Residents Express Opposition to Casino at The 78
More than 100 South Loop and Chinatown residents attended a virtual meeting March 1 on a casino proposal at The 78, with most expressing opposition. In a separate unscientific poll, 74% of those who took the online survey said they were “highly unsupportive” of the casino proposal. The meeting was hosted by The 78 Community Advisory Council, a group set up in 2019 “as a conduit for community input as construction moves forward” on the megaproject. Council member Josh Ellis told participants on the Zoom call that initially, “a casino was not part of the original proposal. It wasn’t part of anybody’s proposal in Chicago” — until in 2019, when the General Assembly substantially expanded gaming throughout the state. Ellis noted that four of the five casino proposals the city has received are for sites in or near the South Loop.
The 78 council’s survey results showed that while a minority of respondents were optimistic about new jobs and increased revenue for the city and state, the majority of residents are opposed to the casino coming to The 78. Those surveyed said they are concerned about increased crime and traffic, gambling addiction among low-income residents, a potential exodus of families and negative impacts on young children who attend nearby schools.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whose 25th Ward includes The 78 site, said he is “listening very carefully” to the feedback from residents, and questioned whether the original proposal for The 78, which included public financing in the form of TIFs, should be revisited “if this is going to change completely into a casino proposal.”
Meanwhile, Friends of the Parks has endorsed the casino proposal that would reuse Lakeside Center, McCormick Place’s oldest and least-used building. In a letter to supporters and contributors, Executive Director Juanita Irizarry argued that the “Rivers Chicago McCormick” proposal was the best in terms of reclaiming park space and improving public access. She noted the scheme calls for installing a green roof atop Lakeside Center, enhancing the McCormick Bird Sanctuary and creating nearly five more acres of public plaza surrounding the building “without expanding” the existing footprint. “Such access is the idea that we envisioned back in the early ’90’s when we advocated for anew public entrance that makes it possible to enter the building from the lakefront path,” Irizarry wrote. “This access for visitors, including those who are not using the casino, would activate this space that has blocked east-west access to the lakefront for decades, instead inviting all Chicagoans to enjoy the glory of Lake Michigan from a perch above the parkland.”
The proposed rebirth of Lakeside Center could be the quickest casino to open, perhaps in only 12 months. But it removes space McCormick Place officials contend is needed for conventions and trade shows.
The support by Friends of the Parks is rather surprising, given the group’s fierce 2016 opposition to the Lucas Museum on a site just north of Lakeside Center, based on the Public Trust Doctrine legal restrictions that cover land recovered from Lake Michigan—a lawsuit any citizen of Illinois could have brought. A 1958 court decision allowed the Public Trust land under McCormick Place to be used for "fair and exposition" purposes. Particularly after the dramatic expansion of that doctrine in the 1970s, legal observers think it unlikely a court would approve the lease or license of the property to a private gambling casino.