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Chicago's Planned Olympic Village Receives New Ideas for Development:
A Casino/Entertainment Complex, Hotels or a Public High School
Focused on Preparing Students to Work in Hospitality Industry

By Dan Mihalopoulos, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 9, 2009--Two aldermen are floating the idea of putting a casino and entertainment complex where Chicago had hoped to build an Olympic Village for the 2016 Games.

Alds. Richard Mell, 33rd, and George Cardenas, 12th, have not yet broached the idea with Mayor Richard Daley, who for years has wavered on the notion of bringing land-based gambling to Chicago.

In the week since the city lost its Olympic bid to Rio de Janeiro, Daley has said he is confident the 37-acre parcel site of the abandoned Michael Reese Hospital would be attractive to developers. The city recently bought the Near South Side site for $91 million but it hopes to resell it to private developers before the first mortgage payment is due in five years.

The casino pitch from City Council members seems likely to be only the first of many proposals.

Cardenas and Mell said Thursday a monorail could link the nearby McCormick Place convention center to the casino complex. Mell said the site also could feature a large theater offering "big-name entertainment" and a massive complex with dozens of TV screens for watching games or pro league drafts, emulating a project at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

"The idea of an entertainment complex would be one way to raise revenues without further taxing the citizens and it would help McCormick Place compete with Las Vegas and other convention cities," Mell said.

At the same time, though, Mell said he recently visited a casino in Hammond and the vast majority of cars there had Illinois license plates -- suggesting a Chicago casino would lure local gamblers as well.

Getting a casino would require Chicago to obtain a license from the state, and none of the 10 existing licenses are available. Daley has at different times lobbied state lawmakers to expand casino gambling to Chicago but has never reached deal on a plan he would support.

Officials for the cash-strapped Daley administration don't appear eager to make a sudden decision for the site. They plan to formally solicit development pitches.

"At this time, it's too soon to discuss any specific proposals," said Susan Massel, a spokeswoman for Daley's Community Development Department.

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, whose 4th Ward includes the Michael Reese site, would not back the casino idea but did not shoot it down either.

"Given the fact that we didn't get the Olympics, we need to take a step back and look at the possibilities," she said. "We ought to try to explore everything."

Other options for the area could include new hotels or a public high school focused on preparing students to work in the hospitality industry, said Preckwinkle, who is scheduled to discuss the site with planning officials Friday.

Daley had touted the Olympics as a way to boost Chicago's status as a travel destination, Cardenas said, so the city should focus the site on attracting visitors.

"What else can we do with that land?" he said. "It could sit there dilapidated for many years."

Tribune reporter Kathy Bergen contributed to this report.


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