Community meeting aims to ease fears about Medinah Temple’s temporary future as casino

‘The Las Vegas strip is not going to be on your doorstep,’ said Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Chief Engagement Officer Martina Hone.

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Medinah Temple, at 600 N. Wabash Ave., in River North on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Medinah Temple, at 600 N. Wabash Ave., in River North on Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Architects who plan to revamp the historic Medinah Temple downtown to be the temporary site of a new casino want to be clear: The building’s copper domes, third-floor ceiling and stained glass windows will remain untouched, preserving the integrity of the 1912 architecture.

Bally’s casino —which won the city’s approval of a new site in River West — is set to temporarily occupy the historic Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., before moving to its permanent riverfront location on Chicago Avenue and Halsted Street. But the short-term stay has raised questions about the preservation of Medinah’s River North building, a designated Chicago landmark since 2001.

A virtual community meeting Tuesday — led by Bally’s employees, architects and members of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s community engagement team — aimed to address residents’ questions and dispel fears about tampering with an iconic building.

Medinah Temple, which used to be an amphitheater and auditorium before becoming a retail space, has been recognized by the city as a landmark for more than 20 years. That status will be respected, and only minor adjustments to the building are planned, according to Robert Jillson and Luis Collado with STL Architects, a firm working with Bally’s.

“We are allowing the beauty of the window and the light to go through it, but we are creating that space in between so you cannot actually touch the window,” said Luis Collado, of STL Architects, a firm working with Bally’s. “We want to both protect the window but at the same time we want to take advantage of its beauty.”

Much of the exterior will resemble the building’s former use as a Bloomingdale’s department store, including the banner-style signs stretching vertically up the building’s all, renderings presented at the meeting show.

The interior construction, if approved, would consist of removing some walls installed during the 2003 renovation before Bloomingdale’s occupied the space.

The building has been empty for nearly two years since Macy’s pulled the Bloomingdale’s store out of the site in September 2020.

Some residents Tuesday also raised concerns about traffic, parking, public safety, utility use and more.

City officials tried to ease those concerns.

“The Las Vegas strip is not going to be on your doorstep,” said Lightfoot’s Chief Engagement Officer Martina Hone.

Another meeting will be set to discuss issues outside of the landmark status of the building, Hone said.

“Today what we wanted to do was to really allow you to see the architects’ vision for the beautiful, iconic Medinah Temple in its latest incarnation as the temporary casino site,” Hone said.

The permanent location for Bally’s has been approved for construction in the River West neighborhood, but not without obstacles. A neighborhood association has made several requests regarding the construction, including extending streets and adding a public park.

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