In the Spring of 2022, the mayor and several aldermen supported bringing a casino to several Chicago neighborhoods: River West, Soldier field and the South Loop. With Mayor Lightfoot strongly advocating for the casino project, the proposal passed largely as a solution to the city’s pension problem.
Three casinos courted the city with incentives and throughout this process, there was quite a bit of transparency with townhall meetings held in each neighborhood to get community feedback. These townhalls were heavily advertised to ensure the community received the information in a timely manner and were able to attend.
Ultimately, Bally’s was chosen to begin construction in the River West neighborhood. In addition to benefits offered to the city, Bally’s also offered a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). Their CBA like one presented to Amazon by West Humboldt Park, included a community investment program which allows River West’s citizens to invest to own a piece of Bally’s Chicago, a livable wage of at least $50,000 annually and $75 million for improvements to infrastructure to aid with traffic and congestion. This is in addition to the promise of thousands of jobs for the community from construction and the entertainment complex. The casino deals, in effect, got the red-carpet treatment.
West Humboldt Park has not received the same red-carpet treatment.
Since the summer of 2021, the West Humboldt Park Community Coalition (WHPCC), headed by Howard Ray Jr, has tried to broker a CBA with Amazon. WHPCC has made many fruitless attempts to get support for a CBA from 37th Ward Alderwoman Emma Mitts and Amazon.
In February 2022, during a community meeting hosted by Alderwoman Mitts, Amazon stated they would not be negotiating a CBA because other organizations had already received benefits for West Humboldt
Park. Yet, our research indicates that many of these organizations are not located in West Humboldt Park and therefore, the direct community is not benefiting.
Furthermore, a onetime gift does not go as far as a long-term contract which includes ongoing community investments such as tax breaks and crime control initiatives received by communities like Rosemont, Des Plaines and Countryside. West Humboldt Park deserves the same benefits.
Amazon, one of the richest companies in the world, headed by Jeff Bezos and CEO Andy Jazzy, was permitted to move into West Humboldt Park under a by right agreement. This type of deal has since been changed and not allowed as of January 2021. Yet, this allowed Amazon to essentially invade our community with no transparency, no accountability, and no input from the people.
Moreover, the land Amazon is building on has been designated as an Opportunity Zone, yet the neighborhood and community are not receiving any benefits, which contradicts why Opportunity Zones were created.
Bluntly put, West Humboldt Park is a majority Black and Latino community. The casino project target areas are majority white and affluent. The casino project was done in the light with copious opportunities for the community to chime in; the Amazon project was done in the dark with no input from the community.
West Humboldt Park breathes the same air and has the same voting rights as all other people who live in the other 49 Chicagoland Wards. The WHPCC created a CBA and gave it to Amazon and the Alderman after conducting several townhall meetings without the assistance of our Alderwoman. Being citizens of Chicago and the 37th Ward, we feel slighted and discriminated against. This is unfair and unjust.