Des Plaines 8th Ward alderman-elect Mike Charewicz says the city needs to do everything it can to develop the area around its new casino into an entertainment district.
The $445 million Rivers Casino, under construction on about 20 acres off Des Plaines River Road between Touhy and Devon avenues, is set to open mid-July.
The casino will house 1,200 gambling positions and several restaurants and bars, and is expected to generate millions in annual gambling tax revenues for the state, city and area communities.
Yet, often the economic benefits of a casino don't extend far beyond its walls.
Charewicz said Des Plaines needs to pay attention to what neighboring Rosemont is doing to develop a 200,000-square-foot entertainment district off the Tri-State Tollway.
Rosemont is building a new softball stadium for the Chicago Bandits professional fastpitch team and an outlet mall as part of the entertainment district.
"They already got everything on us … it's like you're behind the eight ball," said Charewicz, who beat Pat Mauro on April 5 for the seat after Austin Stanton dropped out.
Charewicz said Des Plaines' major coup was landing the casino, but it now needs to maximize the return on that investment.
"I think the city council needs to be more about tourism," he said. "We basically have been dormant so it's time to be moving. What else can we put out there?"
Charewicz said he doesn't believe Des Plaines should duplicate what Rosemont already has done, but rather find its own niche.
"The more we can develop that (area) the more it will help keep our taxes lower," Charewicz said.
Finding other sources of revenue, such as through attracting new businesses to town, will help the city tackle its infrastructure needs, he added.
On the home front, Charewicz is ready to roll up his sleeves and get dirty to deal with an unpopular problem in his ward -- sewage backups in residents' basements.
It's the biggest issue facing the ward after street and backyard flooding, he said.
Charewicz said casino and future sales tax revenues will help ensure the city continues with flood prevention efforts, and provide funding of storm and sanitary sewer improvements.
The city recently completed a major storm sewer upgrade in the 8th Ward along Marshall Drive to alleviate flooding as part of its Stormwater Master Plan.
"My ward is diagnosing and trouble-shooting the flooding issues (to determine) where is the next step … where is the money best being spent," Charewicz said.
Charewicz said in severe rainstorms the city's sanitary sewer system fills up and can't handle the excess water, causing backups in basements.
"A sanitary sewer infiltration study should be conducted this spring," he said. The study will determine how the storm water is seeping into the system, he added.
Charewicz will be sworn in at the May 2 city council meeting, which will be incumbent Rosemary Argus' last. Argus could not seek re-election due to city term limits.
Charewicz, 55, is an auto mechanic, 30-year Des Plaines businessman and past president of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce and Industry.