David Roeder reports on real estate 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on WBBM-AM (780). The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Where do you want a new Chicago casino?
The question assumes, of course, that you want a casino at all. The debate on the advisability of government-sanctioned gambling will go on, but with the Legislature having sent a casino bill to the governor, more Chicagoans ponder implementation and the eternal inquiry, “Where’s mine?”
For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a casino would become his first challenge as the city’s planner-in-chief. Most people don’t want a gambling den that casts a leering presence over a beautiful downtown and a diverse economy. In the words of Paul O’Connor, urban strategist at architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, “It’s a matter of how much it junks up the city.”
So where do you put it? In my view, four sites are the prime contenders but maybe you have better ideas. Here’s a quick look at my four, plus a few others.
Block 37. The development between Macy’s and the Daley Center could serve as a podium for a casino, and the location meets the demand of downtown business interests that want it next to hotels and restaurants. But shoppers and college students on State Street form an odd mix with gamblers. Would the proximity to local government headquarters be too much symbolism?
Northerly Island. Open-space advocates would howl, but that might not deter Emanuel, who badly needs a new source of city revenue. Developer J. Paul Beitler said of the site, “It is controllable. It is containable. It is on the lake. It could be the next Navy Pier.”
Old Chicago Main Post Office. It’s Chicago’s incredible bulk, at 2.7 million square feet. It’s big enough for a casino, hotel, parking and other uses but coordinating such a development would be a challenge. The owner, globe-trotting investor Bill Davies, is an unknown commodity here. “It’s hard to do a little bit of that building,” said an expert who asked not to be named.
Lakeside Center. The oldest building at McCormick Place is on the lake and might be the best choice to get a casino up and running quickly. It might take only a few weeks. But the convention industry doesn’t want a giant distraction from its normal business, and the building is remote from hotels and restaurants. The McCormick Place bus lane would get a workout.
There are other sites in the mix, all with significant drawbacks. They include Navy Pier, Trump Tower, the old Michael Reese Hospital at 31st and the lakefront, the Congress Hotel at 520 S. Michigan, the vacant U.S. Steel site on the lakefront south of 79th Street, a Chicago River site near the NBC Tower and a development site at the northeast corner of Randolph and Franklin.
Gerald Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, speaks favorably of the Congress Hotel alternative. It could dress up a hotel that’s currently an embarrassment of decay along the city’s premier boulevard. But City Hall and organized labor hasn’t had a good relationship with the New York-based owners.
A final thought from Beitler: “A casino is a blessing and a curse. It would bring to the convention business in Chicago a dynamic that it has desperately needed. The curse is that it would destroy the outlying casinos in the Chicago area.”
PRENTICE IN PERIL: One organization that could have used its influence to save Bertrand Goldberg’s former Prentice Women’s Hospital, 333 E. Superior, has declined to exercise it. The Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, SOAR, issued a statement Tuesday saying it opposes preservationists’ calls to make the building a landmark.
SOAR President Brian Hopkins issued a statement calling the building “an excellent example” of Goldberg’s work and acknowledging that a minority on the group’s board favored preservation. He said the group is sticking with a call it made in 2005 to oppose landmark protection for the building.
Meanwhile, the city’s landmarks commission late Tuesday put the building on its agenda for consideration as a landmark when it meets Thursday.
At a SOAR-sponsored event last week, owner Northwestern University made a strong case for demolition. It could apply for a demolition permit as soon as this week.
If the building goes, it’ll be because not enough non-architects loved it enough to fight for it. When there’s no grass-roots activism, property rights usually win the day.
AUCTION ACTION: Plans have changed for an unusual investment opportunity, the sale of five open acres near downtown. The property is on the east bank of the Chicago River and north of Roosevelt Road.
Diliberto Real Estate Services LLC had planned a sealed-bid auction, but now that’s been changed to live open outcry, what we imagine when we think of an auction. It’ll be held Friday. For further information, call (708) 460-BIDS or go to DilibertoRealEstate.com.
An opening bid has been set for $8.4 million. The property is zoned for 1,500 homes and about a half-million square feet of retail.
Also, Inland Real Estate Brokerage & Auction Inc. has scheduled a June 28 auction for nearly 17 acres at 15082 131st St., Lemont. Bidders should call (630) 990-8400.