River North group demands changes to make Bally’s casino more palatable
The River North Residents Association issued a wish list divided into eight categories. The most costly asks are infrastructure projects — led by the proposed Jefferson Street extension and construction of entrance and exit ramps off the Ontario-Ohio feeder.
Replace the outdoor music venue with a public park.
Build an eastbound exit ramp and westbound entrance ramp connecting Bally’s River West casino directly to the Ohio-Ontario feeder to try to keep casino traffic off surface streets.
Extend Jefferson Street to Grand Avenue to relieve Halsted Street congestion.
Devote 2% of annual city revenues from casino operations to “neighborhood-based gaming outreach and treatment” for gambling addiction.
The River North Residents Association lost what little leverage it had when Mayor Lori Lightfoot put her chips on Bally’s $1.7 billion River West bid and convinced the City Council less than three weeks later to authorize construction of a permanent casino at Chicago Avenue and Halsted and a temporary casino at Medinah Temple in River North.
But that didn’t stop the association from making those big-ticket demands, and others, with an eye toward the 2023 mayoral and aldermanic election.
“We’re hoping for pretty broad support for these recommendations — at least, most of ’em — even among people who supported the casino,” said association president Brian Israel.
“I gritted my teeth. I didn’t think it was the greatest idea, but I saw no alternative. I didn’t want to have tax increases before the election. But now that that decision is made, I am certainly behind making this thing as good as it possibly can be and working to reduce negative impacts on the community.”
During the evaluation process, Israel said Lightfoot made “too many unilateral decisions and didn’t involve the City Council enough.”
“Our hope is that a number of members of the City Council, particularly the local ones, are going to get behind these asks and try to put leverage on the administration to try to accommodate as many of them as possible,” he said.
The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the wish list. Local City Council member Brian Hopkins (2nd) embraced all of the recommendations with one exception: not allowing boats to dock on the Chicago River.
“We want to make better use of the river — and that means all destinations along it,” he said.
But Hopkins said it “may not be practical” to build entrance and exit ramps off the Ohio-Ontario feeder.
“I’d like to see how that’s possible and what the cost would be. I’m not sure that’s workable from an engineering standpoint,” he said.
Bally’s representatives did not return messages seeking comment.
The list released by the River North Residents Association is divided into eight categories ranging from environment, infrastructure and security to quality of life and gambling addiction, prevention and treatment.
Israel made no apologies for the most costly item: entrance and exit ramps off the Ontario-Ohio feeder to handle “enormous volume of traffic” that would otherwise be diverted to local streets.
“People coming in from the highway would have to get off at Ohio. They’d have to turn right on Orleans, turn right on Grand, turn right on Jefferson. That’s an enormous amount of traffic and stress on surface streets. Not to mention Chicago and Halsted,” Israel said.
“If there could be ramps, that would take people right from the highway directly to the casino, that would be an improvement. There may be obstacles. It may not be possible from an engineering standpoint or a cost standpoint. But we’re asking that they look into it.”
Yet another big-ticket item is the proposal to replace the outdoor music venue with a public park and conclude all other outdoor program at 9 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There is also a companion demand that Bally’s “conduct all concerts and performances indoors” and cap those events at fifteen a month. limit those events to fifteen-a-month.”
“I’m not sure how much it’ll cost them. Our sense is that the main revenue driver for this project is the casino and the gaming — not all of these extraneous things,” Israel said.
“The music venue and the exhibition space and the museum and the food court — those are accessories. If they could still have performances and do some entertainment and limit it so it doesn’t have so much impact on the people who live right across the river, that would be a good compromise.”
The security wish list includes a demand for “regular external security patrols for four blocks in every direction” from both the permanent casino at Chicago and Halsted and from the temporary casino at Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave.
“We have had dreadful, frightening and disturbing increases in ... carjackings, robberies and assaults. If you now have a parade of casino customers going to and from this facility, don’t you think that’s gonna look like a target-rich environment and potentially increase that kind of crime?” Israel said.
“So we’re saying that the Bally’s patrols oughta not just focus on keeping the casino site safe, but also the surrounding community.”