Des Plaines betting on casino to spur development
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Will Des Plaines ever realize a "Field of Dreams"-like moment with its new casino?
With the curtain rising at 11 a.m. Monday on the $445 million Rivers Casino, city leaders are hopeful the project will make Des Plaines a destination and spur development beyond the boundaries of the 20-acre site at the northwest corner of Des Plaines River Road and Devon Avenue.
The Rivers Casino is pegged to be among the state's biggest, taking in an estimated $260 million in receipts its first year of operation despite a trend of declining gambling revenues statewide, according to projections by a bipartisan state commission. The casino would be second only to the Elgin Grand Victoria, whose gross revenues in 2010 were $287 million.
City officials are more optimistic than the state and project the Rivers Casino will generate $325 million to $400 million in its first year, drawing gamblers away from rival casinos due to its sheer novelty, and its proximity to Chicago and O'Hare International Airport.
With 1,000 jobs, the Rivers Casino is among the top three employers in Des Plaines.
But even with all its promise, the casino may not have an immediate ripple effect on the local economy. And if Gov. Pat Quinn signs a massive gambling expansion bill, it potentially could lose plenty.
City leaders plan to be patient. They believe any transformation would be gradual, taking years to realize the full potential.
"What the casino helps do for Des Plaines is it puts us on the map," Acting City Manager Jason Slowinski said. "What that looks like in the future, we don't exactly know at this point."
The economic fallout from a casino can be decades in the making. Aurora, where the Hollywood Casino opened in 1993 in the heart of downtown, has recently had a burst of activity in the surrounding area. In the last two years a Restaurant Row has been developed just west of the casino property.
"It is literally just down the block within walking distance of the casino entrance, and it really has become a popular destination in our downtown," said Kevin Stahr, city spokesman.
Last week Aurora broke ground on the 43-acre RiverEdge Park project, which will include an entertainment/recreation venue, hiking and biking trails, and a pedestrian bridge across the Fox River.
Des Plaines has gotten more inquiries from developers this year, and others are poised to move once the economy gets better, said Michael Bartholomew, Des Plaines' director of community and economic development.
"People want to see the success the casino has," he said. "Once they've become established in the community, then you'll start to see more interest in the area and in the community. We believe that is going to have an impact, but we are not putting all our eggs in that basket."
Earlier this year, city leaders were excited about a proposal for a velodrome — a professional cycling arena with a 250-meter indoor track for bicycle training and competition — though the developer is still trying to secure funding and a site. Bartholomew said the $15 million to $20 million project would be funded entirely by private investors.
The 147,000-square-foot Rivers Casino has a 44,000-square-foot gambling floor with roughly 1,050 gambling positions, 48 table games, several bars and restaurants, 2,300 self-parking spaces and valet service.
The casino developer has plans to possibly expand the gambling area, add more shops and restaurants, and add two new hotels with a second parking garage.
More immediately, its employees' need for places to live, eat and shop could boost patronage at Des Plaines businesses.
Officials hope businesses will want to locate in town to cash in on the casino action. They're are also using incentives to keep existing businesses and draw new ones, including tax abatements and grants for downtown facade improvements and to new businesses.
"One of the key things is to promote entrepreneurship here in the community," Bartholomew said. "We need to diversify, cultivate the established businesses, and develop new business."
Five acres the city owns along Mannheim Road near Higgins Road, just south of I-90, was to be developed into two Hyatt hotels with three outlots for restaurants and shops, but that project died for lack of funding during the economic downturn.
City officials haven't given up hope the land could be developed into a hotel down the road considering it is situated between the casino and the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
Des Plaines also hopes to attracts developers by making infrastructure improvements with the city's share of gambling tax revenues — estimated to be between $2 million and $4 million.
"Elgin's been very successful," Slowinski points out. "Part of that is they've reinvested the money from the casino back into the community."
Rosemont, which will debut an entertainment district in fall 2012, also stands to benefit. The 200,000-square-foot Park at Rosemont is being built on property just west of River Road where Rosemont once had hoped to build its own casino.
The development will feature an all-season park and year-round programs, including ice skating, farmers' markets, concerts, fairs and festivals, and exhibition sporting events. Rosemont also recently debuted a new softball stadium and is building an outlet mall.
Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens doesn't see Des Plaines' casino as competition.
"We're happy that (the casino) is there," Stephens said. "It's going to provide additional entertainment for those who stay in Rosemont hotels, and I think it will be mutually beneficial to both communities."
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