Local Chicago Aldermen Opposed To Casino In Respective Wards

Mayor Lori Lightfoot looks to balance financial needs of city against local opposition
Chicago casino aldermen opposition
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There appears to be consensus among Chicago’s aldermen that the proposed downtown casino is sorely needed as a way of creating revenue to address the city’s fire and police pension shortfalls. Where to put it, however, is a far more contentious matter as the process moves forward with the three finalists.

Aldermen who represent the wards and surrounding neighborhoods for each proposed casino location have come out in opposition to it being located in their respective areas. Walter Burnett, whose 27th Ward is where Bally’s has proposed its casino at the Tribune Publishing site, was the latest to voice his opposition, as he told Block Club Chicago on Wednesday that he “really doesn’t want to be bothered” with a casino in River West.

“I actually hope they don’t choose my area,” said Burnett, who authored the original ordinance that eventually was passed late last year and ended the home rule ban regarding retail sports wagering in the city. “No one wants to be in this position, because you’re darned if you do, darned if you don’t.”

Burnett’s comments follow those of Alderwoman Pat Dowell and Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who have stated their opposition to the proposals of Hard Rock/ONE Central and Rivers 78, respectively.

Congestion and public safety are common themes

Dowell, who is also running in the Democratic primary for Congress to succeed retiring Representative Bobby Rush in Illinois‘ 1st District, issued a statement Monday opposing the Hard Rock project. While Dowell, who represents the 3rd Ward, is in favor of having a casino in Chicago, the chairman of the City Council Committee on the Budget and Government Operations found faults with the casino and entertainment district that would be built near Soldier Field.

“The Hard Rock Casino at ONE Central would be dropped into an existing, well-established family community in the Prairie District of Chicago’s South Loop,” she explained. “Because of that, I have concerns about the density of the Hard Rock Casino proposal. I have concerns about the public safety impacts of the proposal. I have concerns about the financials of the proposal, and I have concerns about the infrastructure needs of the proposal. And even though the developer of ONE Central has made assurances that the Hard Rock Casino project is entirely separate from ONE Central, the community and I are having a very difficult time separating the two interrelated projects.”

The ONE Central plank has been arguably the most controversial piece of Hard Rock’s proposal because it requires $6.5 billion in state funding to help create a transportation hub that would incorporate Chicago’s bus and train transit, the Metra Rail system that serves the surrounding suburbs of the city, and create a tram-like loop that would operate in the entertainment district. During its presentation to residents, Hard Rock officials stressed that, if required, it could divest itself from ONE Central to move forward on the $1.7 billion casino proposal.

Sigcho-Lopez, who is one of the few aldermen not on the City Council “super committee” created last month by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and chaired by Alderman Tom Tunney, wrote a letter to the chairman earlier this month expressing his opposition after seeing a survey of nearly 400 residents come out overwhelmingly in opposition to the Rivers 78 proposal. The plan calls for creating an entirely new neighborhood in the South Loop anchored by the casino on one end and the Discovery Park Institute on the other.

“At this moment, I cannot support a casino project within the 78 development,” Sigcho-Lopez wrote in his letter, according to The Daily Line. “It is clear that residents of the ward and surrounding areas are not in favor of it.” Sigcho-Lopez, who represents the 25th Ward, added that Rivers must do a better job courting support from the surrounding neighborhoods of Pilsen and Chinatown, in addition to South Loop residents, and urged Tunney to expand the scope of the newly created committee to “maximize local feedback.”

Lightfoot acknowledges ‘NIMBY-ism’

Lightfoot, who is widely expected to run for reelection but yet to formally announce her bid for a second term, acknowledged the general objections to the proposals, which largely revolve around crime, traffic congestion, potential harm to local businesses, and impact on distinct neighborhood identity. But she also said the casino is a needed project, given the lack of tools at the city’s disposal for addressing the pension shortfalls.

“Whenever you site a big project like this, there’s always a level of NIMBY-ism that happens. There are people who say, ‘Great, but do it someplace else,’” the mayor said Tuesday at a business luncheon, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “This has got to be a decision that’s made for the future of our city and not specific to a particular neighborhood. We need to take those neighborhood considerations in mind, to be sure. But this is something that’s gonna benefit the entire city. The monies that are coming from this casino are intended to shore up our police and fire pensions.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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