Chicago Residents Group Issues Bally’s A Wish List For Casino Changes

Neighborhood reps want more traffic improvements, no outdoor music venue
River West changes Ballys
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A neighborhood group where Bally’s wants to build its $1.7 billion Chicago casino has presented the gaming company a list of changes sought to benefit residents living around the proposed site.

The River North Residents Association outlined multiple improvements and accommodations around the site of the Tribune publishing plant that would work toward the “goal of reducing harmful impacts to the River North neighborhood, the citizens of Chicago, and the natural environment.”

The group wants more infrastructure improvements than those already proposed by Bally’s. Its requests include investigating the possibility of constructing exit and entrance ramps to the Ohio-Ontario feeder, in order to alleviate neighborhood traffic, and replacing a planned outdoor music venue with a public park.

Bally’s is in the process of preparing its application to the Illinois Gaming Board for the downtown casino license after being approved as the applicant by the Chicago City Council last month. Mayor Lori Lightfoot picked the Bally’s proposal in early May over ones from Rush Street Gaming and Hard Rock. Some Chicago alderman thought the approval process moved too quickly, as Lightfoot’s select casino committee met just three times to discuss the Bally’s proposal following her selection before forwarding it to the full city council for a vote.

Many residents in the River North and River West neighborhoods were not in favor of having the casino during public informational meetings, citing traffic concerns and the potential for increased crime and declining property values. The city is hoping the casino will generate $800 million annually in revenue, which would lead to $200 million in city taxes allocated each year to severely underfunded police and fire pensions.

Bally’s hopes to have its temporary casino up and running at Medinah Temple in River North by the second quarter of next year, and the permanent venue at the Tribune plant in 2026.

Major traffic improvements are part of the list

Of eight areas outlined by the residents association, the construction of exit and entrance ramps for the Ohio-Ontario feeder to directly funnel car traffic to the casino is the biggest lift in terms of logistics and expenses. Association President Brian Israel acknowledged as much to the Chicago Sun-Times, but he also found it to be a worthwhile ask given Bally’s has already pledged $75 million in infrastructure improvements around the proposed site.

“People coming in from the highway would have to get off at Ohio. They’d have to turn right on Orleans, turn right on Grand, turn right on Jefferson. That’s an enormous amount of traffic and stress on surface streets. Not to mention Chicago and Halsted,” he said.

“If there could be ramps, that would take people right from the highway directly to the casino, that would be an improvement. There may be obstacles. It may not be possible from an engineering standpoint or a cost standpoint. But we’re asking that they look into it.”

Other traffic requests made by the group include:

  • Extending Jefferson Street to Grand Avenue to potentially alleviate congestion on Halsted Street.
  • Completing improvements to the Chicago Avenue/Halsted Street intersection prior to opening.
  • Ensuring the Chicago Avenue and Grand Avenue bridge construction projects increase traffic capacity while maintaining safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Publishing a new Chicago Department of Transportation study for the planned development parcel that reflects the casino and all projects within a one-half mile radius of the venue.

The group also wants a security presence for a four-block radius around the casino, as well as a synchronized time for it to stop serving alcohol along with local bars and taverns.

Outdoor music venue raises concerns

Swapping the 3,000-seat entertainment venue for a public park also could be a difficult request for Bally’s to accept. The residents group is asking for all “concerts and performances” to be conducted indoors and for such performances to be limited to 15 per month. Independent of that, the association is asking for any outdoor programming to end at 9 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.

With regard to the Medinah Temple temporary casino venue, the group is requesting traffic, parking, security, and infrastructure studies to be conducted prior to next year’s projected opening, with “airport-style traffic management personnel” to be employed in the heavily traveled corridor.

The residents also ask for Bally’s to dedicate 2% of its revenue toward a Chicago Department of Public Health program for “neighborhood-based problem gaming outreach and treatment” and for restrictions on advertising and marketing that could target youths and low-income neighborhoods.

Photo: Shutterstock

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