Joliet casino plans reopening

April 9, 2009 (JOLIET, Ill.) The Empress Casino caught fire March 20.

The gaming area of the facility was not damaged. But the casino is still at least two months away from reopening.

Demolition work is still underway at what's left of the Empress Casino. Casino officials Thursday morning unveiled at least phase one of their reopening plan for the facility.

They say they plan to build a temporary casino entrance to get that portion of the facility up and running, but they also admit it could be about a year or a year and a half before the full facility is fully functional.

"The casino, the main part of the property has not been damaged. We are working on that double time to get that up and running by June," said Frank Quigley, Empress Casino general manager.

A fire in March started by a construction worker destroyed the casino's pavilion and hospitality venue.

On Thursday morning, employees returned to the site, not to work, but to give back to the community after learning they will receive pay and benefits for 90 days after the fire. The shutdown of the casino has already had an effect on the area, as Joliet's second largest taxpayer, both city officials and area representatives want the Empress to open soon.

"There is a gaming tax that is paid to the city of Joliet. There will be about a $4.5 million loss at a time when our budget has already been stretched. This caught us off guard," said Tom Thanas, Joliet city manager.

"I lived in this area before the casino was here. And I remember the burnt-out factories and the situation that Joliet was in at that time," said State Rep. Renee Kosel, 81st District (R).

The city of Joliet is making some adjustments, not spending as much money on some of those discretionary items that they usually spend money on and making other adjustments in other areas until the casino and that revenue returns. In the meantime, those 200 employees were heading out to roughly 11 sites to participate in charity activities.

Casino officials say part of the rebuilding plan also includes putting all their employees back to work.

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