Chicago’s Lightfoot inches closer to casino decision

One or two proposals not meeting mayor’s standards; she hasn’t revealed which

Lori Lightfoot (Getty, 78Chicago, iStock)
Lori Lightfoot (Getty, 78Chicago, iStock)

Some big winners will soon be on their way to Chicago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is inching closer to a decision on which of five casino proposals she’ll move forward to the City Council, and suggested to the Crain’s editorial board she’s already skeptical of two.

Without revealing which of the proposals she has doubts about, Lightfoot told the outlet it would be “fair” to label one or two of the bids to develop a casino she’s considering as short of the city’s standards. She told Crain’s a decision on which of five proposals she’s considering moving forward to the full council is likely weeks away.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority controls real estate needed by three of the five casino proposals: Bally’s McCormick Place, Rivers McCormick, and Hard Rock One Central. It would vote on whether to make its property available to the city should Chicago pick one of those three. The other two are Bally’s proposal for the Tribune Publishing Center on the near north side and Rivers 78 between the South Loop and Chinatown.

Lightfoot is especially concerned with each developer’s financial capacity, and wants it to be deep enough to be viable and beneficial to the city right away, instead of using a business model with success hinging on future performance, she told the outlet.

“We’ve got to make sure that we’ve looked at the financials from every possible angle. I have zero interest in getting into a financial relationship with anybody that cannot deliver,” Lightfoot told Crain’s. “This cannot be a city-funded casino. That’s not the plan. My expectation is that the one that we ultimately select is one that’s going to have met all those financial diligence checkpoints.”

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Chicago’s trade show organizers are divided on whether proposed casinos would enhance or harm McCormick Place, which calls itself the largest convention center of its kind in the country, The Real Deal reported last month after attending a presentation by MPEA head Larita Clark.

About 38 percent of McCormick clients were “very supportive” of a casino near the campus as opposed to on it, another 38 percent were “somewhat supportive” and 25 percent were “somewhat opposed,” research by the center’s owner found.

Lightfoot told Crain’s she expects her office to issue a report in coming weeks that ranks the different bidders “in terms of meeting the various criteria that we’ve set forth.”

Another round of public engagement would follow the report, and then she expects to narrow her choice to one and move that to the full council.

[Crain’s] – Sam Lounsberry