Plan for temporary Chicago casino at Medinah Temple lacks safety details, River North alderman says

Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Traffic, safety top concerns at Medinah Temple casino meeting
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Chicago held a community meeting on a temporary casino at the Medinah Temple with Bally's officials Tuesday.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The landmarked and empty Medinah Temple will be used as a temporary casino until Bally's permanent casino is ready to open at the Tribune Publishing site in River West.

In a town hall meeting Tuesday night, Bally's and the mayor's office are hoping to convince residents that the very congested River North location is a good idea.

READ MORE | City Council approves Bally's Chicago casino plan in River West

"I look at this really as a meeting to check the box, so the mayor's office can say we had a public meeting, but I don't think they'll be a whole lot of answers tonight," 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly said.

Hundreds of nearby residents and businesses owners attended the meeting, loaded with questions.

"I know the area quite well. I also work conventions downtown. I know the bus traffic, I know how many people are in those areas, so I'm very wary of what they claim will not be an imposition on traffic," said Jim Neils, downtown resident.

The historic Medinah Temple sits in Ald. Reilly's ward. He got a glimpse of Tuesday night's presentation, one he says provides few details about safety.

"Their public safety plan is essentially a PowerPoint presentation with a handful of bullet points with no specifics about staffing, force levels, overtime, compensation... all this stuff neighbors want to know about," Reilly said.

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Reilly said neighbors also want to know about increased traffic, especially since Medinah doesn't have parking.

"If you know there is no parking and you are a criminal, you are going to spend some time loitering on those streets looking for a crime of opportunity," Reilly said.

Reilly said casino customers will use nearby parking garages, public transportation or ride shares. But he said that Bally's traffic study didn't include ride share traffic.

"Everybody is going to be working hard to make sure that it has the least amount of challenges for people possible," 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett said.

Traffic and safety were constant concerns for meeting attendees. But for all the skepticism, there were plenty of people who came to welcome the opportunity, and particularly the jobs, of a casino in downtown Chicago.

"From the outset $2 million a year to help support public safety needs," said Samir Mayekar, deputy mayor of economic and neighborhood development.

"I'm hoping to steer people here for jobs, hoping to understand who their partners are in terms of workforce and I'm here to see what opportunities might be available," said Hyde Park resident Gloria Batey.

The permanent casino site is in Burnett's ward. While he admits the temporary Medinah location is not ideal, he says casino traffic could help vacant businesses in the area. Burnett fully supports the Bally's proposal.

"The city has already taken their money, $40 million," Burnett said. "It's a done deal, it is what it is, so they have to make it work."

The meeting will take place Tuesday night at the VOCO Hotel from 6 to 8 p.m.

On Monday, Dec. 5, a separate town hall meeting will be held for the permanent casino at the proposed site.

Neighborhood groups and Bally's were unavailable for interviews before Tuesday night's meeting.