A Chicago casino anchoring a redevelopment that includes the former Michael Reese Hospital site would be more economically viable for the city than a Barack Obama presidential library or a cluster of convention hotels, according to a study Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released Tuesday.
A hired team led by the Chicago-based architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was charged with creating a framework to redevelop the 48-acre Near South Side site, but their recommendations extended far beyond that parcel.
The group suggests that the city acquire five adjacent sites totaling more than 21 acres, including land currently home to a McDonald’s, self-storage facility and health center. It also calls on the city to buy the 28-acre Marshalling Yard — McCormick Place’s parking and staging area for trucks.
The wider strategy would allow for the Reese site to be incorporated into redevelopment stretching north to McCormick Place, where the experts envision a “north district” that would include a “large anchor” such as the casino, presidential library or collection of 2,500 convention hotel rooms.
Under all three scenarios, the city would spent more than $200 million to develop roads, sewers and other infrastructure. But the study found that by putting a casino there, the city would receive at least triple the proceeds for the land it acquired compared to the other two options.
As a result, the study found that a casino development would generate $208 million in net proceeds for the city while an Obama library would cost the city $142 million and a hotel complex would cost $199 million. And that doesn’t even include what’s expected to be a large amount of gambling revenue after the casino opens.
“The casino and entertainment district scheme provides positive proceeds to the city, while the presidential library and hotel complex schemes require city investment,” the study concluded.
The White House has offered no indication of where an Obama library might be built. The city already is pursuing two other hotel developments near McCormick Place as part of a development plan near McCormick Place that also includes an arena for DePaul basketball games and large conventions.
A Chicago casino long has been seen as a major revenue generator for the city, but state gambling legislation to allow one repeatedly has stalled in Springfield.
The study did not express whether the Emanuel administration specifically asked the team developing the potential development options to consider a casino, presidential library and hotels as options for the land or whether the group came up with those possibilities on its own. Representatives with Skidmore Owings & Merrill could not be reached.
In an email late Tuesday, Emanuel spokesman Tom Alexander said, "We did not steer them to examine those three things" for the land.
"The report shows the value that a major facility could have on that site as a catalyst for the city's economy," Alexander said in the e-mail. "But we intend to explore every available option for this property that we hope will provide significant economic development opportunity for the Near South Side."
The potential casino, Obama library and hotel anchors were envisioned for the “north district’ of the redevelopment, but the study also called for a 29th Street district that would serve as a town center and transportation hub along with a south district that would mostly be comprised of neighborhood housing.
The strategy of expanding the redevelopment beyond the Michael Reese site also would allow the future project to connect to the lakefront, where the study envisioned a lakefront destination that would “restore the natural relationship between Lake Michigan and the city with a unique chain of garden islands that would provide habitat for wetland life.”
The study also called for development of grid streets throughout the project as well as a relocation of the Metra Station from 27th Street to between 29th and 31st streets to serve as a hub for the redevelopment. The plan also calls for a new CTA Green Line station at 31st Street.
While doing the study, the team of planners met with community members in April. The presidential library was popular among residents who attended, but the possibility of a casino drew strong opposition from many.
The release of the study came more than 15 months after the mayor signed off on a contract of up to $885,000 to study potential redevelopment uses for the Michael Reese site, which the city purchased for $91 million in 2009 under then-Mayor Richard Daley. At the time, Daley and the city were ramping up a bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, and the mayor envisioned the Michael Reese parcel as a potential site for an Olympic Village.
Daley’s administration spent another $19 million to raze all but one of the hospital buildings on the site. The city’s first payment on the land purchase is due next year.