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Des Plaines planners approve huge casino complex
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/26/2010 12:00 AM

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The Des Plaines plan commission Monday night gave its blessing to preliminary site plans for the city's new casino and creating a special zoning district for the project.

The 140,000-square-foot casino is targeted for roughly 20 acres fronting the Tri-State Tollway at the northwest corner of Devon Avenue and Des Plaines River Road. The casino was first proposed at that site in 2002.

Representatives of casino developer Midwest Gaming & Entertainment, which won the state's 10th and final casino license in 2008, presented designs Monday.

The first phase calls for approximately 45,000 square feet of gambling space within a single-level casino with 1,200 gambling positions, and a second-story skywalk connecting to a four-story parking garage with 1,242 spaces.

Roughly 30,000 square feet of restaurants and bars and an additional 773 surface parking spaces are also planned in the first phase of development.

Casino project manager Michael Levin, of Development Management Associates, said a lot of parking is needed because on a typical Friday or Saturday night, the casino could have anywhere from 300 to 400 employees working, not counting customers.

Other casinos built by the developer have included 10-story parking garages, he said.

A future expansion of the casino building would include 80,000 square feet of restaurants, bars and retail, as well as two new hotels, 11 and 15 stories high, housing 800 rooms with a second tiered parking garage in later phases of development. The total project cost is $1 billion.

"The project would be a major financial asset to the community," Levin said. "This area is really underserved in terms of casinos."

Levin said compared to the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, which has a market density of 300 people per slot machine, Des Plaines has 1,000 people per slot machine.

"We have three times the population base of most of the other casinos around here," Levin said.

Levin said Des Plaines' casino site has good accessibility and visibility from the Tri-State Tollway. The developer hopes to capitalize on that location by installing a large LED screen on the portion of the casino facing the expressway to attract clients.

Plan commissioner Don Kellerman expressed concern about the size of the signage - originally proposed to be 40 feet by 40 feet wide. But Levin assured it won't be quite that large.

"Our signage is going to be significantly greater than your ordinance allows," Levin said. "They are going to be done in a tasteful manner."

That's why the developer also is requesting a zoning change to allow such exemptions to current city code.

While it is anticipated the casino will generate considerable traffic, road improvements in the area could alleviate some of the congestion created by the project.

With demolition work and site preparation for the casino set to begin in March, city officials hope to begin widening River Road between Touhy and Devon avenues. That project could begin as early as April under a deal with the state.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is expected to hand over jurisdiction of that portion of Des Plaines River Road to the city, along with the $8 million in funding to reconstruct the roadway. The project calls for raising River Road roughly two feet to act as a buffer against the Des Plaines River, and widened it to five lanes between Touhy Avenue and Devon Avenue.

City officials hope that portion of River Road will be rebuilt before the casino opens in late summer/early fall 2011.

The city council's community development committee will review the new casino zoning district today. The full council is expected to approve the preliminary casino site plans at its Feb. 16 meeting.

Casino: Future expansion seen, too