To: Chicago City Council
Re: Chicago Casino Resolution
May 25, 2022
Dear Members of the Chicago City Council:
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) is submitting testimony to express concern about the Chicago Casino selection process. We urge Councilmembers to delay the vote on the resolution concerning the development and operation of a casino in the City of Chicago to allow more time for City Council and public review. The Host Community Agreement (HCA) is a procurement contract between the City of Chicago and Bally’s. It is unclear how much opportunity there is after the contract is approved and signed to make changes. MPC recommends that more time is provided for deliberation and to make needed alterations and amendments to strengthen the agreement.
Per the overall timeline, less than three full weeks have passed since the release of the May 5 City of Chicago’s Casino Recommendation Report and only a week has passed since City Councilmembers have been provided the HCA and accompanying exhibits. This is not nearly enough time for proper vetting of a major development that will have significant and long-lasting social, economic and physical impacts on surrounding neighborhoods as well as the city as a whole.
This process has been inadequate in providing the opportunity for stakeholders and community residents to fully engage. The three public community meetings held in April did not allow for meaningful community engagement. Since the selection of a single operator, there has only been one publicly open community meeting—not nearly enough to establish a true dialogue amongst the developer, the City, and neighborhood residents.
MPC recommends creating a Community Advisory Council (CAC) to advise on community benefits and provide feedback on the proposed HCA. The current HCA does not contain information about how the project will materially benefit the neighborhood in which it sits. There are no provisions for ensuring against displacement, providing improvements to current facilities, or surrounding parks, etc. The resolution includes language around using $1 million of the Community Benefits Fund to fund community service projects, but it is unspecific and not direct with how public input will influence the process. This should be strengthened.
In addition to creating a CAC, MPC has several recommendations to immediately strengthen the HCA (this list is non-exhaustive):
- Removal of soft language like “in good faith” and “reasonable preference” around meeting hiring and equity goals. Greater enforcement requirements are needed.
- Provide additional detail on Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Area and define the zip codes to be targeted for employment opportunities. The targets around minority hiring are also loose without specificity on the individual percentage of residents from different racial and ethnic groups that will be hired.
- Ensure that the building details and site plans align with current City priorities and planning efforts, such as We Will Chicago and the Climate Action Plan, including reduction in parking requirements, employer-sponsored transit benefits, and strategies around building decarbonization.
We thank you for your time. Please contact the Metropolitan Planning Council with any questions or further comment on this testimony.
Darlene Oliver Hightower