Gambling against the South Loop
06/29/2011 10:00 PM
So, Dearborn Park, is this what you want the world to be saying? “What happens in Dearborn Park stays in Dearborn Park?” If the Chicago Sun-Times gets its way, it could happen.
Soon after the Illinois legislators decided they would bestow a gambling den on the City of Chicago because we’re flat broke and would resort to bank robbery and prostitution if the opportunity presented itself, the Sun-Times got giddy. And so did Mayor Rahm Emanuel. And Ald. Bob Fioretti.
At first, the Sun-Times made sense. “Don’t build a casino in a spot where it overwhelms a positive existing urban culture,” they warned in a June 6 editorial, adding that plopping a casino into Block 37, for example, could destroy the area’s celebrated retail character.
They also advised against a casino at the Congress Hotel because it would interfere with our South Loop education corridor — from DePaul, Roosevelt and Columbia College to Spertus, Robert Morris and the Harold Washington Library. Not exactly a wholesome idea to mix all those with a casino.
The paper also nixed McCormick Place (too distracting to conventioneers), a heavy residential neighborhood (too exploitive of the working class, not to mention a possible increase in crime), the old US Steel South Works (too far) and State Street somewhere downtown (a too-prominent location could undermine Chicago’s burgeoning world class image, they said).
Disagreeing with a solid editorial in Crain’s that said a casino anywhere in Chicago is a bad idea — because casino gambling is a bunch of baloney that doesn’t really bring a worthwhile dime to our coffers, all the while cheapening our image — the Sun-Times went on to recommend a few locations it liked.
And guess what? They like the “large parcel at Roosevelt and Clark.” Yikes! One block from my house! A never-developed, forest-like piece of land that stretches several blocks south and west of the intersection is what the homier of the home town papers thinks is right for the new Las Vegas of the Midwest?
What happened to the newspaper’s concerns about having a casino in a residential neighborhood? Are they wanting the levee and the vice to rise again in its old stomping grounds? Dearborn Park is a heavy residential neighborhood that stretches from State to Clark, and from Polk to 15th. (Not to mention the two residential buildings of the Roosevelt Collection directly across the street from the parcel.)
One of the most stellar of the University corridor buildings, Columbia’s Media Production Center, is at 16th and State — one block away from the recommended parcel. So what happened to the paper’s stance on keeping the casino away from the world of higher education?
Roosevelt Road is the gateway to the Museum Campus — a main ingredient for our world class image — but the Sun-Times contradicts itself and says it’s OK to plunk a casino right down on the heart of the Roosevelt Road bridge, concerns about our world class image out the window.
Further contradicting itself, the location that the Sun-Times likes is near downtown shopping, near McCormick Place, near a great new shopping corridor (everything from Whole Foods to Home Depot to Best Buy). And near crazy.
(The land, by the way, was once owned by Tony Rezko. Need I say more?)
With ideas like this, I’ll start a green movement and work myself to the bone trying to add the land to the roster of the Cook County Forest Preserve. I’d even rather have a prison there than a casino — at least the crooks in the former aren’t allowed to roam free. Hey, I’d rather have a Walmart. At least you get something for throwing your money away.
I know gambling. Not only did I once spend a night in Monte Carlo, I spent a lot of time visiting my grandparents and uncles in Las Vegas where they lived when I was young. I spent a lot of evenings at Roulette wheels, slot machines and filling in Keno cards. There was a bit of class at the time: great food and drinks, great shows, great hotels, Circus-Circus, Liberace, Cher and ultimately Celine Dion. It was all low cost — even free — if you gambled a lot.
I also wrote a story for the Chicago Reader about spending an afternoon in an off-track betting parlor when it opened next to the Chicago Theater several years ago. It’s gone now — but did it bring anything to State Street while it was there? Tell me. Did it?
For that matter, how’s Hammond doing? Gambling in this day and age has lost its glamour, it’s excitement and it’s allure. It’s a bare bones business that says to people, give us your money and you can spend some time here being a complete sucker. It ruins the atmosphere of all that surrounds it. Exactly what money would we be getting in the area? Money from tourists and conventioneers, OK! But do we really want our fellow citizens’ food and rent money? And who really gets most of the money? Shady characters who run casinos--and their politically connected “investors.”
Yes, those characters will pay a few extra taxes and hire a bevy of black jack dealers and cocktail servers who may otherwise be on unemployment. But aren’t we more resourceful than that in the South Loop? Desperate as our government is to make ends meet, do we really want to sic the sicko gambling industry on Dearborn Parkers? Do we deserve having that atmosphere swarming around us?
The Sun-Times liked a couple of other spots, too. The old Michael Reese complex on the near south side--which is just about empty now and ripe for the Olympics development that it was primed for, but will never happen.
And of course, the old post office, which seems to be getting bigger and more empty and useless every day. Some unknown entity has purchased it for some mysterious purpose, all very cloak and daggerish. So maybe the deal is done. And maybe we in Dearborn Park have nothing to worry about.
Maybe I’ll put my money on that.