Alderman, neighborhood group object to proposed temporary casino in River North
Loop North News

(Above) Medinah Temple, seen from across Wabash Avenue, which could be a casino while a Bally’s is built on Chicago Avenue.

9-May-22 – A proposed “temporary casino” in River North, while a $1.7 billion Bally’s is built farther west, is not going over well with would-be neighbors.

The casino would be located in the Medinah Temple, at Wabash Avenue & Ohio Street, which has been vacant since Bloomingdale’s moved its home and furniture store out in 2020.

The temporary location has been part of the plan for a Chicago casino since March. It was included in the announcement on May 5 by Mayor Lori Lightfoot that Bally’s Corporation has been selected to build a casino at Chicago Avenue & Halsted Street, the site of the Tribune Publishing Center.

The proposal still needs approval by the Chicago City Council and Illinois Gaming Board.

(Right) The winning design of a casino – one of two proposals that Bally’s submitted – selected by the city for a 30-acre site at 777 West Chicago Avenue.

Bally’s Corporation

42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly says he was “extremely frustrated” by the announcements and will vote “no” to both casino locations.

In his newsletter to constituents on Friday, Reilly says he has heard from more than 1,200 downtown residents, and 80 percent of them oppose putting a casino in River North. The Tribune site, located just across the Chicago River from River North, is in a “quiet and residential” area, he says, and “not the appropriate place for a large entertainment venue.”

The site, says Reilly, “has a lot of traffic challenges that currently make it difficult to commute and traverse the area.”

It would not be easy for the temporary casino in River North to obtain a liquor license. Medinah Temple is located in an area in which, since 2017, a moratorium has kept new liquor licenses from non-restaurant operations. Reilly says he does not intend to lift the moratorium.

Reilly says the casino needs to be located near downtown and McCormick Place, but in an area that needs “a helpful boost in economic investment.”

Streeterville Organization of Active Residents

“The casino would have a positive impact on the creation of local jobs and amenities in neighborhood commercial corridors nearby. Downtown doesn’t need that rare economic opportunity, but plenty of neighborhoods could surely use that boost,” said Reilly (left).

Casino would create traffic, crime, and other problems, says neighborhood group

River North Residents Association says it is normally in favor of real estate development in its neighborhood but its members are opposed to the Chicago Avenue casino location. RNRA president Brian Israel says of 2,400 people responding to their survey about the casino, 86 percent are opposed.

Bally’s, according to Israel, “lacks the experience, expertise, and financial wherewithal to execute a project of this scale and complexity in a comparable urban environment.”

“The traffic, noise, infrastructure strain, and disruption that this development would produce are unreasonable burdens to place on the surrounding neighborhood, and the tax revenue generated by this casino would likely come at the cost of increased crime, reduced property values, gambling addiction problems, and a regressive economic impact on the community at large,” said Israel (right).

Brian Israel

The Medinah Temple was built in 1912 by Huehl and Schmidt, who were architects and Shriners. Originally an auditorium, it hosted the annual Shrine Circus. It was retail space from 2000 to 2019, and then sold to Chicago developer Albert Friedman.

• Contact Steven Dahlman at sdahlman@loopnorth.com

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