Obama Library a Hot Pot on the Stove in Chicago

There is so much brewing in Bronzeville that I don’t know where to start.  It’s no secret to most south siders that Bronzeville is prime property.  Bronzeville is in an untenable position between the south loop and Hyde Park, close to the lake, a scant few blocks from McCormick Place on the north.  Bronzeville is home to some of the most beautiful gray stone mini-mansions from the turn of the century and over 50% vacant lots. You might ask why untenable? I say untenable because to many lifelong Bronzeville residents our community is at risk of losing its identity through gentrification or what some would call urban renewal by black folk removal.

If you ask most black people what they would like to see on the old Michael Reese Hospital site you will get a resounding THE OBAMA LIBRARY.  You ask what most black don’t want you will get A CASINO. Supposedly the proposed casino would produce more revenue for the city of Chicago than the Obama library but as one Bronzeville resident told me a crack house would mean jobs too but we don’t want that either.  Of course it’s not fair to compare a casino to a crack house.  The casino would be legal.

That being said the word casino conjures up images of fevered gamblers queuing up to slot machines, drinks in hand, dumping money into greedy revenue producing daleks while puffing on cigarettes.  Cigarettes?  That got me to thinking. What will the city of Chicago do about smoking in the casino?  This is google worthy.  Non-smoking casinos lose money or such in the case of one casino in Atlantic City.

Revel casino opened last year. The marketing campaign centered on the casino being the only smoke free casino in Atlantic City.  It was even touted as family friendly, a term that doesn’t come to my mind with casino.  Guess what?  The Revel casino went bankrupt.  This is only an isolated case.  There are non–smoking casinos in other states that are still in operation but the gaming association claims that banning smoking in casinos would result in the loss of as much as $80 million in state tax revenues and 1,500 jobs. Those are the kind of numbers that get lawmakers’ attention, even if they’re overinflated. - See more at: http://thegazette.com/2013/02/17/clearing-the-air-on-casino-smoking/#sthash.fhvImYMU.dpuf.  A recent article compared the revenue produced by one no smoking allowed casino in Illinois to two Iowa puffing everywhere allowed and the Illinois spot had better financials.  The Illinois gaming board put their two cents in saying no ifs ands or buts, no smoking means lower revenue. Who to believe?

Personally I don’t think the lack of desire for a casino in Bronzeville teeters on smoking vs. no smoking.  I also don’t think the decision should be casino or Obama library.  The Chicago Tribune article of November 19th cited a study commissioned by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel that proclaimed the casino is more revenue producing than the library.  Again we have to wonder if there isn’t some other combination of uses that would utilize the site without creating such turmoil amongst Bronzeville residents.  The firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) is certainly not short on creativity.  The recent unveiling of the Great Lakes Vision Plan headed up by Paul Enquist of SOM covers 192,000,000 acres.  That’s a lot more land than the measly 48 acres at the Michael Reese site.  It might be a prudent move on the part of the 5th floor to let loose those savvy urban planners who armed with a mind toward preserving the planet, bringing sustainable solutions to the table and working with communities come up with answers other than library or casino.  Who knows maybe they would consider moving the Bronzeville Children’s Museum back to Bronzeville, installing a complex that enriches the history of Bronzeville with jazz, gospel and blues music museums, venues and restaurants?  After all New Orleans has Bourbon Street, Memphis has Beale Street.  These are more than streets they are districts like Chicago’s China Town or Greek Town or Little Village.  We people of Bronzeville want our town and not just a sign across a boulevard that leads to a casino.

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