East Hazel Crest Village President Thomas A. Brown has a problem with the property at 174th and Halsted streets and thinks a casino straddling the line between his village and Homewood may be the answer.
“It has been vacant for many years, and with the economy the way it is, we can’t find any developer who wants it,” Brown said. “We can’t do anything else with it.”
Officials in Homewood and East Hazel Crest voted this week to approve agreements that allow for the development of a casino at the site on the southwest corner of Halsted Street and Interstate 80/294. Illinois state officials have yet to approve a gambling facility for the south suburbs.
Homewood village officials approved the agreement unanimously. East Hazel Crest Trustee Daniel Smith cast the sole dissenting vote there.
The agreement calls for both villages to provide equal support for promoting a casino at the site and to cover expenses in the early stages of development.
East Hazel Crest would receive 55 percent of the casino’s proceeds because most of the property, 15 acres on the 23-acre site, lie within that village’s boundaries, Brown said.
The address for the casino would likely be in Homewood, because the entrance would be at 174th and Halsted streets in Homewood, site of a shuttered hotel once owned by Sheraton and more recently known as the Homewood Hotel.
The villages retained the Chicago-based law firm of Barnes & Thornburg to help in the preliminary process of attracting a casino.
“We’re working with the law firm to prepare ourselves for the time when the state permits a casino,” Homewood Village Manager James Marino said. “We’ll have to wait and see what Springfield does.”
Calumet City, Lynwood, Ford Heights and Country Club Hills are all also vying for a casino license.
Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush said her city also hired attorneys to help with the process of attracting and locating a casino.
Qualkinbush said she is confident Calumet City can offer a competitive location.
“When the state gives its approval for a casino, I believe we’ll be in the mix,” she said.
Brown said he believes the Homewood/East Hazel Crest proposal has an advantage because the exit from I-80/294 to southbound Halsted Street would provide easy access to the site’s main entrance.
“We’re the only proposed casino right on the expressway with a ramp right there,” Brown said.
The Homewood/East Hazel Crest facility, Brown said, would also help steer Illinois gamblers away from existing Northwest Indiana casinos, keeping the revenue in Illinois.
“We’re just minutes from Indiana, I think they would come here,” Brown said. "It would also draw many of those South Side residents who now have to go to Indiana if they want to visit a casino.”