No casino in the cards for Michael Reese Hospital site, alderman says

The idea of a casino on the Near South Side side has been “off the table for some time,” Alderman Sophia King said

Jun.June 04, 2019 04:30 PM
Alderman Sophia King (4th) and a Burnham Lakefront rendering

Alderman Sophia King (4th) and a Burnham Lakefront rendering

Cross the former Michael Reese Hospital site off the list of potential locations for a future Chicago casino.

Neighbors in Bronzeville have been “adamant” that the idea of putting a casino on the 49-acre lakefront property has been “off the table for some time,” according to a statement released Tuesday by Alderman Sophia King (4th), whose ward includes the site.

Decades of speculation around a potential city casino suddenly became real Sunday when the state General Assembly approved a sweeping package of bills that would legalize sports betting and provide for the construction of six casinos around the state, with the largest in Chicago.

The casino could be carved into any of the neighborhood-scale mega-projects being planned around the city, including the Burnham Lakefront, the 100-acre mixed-use plan envisioned by Farpoint Development and a coalition of other firms on the Michael Reese site.

But King wrote Tuesday the development team will answer to a neighborhood advisory committee, and that “the community has consistently opposed a casino on the site.”

“The Michael Reese Advisory Committee has honored this strong sentiment and has been diligently working with Farpoint Development on the highest and best use of the land,” the alderman continued. “They are proposing a vibrant mixed-use development consisting of residential, commercial and community space that also pays homage to Michael Reese Hospital and the greater Bronzeville community.”

Nearly two years after city leaders selected Farpoint to redevelop the site, the firm has not reached any formal agreement to buy the city-owned property.

Even as new Mayor Lori Lightfoot tries to chip away at the long-standing norm of “aldermanic privilege,” council members wield outsized power over any new development proposed in their wards. That’s how Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) was able to force major changes to Sterling Bay’s plan for Lincoln Yards, including the elimination of a plan for a 20,000-seat soccer stadium on the 55-acre site.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she would await the results of a study before she endorses a plan to build the casino on any specific site. But that did little to tamp down conjecture from leaders like Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said the casino should go in a city neighborhood that’s been “left out” of the city’s economic growth, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

A representative of Farpoint did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but Farpoint development director Elle Ramel told The Real Deal in December the firm has “no plans or future plans to put a casino” on the site.

If city leaders want to see a casino at Lincoln Yards or at Related Midwest’s planned 62-acre mixed-use campus called The 78, they would have to amend the development plans approved by the City Council in December and March. As currently written, the documents do not include gambling under a list of allowed uses.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a final pitch last year for a Chicago casino, suggesting a venue on the city’s Southeast Side could attract tourists from Indiana.

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