More details on Chicago casino bidders—and how the Bears factor in

“Hard Rock International is excited to participate in the (bidding) process to bring our unique brand of world-class entertainment to the city of Chicago at One Central,” the company said in a statement.

In another, Chicago casino developer Neil Bluhm lifted the veil on his surprise bid to build a casino on the South Side lakefront, in Lakeside Center, the historic but obsolete building that is the eastern-most structure in the McCormick Place campus.

Among new details: Working with Bluhm, according to a spokesman, are Farpoint, which is redeveloping the former Michael Reese Hospital site several blocks west of McCormick Place; and David Doig, a former city official whose own firm has done considerable development on the Far South and Southeast sides.

Meanwhile, another bidder, Rhode Island-based Bally’s, disclosed that its bid to the city calls for just short of half the construction contracts on its $1.6 billion casino/entertainment center would go to minorities and women, with 36% guaranteed to minority-owned firms and 10% guaranteed to women-owned companies.

Bally’s is proposing to build either on the Chicago Tribune property at Halsted Street and Chicago Avenue or on the current truck marshaling yards just west of McCormick Place a short distance from both the One Central and Lakeside Center proposals.

Bluhm, who has deep local political and business ties and whose Rivers Casino in Des Plaines reportedly has the highest per-station take in the country, long has been considered the front-runner in the competition, with his plan to set up shop at Related Midwest’s 78 project at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street.

But the second bid he offered the city for the Lakeside Center looks very serious, given who has joined his team. According to a spokesman, the project would cost more than $1 billion and calls for converting Lakeside Center and its Arie Crown Theater.

Given Bluhm’s record of successfully opening casinos all around the country, “He’s going to make a lot of (tax) money for the city and state” if he’s awarded the prize, said a spokesman, adding that the conversion of Lakeside Center into a casino would “respect” its design. 

Bluhm is proposing to lease Lakeside Center from the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority and has had “serious discussions” with the agency about that possibility, the spokesman said.

Equally interesting, however, is how this all impacts on the Bears’ matter: Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she’d like the team to stay at Soldier Field, but the team has signed a contract to buy the former Arlington International Racecourse.

It appears would-be casino operator Bluhm and casino landlord Dunn have different interests at stake.

Though Bluhm himself has not taken a public position on where the Bears should play, his partner at Rivers Casino, Churchill Downs, owns the Arlington property and almost certainly would like to see the deal to sell it to the Bears finally close.

Dunn, too, has said little publicly, but his project clearly would benefit from having Soldier Field remain as the Bears’ home, perhaps by constructing a dome that would allow year-round use and boost traffic to One Central stores, restaurants and other facilities. Even without the Bears, having a casino on his property would be quite compatible with the plans Dunn has sketched out so far.

How all of this will play out with Lightfoot is unclear. For instance, will the mayor be willing to shrug off almost inevitable demands from preservationists to keep the lakefront free of major new developments, as was the case with the Lucas Museum—which is being built instead in Los Angeles—and the now-under-construction Obama Presidential Center?

The city so far has disclosed only the names of the four groups that have submitted five separate bids—two each from Bluhm and Bally’s, plus Hard Rock. City officials have indicated they’ll have more to say next week after the bids are reviewed, with some sort of public hearings likely to be held in December.

Officials at the convention authority have denied reaching any sort of deal on either Lakeside Center or the truck yard property, but they confirm they gave a tour to at least one group.

4:40 P.M. UPDATE:

Bluhm’s spokesman clarifies that any discussions with McPier were conducted by partners of Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming, not by Bluhm personally. One of those partners, Farpoint principal Scott Goodman, says he has in recent months discussed repurposing the Lakeside building, perhaps as a film studio, but did not talk to them about a casino until after the bid was file filed last week with the city.

Meanwhile, Bluhm has issued a statement: "Rush Street Gaming has a track record of developing six casinos in the past decade from the ground up, on-time and on-budget. We are committed to the promise of Chicago’s future and we will create a world-class entertainment destination for this world-class city." 

via Crain’s Chicago Business

November 2, 2021 at 06:55PM

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