Bally’s paying Tribune to clear Freedom Center for casino

Deal moves newspaper’s parent company out for $1.7B casino, entertainment complex

Bally’s chairman Soo Kim and the Freedom Center in Chicago
Bally’s chairman Soo Kim and the Freedom Center in Chicago (Bally's, Wikipedia/Sea Cow)

Bally’s is all-in on its Chicago casino bet, having offered up house money to Tribune Publishing to complete an early move-out from the Freedom Center printing plant being redeveloped as a $1.7 billion entertainment complex.

Rhode Island-based Bally’s will pay the Chicago Tribune’s parent company a “series of cash payments” in return for its commitment to exit the Freedom Center in 2024 rather than in another decade, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Bally’s bought the 30-acre site for $200 million in November from Nexstar Media, followed by a sale-leaseback on the land with Oak Street Real Estate Capital, raising up to $500 million to help fund the project.

With Tribune Publishing’s previous lease of the printing plant originally set to expire in June, the company exercised an option to extend its stay for another 10 years. Bally’s and the publishing company then went to binding arbitration over terms of the deal, leading to an agreement in which Bally’s had to help find a new printing press location in exchange for Tribune’s departure. They opted for an undisclosed cash settlement instead, according to Bally’s chairman Soo Kim.

“We have come to an agreement that instead of us presenting a site, picking it and then building it, they’ve agreed to just handle that themselves,” Kim said.

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Tribune Publishing has not announced plans for a new printing plant. The company, however, did say it’s committed to continue print editions.

The Bally’s casino complex is slated for an exhibition hall, a 500-room hotel, 3,000-seat theater, 10 restaurants and 4,000 gaming positions. The Rhode Island-based company expects to break ground next year, aiming for completion in 2026.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s selection of the Freedom Center among several other bids from developers such as Related Midwest and Bob Dunn’s Landmark Development for Chicago’s first casino was controversial, but ultimately got a majority of city council on board.

Bally’s is planning to open a temporary casino at Medinah Temple in River North this summer, though it still needs approval by the Illinois Gaming Board.

— Quinn Donoghue

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