Aurora council OKs $50 million incentive for casino move amid protests during meeting

Despite protests, the Aurora City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved more than $50 million in financial aid to move the Hollywood Casino out of the downtown area.

Police removed about a half-dozen people from the meeting, as they shouted at the council during a vote on an unrelated matter and then during the discussion of the casino redevelopment agreement.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, David Cannon of Aurora held up a large cardboard check for $50 million, with the casino as the recipient. He asked aldermen to sign the check.

“Who do you think you work for? It's not Richard C. Irvin and it is certainly not Penn Entertainment (the casino's owners),” Cannon said.

But when he and a woman shouted comments during the presentation about the casino, Irvin ordered them removed.

“No more money to billionaires!” Cannon chanted, dancing, as he was ejected. Irvin made fun of the dancing. He had warned the crowd outbursts would not be tolerated.

The redevelopment agreement calls for the city to lend up to $50 million for the project, which is expected to cost about $360 million. The city will give the casino about $8 million worth of city-owned land on Farnsworth Avenue, near the Chicago Premium Outlets mall. It will also transfer options it has to buy two adjacent sites on Church Road to the casino. The options call for the buyers to pay $6.65 million for the sites, if exercised.

The city will borrow the $50 million by issuing general-obligation debt. The principal and interest is to be repaid by property taxes generated by the casino development. If in any year the taxes aren't enough, the casino operation would have to make the bond payment.

Much of the site is already in a tax-increment financing district. The agreement calls for carving out the casino site in to a new micro-TIF, which would last for 23 years.

Opponents of the agreement said they have no problem with the casino moving out of the downtown, but did not want property taxes helping to pay for it. Penn Entertainment, which had $2.75 billion in gross profits in 2021 according to a Nasdaq report, can afford to build a new place without using money that would otherwise go to the city, schools and other taxing bodies, the protesters said. Currently, since the Farnsworth sites are owned by the city, no property taxes are levied on them.

Opponents also said the deal was rushed. They said the city should have discussed the deal in public forums to get residents' opinions, and that it should have done a traffic-impact study first.

Irvin said city officials have worked for four years on the move. The city has been buying properties near the mall, including two motels and a car-sales business, which have been demolished.

City and casino officials have said revenue has slid for years at the downtown site, but they expect it to increase as the new site will attract visitors from the mall, is easier for drivers on I-88 to get to, and will have a hotel attached.

The city lobbied to get state law changed so the casino could move to a spot on dry land without having to get a new license from the state. The gambling portion of the current casino is on a permanently moored barge, as was previously required by state law.

When the casino opened in 1993, the state required it to be on operating riverboats, which would travel on the Fox River for gambling sessions.

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  The new Hollywood Casino would be built on the site of two former motels on Farnsworth Avenue in northern Aurora. The casino may also buy the nearby Gaslite Manor banquet facility and Club C. Susan Sarkauskas/, November 2018
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