Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced yesterday that the city has submitted five possible sites as the location for a future casino in Chicago as part of the state’s gambling expansion. Chances for a downtown location are out, as four locations are on the South Side and the fifth is on the West Side.
The five sites are near the Harborside International Golf Center at at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway, the former Michael Reese site at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, erstwhile public housing at Pershing Road and State Street, the South Works site at 80th Street and Lake Shore Drive and the lone West Side location, Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. All but one of the sites are largely made up of publicly-owned land.
“While a Chicago casino had been talked about for more than 30 years, today we are moving forward to ensure the new casino is viable for Chicago and all of its communities,” Lightfoot said. “Thanks to our partnership with Governor Pritzker, Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton and other state leaders, together we are advancing a shared vision for new revenues that will benefit Chicago’s severely underfunded pension funds, while generating new jobs and economic opportunity for communities across the city.”
The Harborside location is a 63-acre site along Lake Calumet, owned by the Illinois International Port District. The Pershing and State site, just a few blocks south of the White Sox’ Guaranteed Rate Field, is 19 acres of Chicago Housing Authority-owned land that used to contain public housing, including the Robert Taylor Homes. The lone West Side site at Roosevelt and Kostner was a potential location for the the Obama Presidential Center before it landed on Jackson Park; the city owns the 23 acres, formerly a plant for the Copenhagen tobacco company.
West of Lake Shore Drive and South of the Stevenson expressway sits the former Michael Reese site, which has had a tumultuous history. The city acquired the site for $86 million as part of the failed 2016 Olympics bid. Now branded as Burnham Lakefront, a joint venture of developers including Farpoint Development and Draper and Kramer envision a megaproject for the Bronzeville location on par with the ambitions of Lincoln Yards and the 78.
The largest location, South Works, is also the only privately owned one. The 440-acre site was a steel plant run by U.S. Steel until its closure in 1992. U.S. Steel has tried for years to find a buyer to redevelop the location as a live-work-play community, but site remediation has proved too costly. McCaffery Interests had previously attempted to develop the site, but abandoned those plans in 2016. A JV between Irish developer Emerald Living and Spanish firm Barcelona Housing Systems departed from the project in 2018.
The locations will be opened up to community engagement, including online surveys and town hall meetings. Following legislation signed last month by Governor J.B. Pritzker, casinos can now be built in Danville, Waukegan, Rockford, south suburban Cook County and Williamson County, in addition to an integrated resort in Chicago itself. The Illinois Gaming Board has tapped Las Vegas-based Union Gaming to advise on the feasibility for all potential locations.
It is not certain that the casino will be constructed at one of the five locations, which the Lightfoot administration considers “test sites.” The five potential sites and the dearth of a downtown location fulfill her campaign promise to focus on economic development in the city’s impoverished areas. According to Lightfoot, revenue generated by a future Chicago casino will be directed to the city’s weakened police and fire pensions.