CHICAGO - The city’s planning agency Monday approved zoning for the proposed Bally’s casino at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street, a step in the $1.7 billion project’s journey through government approvals. The approval came despite a last-minute objection from a key alderperson.
The Chicago Plan Commission endorsed the Bally’s proposal embraced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot which includes a 500-room hotel, a 3,000-seat theater and event center and a riverwalk. The casino would get 4,000 gaming positions.
The commission advises the City Council on big developments. Members include mayoral appointees, alderpersons and department heads.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., whose 27th Ward includes the project, assailed Bally’s for not disclosing its workforce development plan reached with Chicago labor unions. Burnett said he is worried that union labor may not provide enough jobs for Black residents. A Bally’s executive promised to provide the workforce development plan by Tuesday when the project goes before the council’s zoning committee.
Until he sees the plan, Burnett said he cannot support the zoning. "I want to see that by tomorrow or I’ll just raise a lot of hell at the zoning meeting," Burnett said.
The panel’s recommendation, approved on a 12-1 vote, goes to the council for final review, which could come Wednesday. Burnett, a member of the commission, recused himself from the vote. The only opposing vote came from architect Laura Flores, the commission’s chairperson.
Approval from alderpersons would give Bally’s the zoning authority to start construction, but the company still needs approval from the Illinois Gaming Board to operate in Chicago. If that OK comes, Bally’s hopes to open a temporary casino at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., in 2023 and to have the permanent location finished in 2026.
The permanent site, now a Chicago Tribune printing plant, runs along the west side of the Chicago River between Grand and Chicago avenues. Bally’s has suggested the plant might temporarily continue on a corner of the property, but the Tribune has not disclosed any relocation plans. The plant prints the Tribune, Sun-Times, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Bally’s is acquiring the roughly 30-acre site but is in turn selling it to Chicago-based Oak Street Real Estate Capital and leasing the property. The 99-year leaseback allows Bally’s to raise up to $500 million it can apply to development costs. Critics have said the Illinois Gaming Board should closely examine the arrangement because it increases the project’s fiscal complexity.
Bally’s has said the deal does the opposite. "With this new real estate partnership, Bally’s has ample liquidity on hand to fund Bally’s Chicago without needing to access the capital markets," the company’s chief financial officer, Bobby Lavan, has said.