Reading and writing and -- roulette? Facing backlash, Matteson reconsiders proposed casino site near schools

Thursday 12th December 2019

Village officials in Matteson could be looking for a redeal in their bid for a coveted south suburban casino license after weeks of complaints from groups trying to force them to fold on their proposed location for the gambling emporium.

With Frankfort Township leaders across the street from Matteson's originally proposed casino site arguing blackjack and blackboards don't mix, the Matteson's village board is expected to vote next week to choose a new location for their proposal within the south suburb, officials said Wednesday -- one that's farther away from their upset neighbors' schools.

But Matteson officials say they're not just trying to appease Frankfort Township, and instead are taking advantage of prime real estate at the former Lincoln Mall right off Interstate 57, land they say wasn't available when they first applied.

Either way, the development group will need approval from the Illinois Gaming Board to amend its casino application, which is no sure bet as that regulatory agency vets three other suburban proposals vying against Matteson for the newly authorized casino license earmarked for southern Cook County.

Matteson initially offered up a site at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Lincoln Highway when it partnered with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma on a $300 million proposal and submitted their application to the Gaming Board Oct. 28.

That drew condemnation from a smattering of community groups as well as the Frankfort Township Board, whose members sent a letter to the Gaming Board earlier this month slamming the site bordering their municipality for being "directly adjacent to two schools and three densely populated residential subdivisions." A junior high school and elementary are each within about a mile of Harlem and Lincoln.

"Casinos should not be next to residential neighborhoods or near schools," Township Supervisor James Moustis said Wednesday. "This was not a good site."

Since then, at the behest of village officials, South Suburban Development LLC -- the Matteson casino development group led by Hinsdale investor Rob Miller -- has shifted gears about three miles east to the shuttered Carson Pirie Scott store location at the former Lincoln Mall near Lincoln and Cicero Avenue.

The store shut down last year and was demolished last month, a few weeks after the casino application deadline, according to Sean Howard, spokesman for Matteson Village President Sheila Chalmers-Currin.

Miller called the site "acceptable" and presented a plan to the village board Monday on how the new site could work for the proposal.

"We thought [the Harlem location] was a really excellent location for a lot of reasons: access to freeways, fully developable site, industrial area," Miller said Wednesday. "And we still think it's a good site."

Miller demurred when asked which site his group preferred.

"We'll do what the village tells us to do. They make the decisions on what site's acceptable."

And it won't change other plans in the group's proposal for a $300 million casino complex that also includes a 200-room hotel, high-end restaurant and 36,000 square feet for small conventions, concerts and other events.

"We're lucky our program will fit in that space just perfectly," Miller said.

Frankfort Township's Moustis said he was glad to see Matteson seeking to reshuffle the deck.

"Lincoln Mall is exactly the site that should have been considered. It's commercial, no schools, no residential areas, parking and lots of infrastructure," he said.

The village will vote on a site change resolution Dec. 16. They'd still need approval from the Gaming Board, which has not "indicated in any way how it would respond if the applicant submitted a request to amend its application," agency spokesman Gene O'Shea said.

Other casino proposals for the south suburban casino license are located in Calumet City, Lynwood and on the border of Homewood and East Hazel Crest.

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