Where will the city’s new casino go? Probably not at these sites.
By Madeline Nusser|
When a casino bill hit Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk in January, a union leader suggested transforming the James R. Thompson Center into a casino. Chicago Federation of Labor president Jorge Ramirez called the Loop building “great for transportation, centrally located and near to the theater district.” Oh, and it also serves as the state government’s downtown headquarters. Say what? It isn’t the only proposed casino location that’s left us scratching our heads.
Navy Pier Now you don’t have to leave Junior in the hot car—get your penny-slot fix inside the Children’s Museum! Who recommended it During the first major revamp of the Pier, Morton’s steakhouse founder Arnold Morton outlined his plan for a glamorous casino in a 1990 Chicago Tribune op-ed. “There is a spectacular bilevel room at the end of Navy Pier that could be one of the most stunning casinos in North America,” the steak king wrote. “I recommend that the casino be…operated as a private club with annual dues.” According to Arnie, that would fill city and state coffers with about $200 million. Plus, if you lose, it’s a quick walk off the pier. Mayor Eugene Sawyer and, after him, Mayor Richard M. Daley put the kibosh on a casino by transforming Navy Pier into a kid paradise replete with the Chicago Children’s Museum, an IMAX theater and a 15-story Ferris wheel debuting in 1995. Would we bet on it? No. The Pier’s recent revitalization prompted casino rumblings again. But in 2011, Navy Pier CEO Jim Reilly called a casino “a nonstarter.”
Block 37 What do blackjack winners spend their money on? Billowy Eileen Fisher blouses, of course. Who recommended it Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jerry Roper pushed the idea in 2010, a year after the mall opened with a sky-high vacancy rate. Of course, the block has seen worse times: The city declared it blighted in the 1970s and razed it in the 1980s, and the property sat empty for more than 15 years. The 305,000-square-foot space now houses trendy retail stores—but the vacancy still hovers near 70 percent. Would we bet on it? No. The city spent 30 years trying to remove “blight,” e.g. movie palaces, billiard halls and the like, and won’t let that form of entertainment return.
Old Chicago Main Post Office One million, billion square feet of slots! Who recommended it Ald. Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward includes this plot of land, hopes for something big to transform the 60-acre eyesore atop the city’s main artery. British developer Bill Davies bought the property from the post office in 2009. His plan, unveiled in 2011, included a retail complex, parking garage and 40-story hotel addition, plus four more towers on surrounding properties. At the time of the plan’s unveiling, Fioretti threw support behind Davies and brought up the spot as a possible home to a casino. Would we bet on it? Considering Davies’s plan for five towers—one of which is slated to be the world’s tallest building—almost anything seems possible.
Congress Hotel You don’t even need union labor to build the casino. The hotel’s ten-year union strike is practically part of the scenery. Who recommended it In 2011, Roper supported developing this downtown spot due to its central location. “We feel strongly that the benefits generated by a casino downtown far outweigh any other location,” says Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce executive vice president John Carpenter, citing the revenue from parking, hotels and nearby theaters. Would we bet on it? Not likely. Recent development to the west of the hotel would limit the casino’s size and therefore City Hall’s financial reward.