Our Concerns about a Casino on the Chicago River

Rivers 78 proposal on the South Branch of the Chicago River.

Putting a casino along the Chicago River isn’t any better than putting one on the lakefront. The river is a natural corridor and a community asset and must be protected as such. The parcels that have been selected are some of the largest remaining river edge sites in Chicago and provide an intergenerational opportunity to get riverfront development right. Much work was put into their master plans by the Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development and the community to ensure that appropriate levels of open space, river edge restoration, and community amenities were included in the master plans. The status of those past promises is one of our main concerns as the new casino use is considered. Casinos are a challenging building typology, with a large footprint and an intense entertainment use that will completely change the character of the site, and we want to make sure that the vision for a restored, natural, open, and accessible riverfront is not lost.

WTTW News: Riverfront Casino

Cutting Edge Sustainable Design is Vital

If a riverfront casino location were to go forward then it must be a new type of casino, with a cutting edge sustainable design that contributes to climate resiliency and embraces the Chicago River as a natural resource, rather than treating it as a water feature.

Must Have Core Components of the Chicago River Design Guidelines

The approved Planned Development master plans called for substantial neighborhood scale public parks directly along the river, natural riparian edges, microhabitats, public space, nature-based stormwater solutions, and architecture and site planning that protects migratory birds and other wildlife. These are all core components of the Chicago River Design Guidelines, and need to be incorporated into new concepts.

Any Temporary Casino Must Have High Standards

Any temporary casino structure should also be held to the same high standards. The City should ensure that the river edge restoration and open spaces that were promised in the approved non-casino master plans are built with the first phase of the casino development, not pushed to uncertain subsequent phases.

Community Support for a Natural River

We know that the community shares this vision. A 2019 survey of Chicagoans by the Chicago River Edge Ideas Lab  showed that 65 percent of respondents want future development by the river to follow a natural aesthetic and 63 percent want a natural river edge. The City’s own Chicago River Design Guidelines call for a “connected greenway along the river…overlooks and public parks...natural habitats” and that the river offers a “peaceful, natural contrast to the urban environment.” The City’s River Ecology and Governance Task Force is a coalition of dozens of organizations, agencies, and residents working to expand these strategies, and they should be consulted as part of this process. We urge the City to better consider this established vision in their final selection and subsequent management of the casino development process.