Chicago Advocacy Group Backs Bally’s Casino to Boost Riverfront Revitalization

  • Environmental and architectural groups are now taking a positive view on the Bally’s project
  • Advocates said the casino could be “that face of a green, healthy, natural river in an urban area”
  • A city planner said the project will set a benchmark for how “the rest of the river should develop”
  • The Illinois Gaming Board has still to approve Bally’s plan after it applied for a license in August
Chicago river
Bally’s plans for Chicago’s first downtown casino have won the backing of river advocates who say the project will boost the revitalization of Chicago’s riverfront. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Tide finally turning

After years of fighting tooth-and-nail against a never-ending chorus of naysayers, the tide is finally turning in favor of Chicago’s first downtown casino.

could play a major role in the ongoing revitalization of Chicago’s riverfront

According to an in-depth WBEZ Chicago feature on Tuesday, an advocacy group called Friends of the Chicago River and other key players believe the planned Bally’s Casino could play a major role in the ongoing revitalization of Chicago’s riverfront.

Friends of the Chicago River executive director Margaret Frisbie said her group believes that “the casino site can be that face of a green, healthy, natural river in an urban area.”

Meanwhile, ex-Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin said “the casino is a huge […and important] piece” that connects Chicago’s downtown to the riverfront beautification already extending up the North Branch and down the South.

Opportunities galore

Previously, opponents to the Chicago casino plans expressed doubts over traffic and noise issues, problem gambling, tax revenue, and whether Bally’s was the right choice for the casino project. However, environmental and architectural groups have now brought some much-needed positivity to the casino project.

embracing the waterway and factoring in lots of green space

Advocates see Bally’s Corporation’s plans as a chance to execute riverfront development the correct way, embracing the waterway and factoring in lots of green space easily accessible to the public from land or river.

Executive director of the American Institute of Architects Chicago, Jen Masengarb, said that the transformation of the river around the Bally’s site is “going to be one of the most dramatic switches that we’ve seen in the river.”

The City of Chicago’s commissioner of the department of planning and development, Maurice Cox, has even wider visions, asserting that the “casino district now creates a destination.” He added that the project will set a benchmark for how “the rest of the river should develop.”

Next steps

The Chicago City Council approved Bally’s casino plans in May following a heated meeting. Now, it finally seems the various Chicago entities involved are starting to sing from the same hymnsheet.

Bally’s current designs include a public promenade with dining areas, a terraced park linked to an existing park via a pedestrian bridge, and a glass-walled casino with wide steps going down to the river’s edge where water taxis can dock.

According to WBEZ, a planning department spokesperson said “a more final plan is expected soon,” one that officials will assess according to Chicago’s river design guidelines.

Once approved, the plan has to get the thumbs up from the Chicago Plan Commission, the City Council zoning committee, and, finally, the full council. Bally’s, meanwhile, is still waiting on its license from the Illinois Gaming Board after applying last month.