Casino concerns raised at Homewood meeting
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent December 17, 2012 10:06PM
Homewood President Rich Hofeld (right) and East Hazel Crest Mayor Tom Brown (left) speak during the meeting in the Marie Irwin Community Center in Homewood, Illinois, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012. | Karen Gioia ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 19, 2013 6:13AM
About 150 people turned out Monday evening to get more information about a proposed casino on land shared by Homewood and East Hazel Crest, with most seemingly opposed to the project or at least leery of it.
In an unusual format, no one in the audience was allowed to speak, but questions that had been submitted online ahead of the session were read by two attorneys from the law firm hired by the villages to advise them on the project.
The attorneys said the format was chosen to shorten the meeting, held at the Irwin Community Center in Homewood, and to allow similar questions to be grouped and avoid redundancy.
The questions that were selected dealt with a range of issues and concerns, including how a casino would affect property value and crime in the towns, if it would detract from Homewood’s image and small-town feel and whether it would mean higher costs for police and fire services.
The lawyers said they did not expect the project to harm home values and that any public safety costs related to the casino would be covered by the casino owner.
The towns’ mayors, Richard Hofeld in Homewood and Tom Brown in East Hazel Crest, spoke after the attorneys concluded answering the questions and emphasized the jobs and tax revenue that a casino would produce. They see the project as producing 1,000 new jobs, about $2 million in added tax revenue for each town and having a positive economic “ripple effect” on nearby towns.
The mayors have said the villages will split the tax revenue from the development — with East Hazel Crest having a 55 percent share and Homewood 45 percent.
The casino is planned for a mostly vacant site near the Interstate 80 interchange at Halsted Street. Sixteen acres are in East Hazel Crest and six are in Homewood, where the defunct Homewood Hotel sits. The hotel, 17400 Halsted St., would be demolished.
Homewood resident Jessie Cunningham said she is against a casino because she doesn’t think it will generate the revenue predicted. She described the meeting as “just a big PR (public relations) session.”
Edward Walenga, 85, of Homewood, said he was worried about potential crime problems related to a casino reducing his property value.
“I go to the Gary casino, but I don’t want one in Homewood,” he said.
The two towns join Country Club Hills, Chicago Heights, Calumet City, Lynwood and Ford Heights in the quest for a Southland casino.
Supporters of gambling expansion are again pushing a bill in the General Assembly that would add five casinos, including one for Chicago and one in the south suburbs.
Homewood and East Hazel Crest will seek offers from casino companies. The bids could be competitive and may include a hotel, Hofeld said.