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Tribune Media’s River District interests buyers as potential casino site

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The 37-acre waterfront site went up for sale in February.

A rendering of a new Chicago Avenue bridge with people crossing at the end of work day to a glassy, new tower on a waterfront site.
A rendering of 700 at The River District from the Chicago Avenue bridge. 
Goettsch Partners

On his way out former Mayor Emanuel, he gave the green light to a few megadevelopments. One of them was a proposal for Tribune Media’s River District which involved a $2.5 billion proposed megaproject. Just a few months later that 37-acre site went up for sale and now it’s getting more interest from buyers who see part of the site as an ideal location for Chicago’s first-ever casino.

The site has garnered more interest since the gaming expansion bill was passed by state lawmakers, according to a person who works with the companies. The site’s new zoning and size would allow for a casino, plus a lot of other new development.

The northern part of the site near the Freedom Center printing facilities at Halsted and Chicago, could have a temporary casino ready in a matter of months, according to a person familiar with the development. Unlike other sites under consideration, such as Michael Reese and U.S. Steel, it wouldn’t be a development starting from scratch. The downtown site has infrastructure and a build-out ready, vacant warehouse. Currently, Tribune Media has a deal to co-develop the waterfront parcel north of Chicago Avenue with Riverside Investment & Development.

That speed and capacity is an important advantage of the location if the city wants to start collecting revenue as soon as possible, which Lightfoot might need to fill the budget hole. The legislation allows for a temporary gambling site (land operations or a riverboat) to open for up to two years, with an option to extend for another year, while a more permanent development is built.

The River District might be especially attractive buyers because it could potentially support both a temporary casino and the construction of a more permanent one elsewhere on the site. However, that’s a long way down the road.

Right now, the city is focused on gathering feedback from the community and officially announcing a casino site isn’t happening soon, a rep from the mayor’s office said. Once a site is selected, it’ll need approval from City Council too.

Alderman Walter Burnett (27th) oversees the area near 700 W. Chicago Ave. where buyers see potential for a casino. Burnett hasn’t issued any statements about the casino coming to Chicago, and did not immediately respond for comment. Some alderwomen, like Pat Dowell (3rd) and Sophia King (4th) in Bronzeville, are strongly against a casino in their wards and would rather have groceries stores or retail.

While the sites selected for the feasibility study are all on the South and West sides, Lightfoot said that she wasn’t ruling out the rest of the city.

“I’m not saying that a downtown site is off the board. There are some concerns, I think, with a downtown site, and we wanted to avoid that in this first instance,” Lightfoot said in July. “Rather than deal with that noise now—and it will have to be dealt with down the road—we [selected] other sites that are primarily controlled by the City of Chicago.”