Homewood, East Hazel Crest join hunt for casino
BY STEVE METSCH AND SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org November 27, 2012 12:24PM
Homewood and East Hazel Crest are teaming to try and get a casino at the site of this former hotel (at right) and vacant land north of the hotel near 17400 S. Halsted St. Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, in Homewood. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 29, 2012 6:17AM
The potential for job creation, millions in revenue and an economic “ripple effect” have Homewood and East Hazel Crest teaming up in a bid to land the Southland’s first casino.
They are using a prime site at Interstate 80 and Halsted Street as a lure in anticipation of the state Legislature expanding gambling. Some legislators want to add five casino licenses statewide, including one designated for the south suburbs, and they may have enough support to override any veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.
Homewood and East Hazel Crest on Tuesday announced a partnership to develop a mostly vacant, shared site into a gambling and entertainment destination. They join Country Club Hills, Chicago Heights, Calumet City, Lynwood and Ford Heights in the quest for a Southland casino.
“It’s about who can create the largest ripple effect,” East Hazel Crest village administrator Pat Lazuka said.
Homewood and East Hazel Crest are well-established, “stable” communities that would be able to sustain such a venue and have a ripple effect, she said.
The Homewood Village Board on Tuesday night unanimously passed a resolution approving an agreement with East Hazel Crest to pursue the plan.
The site they share is west of Halsted Street and south of Interstate 80. Sixteen acres are in East Hazel Crest, and six are in Homewood, where the defunct Homewood Hotel sits. The hotel, 17400 S. Halsted, would be demolished, Homewood village manager Jim Marino said.
“We are very excited about this. It’s a prime location,” Marino said.
About 130,000 vehicles pass the site daily, he said.
Homewood Mayor Rich Hofeld said the project could generate 1,000 permanent jobs and an estimated $2 million in tax revenue for each village annually.
“It’s been a long time in the making. We’ve been talking with East Hazel Crest since at least 2010 about some sort of joint development,” Hofeld said.
The villages were approached by “some interests for casinos, and asked if we were interested. We talked about it amongst ourselves and we all kept it confidential until now,” Hofeld said.
“It’s really an ideal site, directly off I-80,” he said. “Just get off at the ramp and pull in. We’d have the visibility and the access. But what makes me most excited, in addition to the revenue stream, is the creation of jobs. We need jobs, and I’m told these will be decent-paying jobs.”
Hofeld is not worried about potential crime, a downside often cited by casino foes.
“I’m not at all concerned about that in light of the fact that it’s adjacent to I-80 and the majority of people will go back onto I-80 when they leave,” he said.
While Country Club Hills is working with a casino company in its bid to earn a license and build a casino, Homewood and East Hazel Crest will seek requests for proposals. The bids could be competitive and may include a hotel, Hofeld said.
“We feel this is more beneficial to us and that we can structure it to who can give us the better return,” Hofeld said.
The villages are trying to be proactive, he said.
“I’m always concerned with the revenue stream. You have to make things happen. Nothing happens unless you make them happen. You have to look ahead,” Hofeld said.
The site has been owned for years by Weglarz Development, Lazuka said. East Hazel Crest has been trying to market it since 2003, when it created a 19-acre special taxing district there.
“But with the economy, there were not a lot of viable options,” she said.
The site was identified as “optimal” when the state’s 10th casino license was to be issued, Lazuka said. But the license went to Des Plaines, which opened the Rivers Casino.
Lazuka said East Hazel Crest would get a 55/45 split in its agreement with Homewood, based on East Hazel Crest owning the larger share of the site. Costs to the villages have yet to be determined, she said.
“This would be a huge economic engine for us. We are so landlocked, with no retail and limited manufacturing. This is the only developable property in East Hazel Crest of any significance,” she said.
She said she is not sure how residents feel about the casino, but village officials will be “prepared to answer them honestly and give them as much information as possible” when they hold the public meeting on this issue.
“If it is overwhelmingly negative, we will step back and look at it,” Lazuka said.
Both villages tried to lure a big-box retail store to the site “but that didn’t pan out,” Hofeld said.
“This has a much greater chance for an impact,” Lazuka said. “Why not take advantage of it?”
Contributing: Ginger Brashinger