Lightfoot rushing to get City Council approval of Bally’s casino bid next week

It’s an unusual timeline for any legislation to move through the council, and unnecessary at that, said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who vehemently opposes Bally’s proposal to break ground at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

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A rendering of Bally’s proposed casino complex at 777 W. Chicago Ave., site of a Chicago Tribune printing plant.

A rendering of Bally’s proposed casino complex at 777 W. Chicago Ave., site of a Chicago Tribune printing plant.

Provided

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is giving City Council members more time — but not much more — to review the casino proposal she’s trying to ram through to approval.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), vice chairman of Lightfoot’s hand-picked casino committee, on Friday delayed a plan to advance Bally’s River West casino proposal through to the full City Council, saying committee members “definitely need more time” to review a flurry of new documents related to the $1.7 billion project.

Tunney instead laid out a frenzied timeline for Monday: the committee will reconvene midway through a full City Council meeting, vote on the Bally’s agreement and an ordinance related to it, then take it back to the council. That would tee up the bid for full approval on Wednesday.

It’s an incredibly unusual timeline for any legislation to move through the council, and an unnecessary one at that, according to downtown Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who is vehemently against Bally’s proposal to break ground at Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street.

“This whole thing feels rushed. ... I see no reason why we can’t do our due diligence, to not have this artificial time pressure that’s being created right now with a blizzard of documents at the last minute,” Hopkins said. “All of these things point to the fact that more time is needed.”

That blizzard includes tweaks to the community host agreement between the city and the Rhode Island-based gambling corporation, in addition to a late-arriving traffic impact study on Bally’s temporary casino site at the landmark Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

Even Lightfoot allies criticized some terms of the agreement and the rushed timeline, arguing it gives too much authority to the mayor and her deputies.

“If we’re going to expedite this, there has to be, at the end of the day, comfort that the City Council has control over what happens,” said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Lightfoot’s deputy floor leader. He said he’d likely vote in favor of the plan, “but that doesn’t mean I’ll relinquish my due diligence as a council member.”

An aerial map of the proposed Bally’s casino, which is marked “I-J-K.”

An aerial map of the proposed Bally’s casino, which is marked “I-J-K.”

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He added: “I wish we would take a little more time. ... There’s so many things to consider.”

After Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) complained the agreement was “too broad” in giving authority to the mayor’s office to waive certain provisions of the deal with Bally’s, Jennie Huang Bennett — the mayor’s point person on finances for the casino — said they’d take parts of the agreement back to the drawing board over the weekend.

“We’re going to take a look at this language and make sure it’s clear so that it addresses the comments and feedback that has been provided,” Bennett said.

Tunney defended the city’s timeline, pointing to a series of community meetings dating back to December. If council members “wanted to be involved,” he said, “we’ve given them every [piece of] information we get, as soon as we got it.”

Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar, another top Lightfoot aide shepherding the casino selection, said “many steps” would still remain in the approval process after council members sign off on the agreement, including “the planned development process, city licensing process, and a very lengthy Illinois Gaming Board approval process.”

At an unrelated news conference, Lightfoot said she was OK with giving council members the weekend to mull “a very big decision,” but emphasized she still wants quick action to advance the Bally’s proposal to state regulators.

“It’s mission critical for the 2023 budget so we don’t have to go to taxpayers and say we need more from you,” she said.

The mayor is trying to seek approval as soon as possible to secure a $40 million upfront payment from Bally’s. That’s outlined in the agreement, along with promises to have the temporary casino operating within a year of state approval and the final site open within three years. The expected $200 million annually in tax revenue is earmarked for its nearly insolvent police and firefighter pension funds.

Among other provisions, the deal calls for Bally’s to chip in $2 million a year to boost public safety around the temporary casino site, then $1 million a year at the completed site.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) called that “woefully inadequate” to address the crime issue that has unified a vocal contingent of River North neighbors against the development, especially around Medinah.

“We’re going to have a beacon in the middle of River North for all the criminals to know: folks with money in their pockets, they’re going to be coming to this block,” Reilly said. “Good luck.”

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