Bally’s clears casino hurdle, buys out Tribune lease: report

The agreement reportedly calls for Tribune Publishing to move its printing operation by July 2024, leaving behind 30 acres for the casino operator.

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An aerial view of the Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center, future site of Bally’s casino.

Bally’s expects to open a casino on the Tribune’s Freedom Center site in 2026.

Brian Ernst/Sun-Times file

Tribune Publishing will move its newspaper printing plant next year, making way for a Chicago casino, under an agreement it has reached with Bally’s, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The casino operator reportedly will buy out Tribune’s lease on the property at 777 W. Chicago Ave. Bally’s bought the 30 acres for $200 million last year after winning City Hall’s blessing to build the first casino inside city limits.

But Tribune still was tied to the site on a long-term lease, leaving a financial wrinkle to be ironed out before Bally’s could proceed with its promised $1.7 billion gambling and entertainment center.

Under the agreement with Bally’s, Tribune Publishing will get a series of payments and will leave the property by July 2024, the newspaper reported. The printing plant, called the Freedom Center, has produced the Chicago Tribune since 1981.

Over the years, it also became the printing site for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The press runs have declined significantly, however, amid the shift to digital media.

Bally’s could not be reached for comment. It might release information Tuesday when it issues quarterly financial results.

What happens to the presses is unknown. Tribune Publishing declined to comment beyond a statement it gave to the Chicago Tribune, which it owns, that said it remains committed to commercial printing.

“We are saddened to be relocated from our long-term home at the Freedom Center, but gratified to help clear the way for an economic development project that is so important to this city,” the statement said.

“We are committed to a print edition of the Chicago Tribune and anticipate continuing to print the Chicago Tribune and our commercial print customers with very substantial investments in several locations through the Greater Chicago Metropolitan area. We hope to announce those plans shortly.

“In the meantime, it’s business as usual for our employees and commercial print customers as we invest in a transition that will take some time. In any event, we will continue printing without interruption after moving.”

The investment firm Alden Global Capital owns Tribune Publishing. Last year, an Alden affiliate bought the former production center of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in West Milwaukee for a reported $26 million.

The deal raises the possibility that the print runs of Chicago papers will come from West Milwaukee. An executive with Chicago Public Media, owner of the Sun-Times, had no immediate comment.

Trucking daily editions over long distances has become more common as publishers consolidate production sites. The newspaper chain Gannett, which owns the Journal Sentinel, last year moved printing for 11 Wisconsin papers to Peoria.

Bally’s is building a temporary casino in Chicago’s Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave. It could open this year but that depends on approval from the Illinois Gaming Board.

The company has said that, pending state approval, it expects to open at the Tribune site in 2026. Plans include 4,000 gaming positions, a 3,000-seat theater and a 500-room hotel with a rooftop bar.

Tribune’s lease on the property included two 10-year extensions, one of which it exercised this year. Bally’s had to buy out that long-term hold on the site.

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