Bally expected to buy Freedom Center site 'this week' for planned Chicago casino

With time running out on its option to buy the Freedom Center printing plant, Bally’s is expected to close the deal “this week,” sources said Monday, bringing the 30-acre River West site one step closer to hosting the chicago casino.

The Rhode Island-based casino company has an option to purchase the site from Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group, the owner of the nation’s largest television station, which acquired it in 2019 as part of its Purchase of Tribune Media for $4.1 billion — the former streaming father of Tribune Publishing.

But the option to buy the Freedom Center expires on October 25, according to sources, giving Bally two weeks to complete the deal. The price of the site has not been disclosed.

The sun sets behind the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center printing facility on June 24, 2021 in Chicago.

Representatives for Bally’s and Nexstar declined to comment Monday.

the Bally’s proposal to build a $1.74 billion casino complex River West is expected to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue for the city, transform the industrial site into a bustling entertainment destination and have the Chicago Tribune pack from its Freedom Center printing plant along the Chicago River.

On Monday, the Milwaukee Business Journal reported that Tribune Publishing’s parent company, hedge fund Alden Global Capital, completed the purchase of the idled Milwaukee Journal Sentinel printing plant in West Milwaukee from Gannett for $26 million. At the same time, Chicago-based Tribune Publishing continues to negotiate with Nexstar to extend the lease on its Freedom Center printing facility, set to expire in June 2023, for another 10 years.

Par Ridder, general manager of the Chicago Tribune, confirmed the purchase of the Milwaukee printing plant but said no decision has been made to relocate printing operations.

“Twenty Lake Holdings, a subsidiary of Alden Global Capital, has purchased several Gannett legacy printing facilities across the country for investment purposes,” Ridder said in an email. “The key point is that we have exercised the option to renew the lease on the Freedom Center. No decision has been made to move printing operations to Milwaukee.”

Bally’s filed its Chicago casino license application with the Illinois Gaming Board in August, with plans to open a temporary facility at the Medinah Temple by June 2023. The permanent casino is not expected to open before 2026.

Signs that the ambitious casino project is moving forward have been increasingly visible, including one published in the Freedom Center last month notifying the public that Bally submitted its request to the Plan Commission on September 21 to modify a planned development. existing for the site.

In 2018, Tribune Media obtained approval for a planned multi-use development on the site that includes offices, a hotel, and thousands of residential units. Bally’s proposal to redevelop it as a casino is not on the Plan Commission’s agenda for its next Oct. 20 meeting, according to the city’s website.

Bally’s faces continuous neighborhood opposition to the permanent casino plan, including from the River North Residents Association, which represents some 23,000 people who live near the proposed site. The group is seeking significant adjustments to the plan to mitigate potential disruptions to area residents.

A view of the printing presses at the Chicago Tribune Freedom Center, at 560 W. Grand Ave., May 16, 2016.

The 41-year-old Freedom Center, which publishes the Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers, is scheduled to be demolished as part of the casino development.

New York-based Alden, who completed his $633 million acquisition of Tribune Publishing in May 2021, becoming the second-largest newspaper owner in the US behind Gannett, it retains its print options.

In addition to purchasing the 20-year-old Milwaukee Journal Sentinel plant, which was closed when Gannett consolidated regional printing operations into its Peoria Journal Star facility in May, Alden exercised his option to extend Tribune Publishing’s Freedom Center lease for another 10 years. . Given the impossibility of reaching an agreement with Nexstar, the terms of the extension will be decided through arbitration, according to the sources.

If Bally’s buys the site, it will become the owner of Tribune Publishing and have the right to finance the relocation of the printing operations to a comparable facility. But Bally’s chairman Soo Kim previously told the Tribune that he would not rule out keeping the plant on its current site, near the proposed casino development.

Having a casino next door may have some financial advantages over moving printing operations to Milwaukee.

“Moving out of the Freedom Center would require a lengthy planning effort and would be very, very expensive,” Ridder said.

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