City winnows casino bids down to three. Now the real work begins

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There’s finally some meaningful progress in the long-fraught process to create a city-owned casino.

The Lightfoot administration on Tuesday gave the boot to two of the five prospective casino developers, and will now spend the next few months trying to pick a winner from the remaining three.

In general, it’s good to see movement on the issue, given that three years have passed since Springfield gave the nod to creating a Chicago casino that would generate enough revenue to ease the city’s pension payment woes.

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But we’re also at a point where things can get tricky.

That’s because the city now has to select the proposal with the right location and proper built amenities that can actually deliver the cascade of public revenue needed to substantially help solve the pension crisis.

And the winning bid has to be up and running as quickly as possible and — we feel strongly about this — without the hidden, “Oops, we forgot to tell you,” taxpayer costs that follow too many big-scale projects in this town, from the legendary overruns at Millennium Park to the nearly $200 million in street and infrastructure work that’s a part of the Obama Presidential Center construction.

Chicago being Chicago and all, those are tall orders to correctly fill.

Three of a kind — sort of

With Tuesday’s decision, City Hall kept a trio of casino bids in the running — for now: Bally’s proposal for a riverfront site straddling West Chicago Avenue that would include the Chicago Tribune printing plant; Rivers Casino’s plan to put gaming within “The 78,” an already-planned development on the South Branch of the river south of Roosevelt Road; and Hard Rock’s stab at building a casino as part of One Central, a mixed-use development proposed above the Metra tracks near Soldier Field at 18th Street.

The rejected bids were Rivers Casino’s intriguing proposal to convert McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center into a gaming site, and Bally’s separate plan to build a complex on the McCormick Place truck marshaling yards north of 31st Street.

Both sites were vetoed in no small part by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which has argued that losing Lakeside Center and the marshaling yard would adversely affect McCormick Place’s ability to host conventions.

(But there is a wrinkle with that. More later.)

This editorial board, as we’ve already said, has yet to decide which proposed site is best for our city. But we have to give a hard side-eye now to the Hard Rock/One Central casino bid making the cut.

Two years before Hard Rock came along, Landmark Development had been pitching the One Central idea, particularly its first phase, a giant transit center for Amtrak, Metra, CTA train lines and buses.

Landmark Development wants the state to buy the transit hub in 20 years for $6.5 billion. We said no to that ask last year, and a casino doesn’t make us change our minds.

Meanwhile, none of the transit agencies have expressed a need for such a center, nor a willingness to help fund it.

To consider a casino there is a shaky bet, especially since — and here is that wrinkle — Hard Rock actually proposes a temporary casino at Lakeside Center. And the city and the MPEA don’t seem to mind, even though they balked at two other McCormick Place proposals.

Winner to be named within months

There are other things about the three surviving bids that are worth noting. The Chicago Avenue site, for instance, is already knotted-up with vehicular traffic that will have to be addressed.

The same can be said of Roosevelt Road, which will be one of the main access points to the casino. How many millions of dollars of asphalt and concrete will be thrown at either problem — and from whose pocket?

The Lightfoot administration is putting off naming a winning proposal until early summer.

We urge the mayor and her team to use every second of the time until then conducting the proper due diligence, to make sure the city and taxpayers come out aces on this deal.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

via Chicago Sun-Times

March 23, 2022 at 06:59AM

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