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South Side religious leader calls for Lightfoot to drop casino bidder tied to problematic housing complex

Bishop Larry Trotter said Related Midwest shouldn’t be rewarded with a casino because of its poor ownership of the Parkway Gardens housing complex.

Bishop Larry Trotter, senior pastor of the Sweet Holy Spirit Church, speaks during a press conference at the Sweet Holy Spirit Church in the South Chicago neighborhood, Tuesday morning, Nov. 30, 2021, where church leaders, parishioners and a Parkway Gardens former resident spoke against Parkway Gardens’ real estate and development firm Related Midwest, which they call a “slumlord.” Related Midwest proposed to build a casino in the South Loop.
Bishop Larry Trotter, senior pastor of the Sweet Holy Spirit Church
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A South Side religious leader called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to remove the owners of a housing complex that’s been hit with a slew of code violations in recent months from the pool of potential bidders for a Chicago casino.

Bishop Larry Trotter, senior pastor of Sweet Holy Spirit Church, said Related Midwest should not be rewarded with a casino because of its “deplorable” track record as the owner of the Parkway Gardens housing complex in Woodlawn, where city inspectors found more than 50 building violations in March.

“The potential owner of the city’s first casino has this slum landlord thing over his head, then why would the city applaud him to be one of the final candidates?” Trotter said, referring to the president of the company, Curt Bailey.

Related, a real estate and development firm, has partnered with Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming in a bid to build a casino in Chicago. Their bid is one of five Lightfoot is considering. Her pick would need City Council approval and a green light from the Illinois Gaming Board.

The company pledged earlier this year to address the building code violations at Parkway Gardens.

“If we just remain silent, there will be more and more deplorable housing issues, and at the end of the day, our people suffer,” Trotter said Tuesday during a news conference at his church in South Chicago. Several members of his church live at Parkway Gardens, he said.

Related Midwest, in a statement Tuesday, pointed to $58 million in capital improvements at Parkway Gardens and its continuing efforts to work with federal housing authorities, the city, community leaders and residents “to bring in additional social programs, overcome the significant public safety challenges in the neighborhood and keep the property affordable for current and future residents.”

A statement sent by a Lightfoot spokesman didn’t address Trotter’s concerns directly but said the bid review process was “extremely robust and thorough” and will include a series of community engagement meetings.

A bidder presentation will be held Dec. 16 at the UIC Forum and will be available to watch via livestream.

Related is one of Chicago’s most active developers. Among its projects is a plan to turn 62 acres along the Chicago River on the Near South Side into “The 78” — the city’s 78th community.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th), who’s been highly critical of Related’s management of Parkway Gardens, said Tuesday she agrees with Trotter.

“Why should Related be rewarded with a casino and the 78? We should not be rewarding people who treat our neighbors and citizens like crap,” Taylor said.

Taylor said Related has made some progress in addressing issues at Parkway Gardens but “is not moving fast enough.”

Pastor Corey Brooks, whose New Beginnings Church is down the block from Parkway Gardens, said he believes Related is living up to their commitments.

“Any building complex of its size is going to have violations,” he said. “Related has listened to and addressed concerns. If they weren’t fixing violations, trust me, I’d be the first to holler and scream.”

Related put the massive housing complex up for sale in April — touting its contract with federal housing authorities that ensures subsidized rent for years to come — but weeks later pulled it off the market.

As a child, former first lady Michelle Obama lived in Parkway Gardens before it was turned into 694 units of affordable housing.