,000 spaces in nearby garages provided “plentiful parking in the area.” And, the report said there are more than enough spaces to cover the estimated 500 spots needed during peak casino operating hours.
Also, Doron made a presentation showing how valet parking and ride-sharing would work on streets around the Medinah Temple. The traffic report estimated that during peak hours about four vehicles will arrive each minute along with another four vehicles leaving.
Previously, Bally’s traffic report was panned by Brendan Reilly, alderperson for Chicago’s 42nd Ward. He said the main problem is Bally’s paid for the traffic study.
“As far as I’m concerned, this study is seriously flawed, overly vague and clearly written for the sole purpose of concluding a casino will work at Medinah Temple,” Reilly said. “Having read literally hundreds of traffic studies over the years, I can tell you this one is thin gruel and lacks the credibility that an independent analysis would’ve provided.”
Further, Reilly said study is an unrealistic estimation of bettors who will walk or use public transit.
“Nobody would be stupid enough to ride the CTA or walk to a casino with cash in hand,” he said. He added he “fundamentally disagrees” with the report’s many assumptions and believes the new vehicle trips were significantly understated.
Police, Bally’s tout enhanced safety protocols
At the Voco hotel meeting, the Bally’s team also tried to ease residents’ concerns over public safety. Specifically, the casino group said its “best-in-class safety initiatives” will include:
- a lone entrance to the casino
- a 24/7 video surveillance system
- concealed weapons detection technology
- private security
As well, the Chicago Police Department will assign police officers from the 18th District to cover the exterior of the casino, said first deputy superintendent Eric Carter. And, additional license plate readers and street cameras will be installed near the casino.
“We’ve done everything we can to work collaboratively with Bally’s to ensure public safety in and around the venue,” Carter said.
Bally’s has committed to minority hiring
Though, some residents that attended the meeting said they welcome the casino and the jobs it will bring.
And the deal Bally’s stuck with the city of Chicago in May commits to “60% minority hiring and will create a jobs program specifically targeting neighborhoods with the highest levels of unemployment and lowest income. The jobs program also will include clear career pathways for upward mobility.”
At the recent community meeting, Bally’s officials said they will open an employment and training center early next year. Also, a casino job fair will follow in late spring or early summer. The temporary casino will open in June.
And, the temporary site will be three floors and feature:
- 800 slot machines
- 50 gaming tables
- a three-meal restaurant, quick food service venues and bars.
And the temporary casino will be in use for three years.
Permanent Illinois casino in River West expected by 2026
Notably, on Nov. 22, Bally’s finalized the $200 million purchase of the land in River West where it will build its permanent Bally’s Chicago casino. Further, Bally’s will build the casino on the site of the Freedom Center printing plant that prints the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers.
And the permanent casino will be complete by 2026. Specifically, plans call for it to have:
- 3,400 slots
- 170 table games
- 10 food and beverage venues
- a 500-room hotel tower with a rooftop bar
- an expansive public riverwalk with a water taxi stop
- a 3,000-seat, 65,000-square-foot entertainment center
- and a 20,000-square-foot exhibition, outdoor music venue, and outdoor green space.