Residents divided as Homewood takes another step toward casino

Residents fill the meeting room Monday night at Irwin
Community Center to learn more and express concerns
about a proposed casino development at Halsted Street
and Interstate 80/294.
 (Quinn Crump/H-F Chronicle)
 

A room of about 100 Homewood residents in the Irwin Community Center was divided Monday as the village board held a hearing and voted to move closer toward a new casino that would straddle the border with East Hazel Crest.
 

Wind Creek Hospitality, of Alabama, hopes to build a casino on 24 acres of land near the interchange of Interstate 80 and Halsted Street. The initial phase would include a $275 million, 64,000 square foot casino. It could be followed later by a hotel. Wind Creek COO Brent Pinkston said it would be the only four diamond facility in Illinois, as rated by AAA.
 
Wind Creek Hospitality representatives speak to Homewood residents Monday at a public hearing on the company's proposal to develop a casino in Homewood and East Hazel Crest. (Quinn Crump/H-F Chronicle)
Wind Creek Hospitality representatives speak to
Homewood residents Monday at a public hearing
on the company's proposal to develop a casino
in Homewood and East Hazel Crest.
 
(Quinn Crump/H-F Chronicle)


The resolutions for the casino development each passed 5-1. Trustee Karen Washington was the lone dissenting vote. 


The state authorized six new casinos, including one in the south suburbs, this summer. The application deadline to the Illinois Gaming Board is Oct. 28. 

East Hazel Crest is expected to join Homewood, voting on a similar resolution Wednesday. Revenues to be divided up between the two towns are expected to be around $3 million per year, Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld said. 

Other proposals, including a combination race track and casino in Tinely Park, are expected to submit applications. The final decision will come from the gaming board and may take up to a year. 

Residents both for and against the casino clapped and cheered for one another during the public hearing. One called the hearing a “dog and pony show,” implying that the board had already made a decision before seeking input from residents.

Some commenters raised concerns about increased crime rates near the casino and if that would necessitate hiring more police. Chief Bill Alcott said he didn’t expect to need any additional staff because of the casino. He said departments near similar casinos aren’t seeing major upticks in crime rates.

“Because of the self-containment of the (land-based) casinos, they handle everything on-site. They have a great security system and they also work with regulations through the state police,” Alcott said. “We still believe that we can handle anything that comes right away from the new casino.” 

Hofeld said the addition of four police officers in 2017 and three firefighter/paramedics this year would cover any additional demand for emergency services. He said the village has talked to at least three casino owners since the idea was first explored in 2011.

Owners told him customers would mostly come from I-80, visit the casino and then return to I-80.

“One thing to remember is that this project is, essentially, self-contained. It’s at the far northeast portion of the village of Homewood,” Hofeld said. “It’s almost isolated.” 

Residents also asked about traffic brought on by a casino.

Javier Millan, of engineering firm KLOA, discussed projections for traffic. He said during peak hours, about 600 vehicles would be in and out of the casino with about 70 to 75 percent of that traffic heading north.
 
“The analysis has shown that traffic will be disbursed in an efficient manner,” Millan said. “It’s substantial, in terms of traffic, but it can be accommodated.”

Millan said improvements currently being made in the area will help with the additional need.

Trustee Lauren Roman said her vote was “not an easy one.” Trustee Jay Heiferman concurred.

“For this to be called a ‘dog and pony show,’ I just took as an insult. I did my research this week,” Roman said. “I took into account what was presented to us and all of the comments (from residents). That’s where my vote came from. This was not predetermined.” 

Wind Creek Vice President of Business Development Arthur Mothershed said the casino would create 700 construction jobs, with 800 full-time employees to be hired after the property opened. 

The board also approved a measure to direct a portion of the casino revenue to education and healthcare in the south suburbs. An endowment would be created with portions going to Prairie State College, South Suburban College and Moraine Valley Community College to provide scholarships to disadvantaged students. Another portion would go to South Suburban and Ingalls hospitals for community health programs.
 
Wind Creek would contribute $10,000,000 into the fund over five years while Homewood
and East Hazel Crest would contribute 50 percent of its share of gaming revenue for four years. After that, the endowment would be self-sustaining. 

Washington voted to approve the education/healthcare program, which passed 6-0.
 
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