Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday followed through on her promise to give everyday people a voice in the high-stakes process of choosing the site for a Chicago casino.
City Hall launched an online survey asking Chicagoans to weigh in on their site preferences. Never mind that City Hall has already put its cards on the table by asking a consultant for the Illinois Gaming Board to study five sites on the South and West sides for their ability to get financing.
The online survey at www.chicago.gov/casinosurvey asks respondents where they believe the casino would be most conveniently located, how often they might go there, what amenities they prefer, and to pinpoint ways they believe it could benefit the community.
The site selection question asks respondents to check three boxes from among 15 choices. They include near downtown; far from downtown; near existing hotels; an area without hotels; near the Chicago River; near Lake Michigan; near the Indiana border; or within existing neighborhood corridors.
There are also check boxes for near other entertainment venues; in a location that will generate new development; proximity to public transportation; near to a highway; near tourists and most profitable. A 16th check box says “other” and asks respondents to specify their reasons.
The online survey will be available in at least six languages and at public libraries for those who don’t have computers. Preliminary results will be shared with the public in mid-August when the Gaming Board is expected to release its financial feasibility study on the five sites designated by City Hall.
The survey will continue through the fall, even after preliminary results are released. That will be followed by a series of community forums on a Chicago casino.
Lightfoot was highly critical of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s dictatorial, top-down management style. She has promised to listen more, talk less and be more collaborative before making decisions on major projects.
When she designated the five sites for further study, it looked like the same old song from City Hall.
Friday’s launch of the online survey is aimed at proving the skeptics wrong.
“While the prospect of a new casino holds tremendous potential for generating new revenues and stimulating economic opportunity for Chicago, we are committed to a transparent process for ensuring all voices can be heard as the city moves forward on this historic project,” Lightfoot said in a news release.
Sites designated for further study by the Gaming Board are the Harborside Golf Course side at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway; the former Michael Reese hospital at 31st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue; Pershing Road and State Street; Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue; and the former U.S. Steel parcel at 80th Street and Lake Shore Drive.
Lightfoot has cautioned Chicagoans not to get “fixated” on those five sites because the list is “not definitive.”
She has acknowledged that a downtown site like McCormick Place East, Navy Pier or the Thompson Center is not “off the boards.” But she has acknowledged those sites were excluded from the study list because of opposition from the convention and tourism industries.
“There’s some concern about whether or not having a downtown site will detract from tourism. There are some tour operators and conventions that don’t want a downtown site because they feel like their conventioneers will go to the casino and not actually participate in the conventions,” she said previously.
“Rather than deal with that noise now — it’ll have to be dealt with down the road — we just took other sites” primarily city controlled.
Appearing Thursday on the WTTW program “Chicago Tonight,” Lightfoot hinted strongly that she does not believe the taxing structure established by the General Assembly is feasible. That would require a fix during the fall veto session.
“We’re concerned about it. We think it takes too much money out of the pockets of a potential casino operator before the doors are even open. That’s what we’re really focused on: Can we even finance this deal?” she said.