Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s casino pick gets a warm welcome from Chicago City Council members | Chicago News

Chicago City Council members gave Monday to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to place a high-stakes bet on Bally’s to build a casino in River West, even as the mayor’s team urged them to quickly approve the proposal and to avoid a massive property tax. hikes.

While members of the Lightfoot administration touted Bally’s proposal as the most lucrative proposal the city had received and said the casino would be an “iconic” addition to Chicago’s riverfront, nearly all members of a special committee of city council formed to review the plan have met those assertions with skepticism.

Tough questions posed by aldermen to Bally officials and mayor’s representatives could complicate Lightfoot’s efforts to get City Council to approve the casino at its next meeting, scheduled for May 23.

Once the City Council acts, the plan will also need to be approved by the Illinois Gaming Board.

Soo Kim, chairman of the board of Bally’s Corporation, answered questions from aldermen for nearly five hours before signing off from the virtual meeting which continued for nearly two more hours.

“We understand how much of a responsibility it is for us” to be selected to build a casino in Chicago, Kim said. “We have a lot of promises to keep and we intend to keep them.”

The Chicago casino, which could open as early as 2026, would be the company’s “flagship,” Kim said. The $1.73 billion casino is said to have 3,400 slot machines and 173 table games. The station would have six restaurants and cafes in addition to a food hall and three bars and lounges. It would also include a 3,000-seat, 70,000-square-foot concert hall and a 20,000-square-foot event venue in addition to outdoor bars, lounges and pools along the Chicago River.

Bally’s was one of three companies to submit a proposal to build a casino in Chicago in November, and appeared to have the favored path in the win-win contest after a study by the city’s gambling consultant found that Bally’s Casino would be the most lucrative for the city and its sister agencies, grossing $191.7 million in its sixth year of operation.

Bally’s will also offer the city an upfront payment of $40 million for the license and $4 million annually, the mayor’s office said. Initially, Bally’s offered the city an upfront payment of $25 million.

Aldus. Michele Smith (Ward 43) said the proposal did not include enough park and open space along the river, and said she would not be in a rush to make a decision on a casino in Chicago.

“Our job as trustees requires us to resist rushing to judgment because we are afraid,” Smith said.

Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development, said the city’s casino will help the city recover from the economic disaster caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been particularly brutal for industries. tourism, travel and hospitality in the city.

Lightfoot is counting on a casino to boost the city’s economy and funnel about $200 million into its police and fire department pension funds, which will significantly ease the strain on the city’s finances. That will cover about 9% of the city’s annual pension bill, chief financial officer Jennie Huang Bennett said.

Huang Bennett said the city desperately needs the tax revenue from the casino and the economic development it should fuel in order to make up for a 2023 budget shortfall estimated at $867 million. A gap of this size would likely require municipal authorities to raise property taxes to fill the gap.

Twenty days ago, Lightfoot told a crowd at the City Club of Chicago that the city could end 2022 with a surplus after two years of massive deficits, with revenues beating estimates by nearly $200 million.

Aldus. Brendan Reilly (42nd Precinct) led opposition to the proposal on what is now the Chicago Tribune‘s printing and newsroom near Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, urging his colleagues to beware of false testimonials and “artfully massaged data”.

Reilly said he was trying to prevent the city council from approving a deal like the 2008 one that leased the city’s parking meters — in addition to all meter revenue — to a private company.

Aldus. Tom Tunney (44th Precinct), the chairman handpicked by Lightfoot to lead the special casino committee, anticipated those criticisms and detailed the months of meetings that led to the mayor’s selection before the meeting began in earnest.

Mayekar also defended the deal to locate a temporary casino with 800 slot machines and table games in the Medinah Temple at Ohio Street and Wabash Avenue, saying the city must “activate” the historic building which has been vacant for many years. years. It could open as early as 2023.

In an independent press conference, Lightfoot said the choice to locate the casino at the Medina Temple was made by Bally officials. However, Bally’s originally offered to operate a temporary casino in an empty warehouse on Tribune’s property, and Kim told multiple news outlets that they agreed to change that plan in response to a request from Chicago officials.

“It’s Bally’s pick,” Lightfoot said. “They have to go where they think they can maximize their income. We have evaluated it and we will support it.

Kim declined to be interviewed by WTTW News on Monday.

Mayekar implicitly warned Reilly that the downtown alderman would not be able to block the temporary casino by refusing to approve a proposal to lift a moratorium that prevents the city from issuing additional liquor licenses in that area.

Large facilities — like sports stadiums and concert halls — aren’t covered by the city’s liquor moratorium, Mayekar said. Casinos are licensed by state officials to serve alcohol at all times except from 4 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. daily.

Reilly called it “baloney,” since the layout was designed to protect long-running stadiums, like Wrigley Field in Lakeview.

In response to questions from Reilly, Chicago Department of Transportation officials acknowledged that they had not considered the traffic a temporary casino would create around the Medinah Temple, where there is no on-site parking. and no plans to accommodate charter buses.

“I’m not happy with most of the answers I got to our questions today,” Reilly said. “I’m very frustrated with this process.”

Bally officials said they would spend more than $75 million on 30 projects designed to ease traffic congestion in River West and River North. Officials also told aldermen the casino would draw less traffic than the city-approved project in 2018, which included mostly office space.

Bally’s put together a consortium – the Chicago Community Builder’s Collective – of design and construction companies owned by Black, Latino and Chicago women to work on the project.

Bally’s told city officials it would meet requirements imposed by city officials that 25% of the facility be owned by black, Latino or Asian shareholders, 50% of its employees be from Chicago and at least 26% of construction contracts would be awarded to companies. owned by women or black, Latino or Asian Chicagoans.

A public casino meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Illinois at Chicago Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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