Thursday, June 2, 2011

Would A Chicago Casino Bring Construction Jobs?

Short answer: Maybe.

To begin with, the Chicago Casino Development Authority created by the bill now on Governor Quinn’s desk awaiting signature would have to decide whether it wants a land based casino or a riverboat. Chicago has no shipyard, so if the Authority opts for a floating mecca of gaming, the only construction jobs for Chicagoans would be those involved in the land side ancillary facilities like restaurants, taverns and a parking garage. This would cut the local casino construction workforce by about half.

If the Authority chooses a land based facility, the question is how construction of such a casino would be financed, given the cash strapped situation of city government and local taxpayers at the present moment. It would be possible for the Authority to attract private capital to the project by requesting proposals for private construction of the physical facilities, which would then be leased to the Authority for operation of the gaming establishment. Private investors would recover their capital investment with agreed upon earnings through lease payments from the Authority, while the Authority would not have to borrow in order to finance the construction. The land based casino would become operational faster, since private developers would be more free to employ an accelerated design/build program than the Authority, constrained by “lowest responsible bidder” requirements of public construction laws, could ever do.

Given that most of the sites proposed for development of the Chicago casino are on property already owned by others, it would be easy enough for the Authority to specify the details of casino construction through a leasehold work letter like the ones office building or store tenants use to set out the requirements for building out the space they will occupy in a leased building or space. The Authority would retain control of the appearance and layout of the finished product, while the private owner would finance and contract for construction of the facility. The work letter could even require the Authority’s landlord to adhere to City mandated requirements for minority and women participation, and use of local tradespeople on the project.

If Governor Quinn signs the bill, Mayor Emmanuel will appoint the members of the Authority board, and I look for the Board to do everything possible to attract private capital to construction of the new casino – on land if there is any political interest in keeping the construction dollars in the city rather than in a shipyard in another state. The same sort of legal arrangements used when our generous local philanthropists donated a quarter billion dollars to enhancement of Millennium Park can both attract private investment to a Chicago casino project, and avoid the delays inherent in public bidding and contracting for actual construction of the facility. Rahm is a very smart Mayor, and the precedents are all in place. I’m looking for a land based casino built with private funds, and leased by the Authority. Hammers could be swinging within a year if our political leaders act quickly.
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