Bally’s Facing Five Months of Daily Demolition for Chicago Casino

Posted on: June 18, 2024, 03:06h. 

Last updated on: June 19, 2024, 10:30h.

Bally’s (NYSE: BALY) has a lot of work ahead to ready the Freedom Center site to become home to the operator’s permanent Chicago casino hotel.

Bally's Chicago casino Freedom Center Nexstar CW
Chicago’s Freedom Center photographed in April 2022. Bally’s could face five months of work at 12 hours per day, seven days a week to demolish that building. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The regional casino company currently has five demolition permits under consideration by the city of Chicago. Each one pertains to a different structure on the property. Even if the city were to swiftly approve those licenses — arguably a specious prospect — demolition crews would need to work 12 hours per day, seven days a week for five months to get the site ready for casino resort construction.

Freedom Center is currently home to the Chicago Tribune, which is expected to fully vacate the property by the end of July. While there are mounting doubts surrounding Bally’s ability to bring the permanent Chicago gaming venue to fruition — some experts believe it won’t happen — expeditious approval of the aforementioned licenses and demolition is essential to the gaming company’s efforts to meet an Illinois-imposed third-quarter 2026 deadline for opening the casino hotel.

As of yet, none of the needed permits have been issued. Marlene Hopkins, Department of Buildings commissioner, told Melody Mercado of Block Club Chicago that it could take 30 to 45 days to issue those licenses, but that’s merely an estimate.

Environmental Review Could Slow Chicago Casino Construction

Environmental reviews, particularly in large cities and states, can be time-consuming endeavors and that could be exactly what Bally’s is looking at in Chicago because the Freedom Center demolition is deemed by the city to be “environmentally complex.”

For this type of demolition, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) follows a special process to carefully review the demolition’s potential impacts before any work begins. Then we make sure plans are in place to protect the environment and public health during the demolition,” according to the city.

Environmental scrutiny of Bally’s Freedom Center demolition is likely to be high, and the gaming company is expected to undertake painstaking efforts to comply with regulators’ demands.

Those include no use of explosives, imposing a 10-mile-per-hour speed limit on excavators used at the site, and even hand excavation in some circumstances. Additionally, the health department will have staff on-site daily to monitor dust proliferation and those employees are empowered to halt work if needed, according to Block Club Chicago.

Weather Could Be a Wildcard

Even if Bally’s can solve its well-documented financial issues that are potential headwinds to its Chicago plans, and even if the aforementioned demolition licenses are approved in the near term, the Windy City’s notoriously unpredictable weather could factor into the equation.

In a hypothetical example, even if Bally’s could commence demolition of Freedom Center in August — a highly optimistic scenario — the five-month timeline implies some of that work could be stymied by the city’s often harsh winters.

As for construction of the casino hotel, the average timeline for ground-up construction of large hotels is typically measured in several months or up to a year, but that’s assuming cooperative weather, smooth permitting, and no labor issues.