Mayor Lori Lightfoot Selects Bally’s As Winning Casino Bid

Updated rendering of Bally's bid by SCB

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has announced her selection of the Bally’s Tribune Center bid as the winner of the long casino selection process. Located at 777 W Chicago Avenue in River West, the winning proposal will replace the existing Chicago Tribune Printing Center which had been part of a larger approved planned development for multiple years. Rhode Island-based Bally’s, which operates over 10 casinos nationally, is planning to develop the site as their new flagship property designed by local architecture firm SCB that will hug the north branch of the Chicago River.

Winning Bally’s bid (left), Rivers The 78 (center), and Hard Rock One Central (right)

The bid beat out the other two finalists which included one from Hard Rock at the One Central mega-development and Rivers at The 78, all after months of revisions and tumultuous community meetings. A deal 30 years in the making, Bally’s is now poised to build the city’s first casino if it can clear crucial approvals from City Council and the Illinois Gambling Board next. The decision was speculated earlier in the week after news broke of Shapack Partners purchasing a nearby building, and Onni Development Group acquiring the site directly north of the casino at 700 W Chicago Avenue.

Site map of previously approved planed development and proposed Bally’s bid by SCB

A large convincing factor is the overall money the Bally’s bid is expected to bring in, starting with an increased upfront payment of $40 million, an annual payment of $4 million during the construction of the main casino, and commit to 60 percent minority hiring with pathways for upwards mobility. The yearly tax revenue after six years of this proposal was also the highest of all of three finalists at around $192 million compared to The 78 bid which would have produced the least at $174 million, all of which will help with some of the pension issues the city has.

View of Medinah Temple at night via Friedman Properties

Once approved, Bally’s will begin construction of their temporary facility. Previously expected to be across the street inside the old Chicago Tribune plant, plans for that have since changed and it will now occupy the old Medinah Temple at 600 N Wabash Avenue in River North. This may be due to the aforementioned deal with Onni to purchase that lot and build up to 1,000 residential units. The new temporary location will bring a 45,000-square-foot two-story casino with up to 1,200 gambling positions, and two restaurants along with plenty of back of house space across the 77,000-square-foot building.

Updated rendering of Bally’s bid by SCB

The final $1.7 billion, 1 million-square-foot development will begin construction soon after and be anchored by a 37-story tall oval-shaped hotel tower holding 500 rooms and a two-story rooftop restaurant facing downtown. This will be connected via a winter garden to the massive casino building holding 3,400 slots and 170 tables, a 20,000-square-foot exhibition and museum space, a 70,000-square-foot entertainment center with a 3,000-seat theater, six restaurants including a food hall, and an outdoor music venue for up to 1,000 people.

Updated riverwalk rendering from Bally’s bid by SCB

The plan also calls for a rooftop pool and activity deck for hotel guests, a drop-off loop within a park for the hotel tower, a 2,100-foot riverwalk including a large park at the southern end of the casino building, and a new pedestrian bridge over the river to Ward Park across the way. There are also 30 improvement projects suggested around the site such as the reconstruction and widening of the Chicago Avenue bridge, these will be in collaboration with the city. The proposal also includes a massive parking garage across a new access road which can be expected to hold over 1,000 vehicles.

Updated rendering of southern-end park from Bally’s bid by SCB

Although the casino technically will lower the approved density of the river-front planned development, locals have expressed concerns towards the proposal including a 120-page compilation of their complaints which was delivered to project leaders. The concerns focus around increased traffic, which has yet to be worked out with the CTA and CDOT, and the potential for increased crime as well. Bally’s will continue to work with local leaders although both aldermen for the permanent and temporary facilities have expressed their disapproval for the plans.

Updated rendering of pedestrian areas with CTA branded canopy on the right from Bally’s bid by SCB

As mentioned, the selection by the mayor is just the first part of the larger approval needed for the plans to proceed. City Council will be next, however Bally’s was able to secure a labor deal with the local union which is needed for securing the council’s support according to Crain’s. After that it will require the State Board to sign off in order to ratify their gambling license, once this is complete along with other unique permits such as a 24-hour liquor license, the project can break ground. With a summer 2023 opening date for the temporary facility, the permanent casino will guarantee 3,000 temporary construction jobs, and create 3,000 permanent jobs once completed in the first quarter of 2026.

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20 Comments on "Mayor Lori Lightfoot Selects Bally’s As Winning Casino Bid"

  1. I am glad. One Central was not the place to put a casino. At least for now, we can stop the bleeding of our budget.

  2. Terrible decision but predictable with this city. O’Hare, Thompson Center, Block-37 and now this. The 78 was the only world class proposal on par with, if not beyond Vegas casinos. It would have been iconic and created a modern landmark for the city giving Chicago a one of a kind destination and global recognition.

    Bally’s is nothing special at all and could easily be in any large city in North America. That sprawling casino portion has such a massive footprint that screams suburbs and the hotel tower is utterly bland, not noteworthy in any way. Not to mention the two huge parking garages should have been a non-starter. This city has fallen so far from it’s former glory. There are no visionaries left to lift us from the doldrums. It’s staggering how uninspirational Chicago has become. I’d imagine Rahm would have been all-in on Rivers 78.

  3. Personally think this was a big missed opportunity for the 78. I know this wasn’t wanted anywhere, but that seemed like the best option and the biggest impact.

  4. Dave Daniels | May 6, 2022 at 9:23 am | Reply

    I prefer the 78 proposal strongly. It is far better designed, is architecturely significant, is beautifully located; the Bally’s proposal looks like something you’d see surrounded by desert, not in the middle of a great city like Chicago. But Bally’s knows Chicago, been here before, and did a lot of work on it’s bid. We need the casino so this will meet the bill basically.

  5. Bobby Siemiaszko | May 6, 2022 at 10:45 am | Reply

    Really sad they didn’t choose the 78. Very big missed opportunity. I thought for sure the 78 would win too, but I guess they didn’t bribe enough up front. Huge mistake.

  6. This is what the Fyre Festival was like in its nascent stages.

  7. Steve River North | May 6, 2022 at 10:54 am | Reply

    In the image with the red outline of the Bally’s site; 1) why is 5 parking garage not included inside the outline 2) what are those yellow objects outside? Bally’s has no plans for anything else so is that speculation or what?

  8. What a turd sandwich. River West could have been developed as a walkable, dense yet open riverside neighborhood but will now have a generic tower on a giant soul crushing warehouse base. Good job Chicago, you picked the worst of the sites and operators. The only saving grace is this will fall through and the Medihna Temple will become the true forever home, a more fitting building and use in River North.

  9. Everyone should’ve known Bally’s would be the pick when it was revealed that it would generate the most revenue.

    • The 78 would have been the best choice aesthetically.

    • Steve River North | May 7, 2022 at 10:30 am | Reply

      I agree Scott, that and the fact that Alderman Burnett was not against it. Lori knew that Aldermanic privilege would work in this case. I am going to go out and say only 2 Alderman (#2 and #42) vote against.

      I am surprised that none of the proposal placed it near the United Center. Could have been the start of and entertainment center. The Bears are leaving but the UC plays 80+ games a year.

  10. I agree with the comments above, but want to emphasize the traffic nightmare this will become:
    1. Though its location isn’t THAT far from Loop, West Loop, and River North hotels and residential areas, the typical casino patron isn’t going to walk here so they’ll need a way to get there/back
    2. Public transportation options are limited. Think that same tourist/conventioneer/businessperson who isn’t going to walk here is going to jump on the Chicago or Halsted buses or walk from the Chicago Brown line stop? There isn’t really even bus capacity to serve all the new workers employed here. (Even Vegas casino resorts see the benefit of building monorail transportation to get people into their doors conveniently).
    3. Water taxis are great in theory but not actually that convenient in practice. More of a novelty experience than a viable mass transit option (you still have to get to water taxi stop, wait outdoors in the elements, and slowly putter your way up the river).
    4.A lot of folks will drive – they obviously need a big parking garage wherever this is built…but that’s mostly for locals, as the desired tourist dollars will mainly come from those who don’t have a car while in town…THUS….
    5. The majority of patrons will be using Uber/Lyft to get here and back, which will cause a massive influx of new traffic on all nearby roads. I don’t live in the area but have seen the traffic as it exists today… I just can’t imagine what’s going to happen.

  11. I’ll echo the other comments. The last thing needed in River North/River West is a huge eyesore of this casino. There is so much commercial and residential build going on there now – did anyone look at the big picture? What a shame – Chicago had a chance to do something great here and fumbled the ball, big time. Hoping city council votes it down.

  12. I have a proposal for everyone in River West and River North opposing this: demand infrastructure in exchange for it. Four words: Chicago Avenue Light Rail.

    Link this site up with the Blue, Brown, and Red lines and it’ll be more than worth it.

    • Steve River North | May 7, 2022 at 10:34 am | Reply

      Or the city can rebuild/expand the Chi Ave bridge like they PROMISED when One Chicago was proposed. Then the only other problem will be Halsted at Erie where the tracks crossover. And perhaps stop letting cars park and clog Halsted. It is the only N/S corridor this far east in the city, no i do not consider LSD due to limited on/off access.

    • LMAO more trains will lead to more crimes a la the Red Line.

  13. I am clearly glad that the Hard Rock was not chosen. I would have definitely preferred the 78 location however.

    It seems that the city just has just missed the mark in recent years. Picking what is, in my opinion, the also-rans in these competitions. I think for the O’Hare Global Gateway should have been given to Foster (though I think Studio Gangs was 2nd best). I think that Washington Park was a far more obvious choice for the Obama Library (I realize the Obamas were given the choice, regrettably). Now the selection of the 2nd best casino site/design.

  14. Better than nothing but what a PITA location to get to. If they hit half the tax revenue I’ll be surprised.

  15. a magnet for the criminals who usually target downtown establishments.

  16. Is there any more information about the amount of parking spaces? Somebody on twitter was saying 3300. That would be absolutely ridiculous, but I’m not sure where they’re getting their numbers.

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