Bally’s and city officials addressed concerns about increased crime and traffic at the temporary Medinah Temple casino site during a community engagement meeting Tuesday.
The historic River North building is slated to open in June and operate as a temporary casino for up to three years until the permanent Chicago casino is completed at the Freedom Center printing plant site. Adapting the 110-year-old Moorish-style amphitheater, and the neighborhood, to a 24/7 gambling palace remains a work in progress.
“Everything that we do here is going to be on a test mode to make sure we have the right customer experience, we have easy access, we have people really comfortable with the traffic flow, and how people come in and out during peak times,” said Ameet Patel, senior vice president and regional general manager for Bally’s, during Tuesday’s meeting at the VOCO Hotel. “Ultimately, we plan to take all the lessons learned from Medinah Temple to a permanent site as we develop that in the next four years.”
Over the years, the ornate Medinah Temple has hosted everything from concerts to the annual Shrine Circus. In 2003, the building was redeveloped as a Bloomingdale’s home furnishings store but has been vacant for more than two years after Macy’s sold the building.
The city steered Bally’s toward using the Medinah site for its temporary casino, despite the lack of on-site parking. The casino will occupy three floors at Medinah, with more than 800 gaming positions, including slots and table games, three restaurants and a bar.
Safety protocols include a single point of entry on Wabash Avenue, concealed weapons detection technology and a 24/7 video surveillance system. Outside the casino, license plate readers, private security patrols, traffic coordinators and the police plan to work together to keep the perimeter safe.
Based on traffic counts at other urban casinos, there will be four vehicles arriving and four vehicles departing the casino per minute during rush hour, according to Tim Doron, a transportation consultant whose firm conducted a traffic study on the site, commissioned by Bally’s. To keep traffic flowing, Bally’s has committed to employing three traffic controllers for “at least” the first 90 days of operation, Doron said.
Doron said there are 5,000 parking spaces in nearby garages, with nearly 1,000 spaces available most evenings. With a maximum capacity of 1,500 patrons at the casino, the study estimates 60% will arrive by car, resulting in a peak demand for 500 additional spaces.
“We feel confident that there is ample parking, actually more than ample parking,” Doron said.
The updated traffic study, released in September, has been criticized as “seriously flawed” by Ald. Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward includes the temporary location. It was a theme echoed by several residents at Tuesday’s meeting.
Brian Israel, president of the River North Residents Association, said the traffic study “overestimates” the number of patrons and employees who will walk to the casino and underestimates traffic congestion for the neighborhood.
The lack of free on-site parking and the high cost of garage parking may drive more people to use ride-share, taxi and charter bus options than the study anticipates, he said.
“This will worsen congestion, which is already increasing as tourism and commerce gradually move toward pre-pandemic levels,” he said.
Lisa Hackney-James, an Episcopal priest from nearby St. James Cathedral, was skeptical there would be enough parking for both her parishioners and gamblers at Medinah Temple.
Hackney-James said 200 to 300 people come to services on Sunday morning. She was looking for assurances that the parking lots won’t be “saturated” with casino patrons still rolling the dice from Saturday night.
“It’s never empty on a Sunday morning,” she said.
In May, Bally’s won a heated competition to build the Chicago casino, which is expected to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue for the city. The proposed $1.74 billion complex in River West would include an exhibition hall, 500-room hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, an outdoor music venue, six restaurants and 4,000 gaming positions including slot machines and table games, making it the largest casino in the state.
The Rhode Island-based casino company bought the 30-acre Freedom Center printing site earlier this month for $200 million and executed a sale-leaseback on the land with Chicago-based Oak Street Real Estate Capital, raising up to $500 million to help build the casino complex.
A community engagement meeting to discuss the proposed permanent casino is set for 6-8 p.m. Monday at 700 W. Chicago Ave.
Bally’s will appear before the Chicago Plan Commission on Dec. 12, seeking to amend a multiuse planned development already approved for the Tribune Publishing printing plant site.