A casino-entertainment complex, a major convention hotel and a Barack Obama presidential library are being floated as possible anchors for a mixed-use development of the former Michael Reese Hospital site on the Near South Side.
The scenarios were presented Thursday evening by a team led by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill at a community meeting at West Point Missionary Baptist Church the in Bronzeville neighborhood.
The city of Chicago commissioned the exploration of potential uses.
The idea would be to build an entertainment center, casino and hotel on the north end of the site, near McCormick Place, to boost offerings for conventioneers and tourists.
Casino developers often are willing to pay for infrastructure improvements, a crucial need at the site, said Douglas Voigt, director of urban design and planning at Skidmore.
The casino aspect, which would require approval in Springfield, drew strong opposition from many residents, who feared it would cheapen the development and the area.
Ald. Will Burns, whose 4th Ward encompasses the property, said in an interview that a casino-anchored entertainment complex is an intriguing idea, but other options need to be considered, such as an entertainment venue anchored by a sports arena.
Proposals for a Chicago casino have failed to win approval from the General Assembly for many years.
The central portion of the site is envisioned as a town center, with retail, community meeting spaces and perhaps educational institutions. It would act as a buffer to the southern portion of the site, where housing and an Obama library could be built.
The presidential library was popular among residents at the meeting. The White House has offered no indication of where an Obama library might be built.
The planners involved in developing the concepts also suggest incorporating the McCormick Place truck yards, east of the site. The concept would connect the parcels, separated by railroad tracks, with pedestrian walkways, linking the site to the lakefront.
Planners said there could be room for other elements, such as a tech center.
In developing the concepts, the team gathered suggestions from community members at two previous meetings on the Near South Side. The group will use responses gathered Thursday to help develop an advisory report for city officials.
This latest planning process began last summer, when the city awarded a one-year contract of up to $885,000 to the Skidmore-led team to craft a framework for redevelopment of the former hospital property.
The 48-acre Near South Side site was purchased by the city in 2009 as a potential home for an Olympic Village.
The city lost its bid for the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro and is faced with finding developers for the cleared site during a weak real estate market.
The city's first payment on the $91 million purchase is due in 2014. Former Mayor Richard Daley's administration spent $19 million to raze all but one of the hospital buildings, including some with historic significance.
The city envisioned a residential community with easy access to the lakefront, but the collapse of the real estate market led to consideration of other options, with Daley advancing the idea of a tech park. A panel he appointed said in 2011 that such a development could create 25,000 jobs.
Purdue University sized up the property as a potential site for a technology center last year but decided to focus on a site in its home state of Indiana.
Skidmore drew up the plans for an Olympic Village when the bid was alive. The nearly vacant land is between 26th and 31st streets, with Metra South Shore tracks to the east and Martin Luther King Drive on the west.
Twitter@kathy_bergenCopyright © 2015, CT Now