Rockford's Independent Newspaper

A look at Rockford’s 3 casino proposals

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD – Rockford officials, on Friday, received three proposals to build the city’s only casino. 

Two of the proposals are for east-side facilities, while one developer wants to build on the south edge of downtown. The plans were delivered, along with their respective $75,000 application fees, before Friday’s 2 p.m. deadline. The city will now review the proposals and submit recommendations to aldermen before citizens weigh in at a Sept. 23 public hearing. Rockford has until Oct. 25 to submit one or more proposals to the Illinois Gaming Board. 

“The RFP Review Team will submit follow-up questions to the proposers and evaluate the RFPs,” Strategic Communications Manager Laura Maher said in a statement. “During this process, the City will ensure that the proposals make a significant and lasting contribution to the City, are a catalyst for economic development, create jobs and new employment opportunities for residents, and utilize local and small business suppliers and vendors. Staff will then make recommendations to the Council of which proposal(s) they think should be certified.”

Hard Rock International
The group of investors that includes Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen was the first RFP respondent to submit its proposal Friday. Led by singer-songwriter Miles Nielsen, it loaded copies of multi-page plan into a road case and wheeled it into City Hall just after noon. 

Nielsen’s group announced in July plans for a Hard Rock Casino at the site of the former Clock Tower Resort. The first phase of what could cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” would include a casino, Hard Rock Cafe and concert venue. Hard Rock Chairman and CEO Jim Allen said a hotel could be added to the development in subsequent phases. The first phase, he said, could be completed in 12-14 months. The project has already received blessing from the Rockford Park District.

Rock River West Casino Group
The development company that’s turning the downtown Ziock/Amerock Building into the Embassy Suites & Rockford Conference Center submitted a plan Friday to site a casino and aquarium just south of that project.

While Wisconsin’s Gorman & Co. has not announced a casino operator, it says a downtown gaming facility makes more sense than one on the east side because it will complement the area’s entertainment and tourism business. It will also help build a case for passenger rail, something that was part of the original hotel plan until it as squashed by incoming Gov. Bruce Rauner when he unseated Pat Quinn in 2014. Illinois’s $39.9 billion budget passed this year includes $275 million for a Rockford train.

Forest City Casino
A group called Forest City Casino led by businessmen Henry Leong and Kjell Kaashagen also wants Rockford to have a multi-faceted facility on the east side. The plan calls for a casino, hotel, golf complex, water park and family fun center just south of the new Javon Bea Hospital near the East Riverside Boulevard I-90 entrance. The project would reportedly approach $1 billion. 

All three proposals call for hundreds of construction jobs and more than 1,000 positions at the casino, which could generate as much as $8 million in annual tax revenue. The City of Rockford would share those dollars with Winnebago County, Loves Park and Machesney Park. 


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