Bally’s closes Freedom Center deal for $200M

Bally’s completed its $200 million purchase of the Freedom Center printing plant Friday, paving the way to build Chicago’s long-sought and much-debated casino.

The Nexstar Media Group purchased the 30-acre River West property from Rhode Island-based Nexstar Media Group with plans to turn it into a $1.74 Billion casino complex. What becomes of the Chicago Tribune’s 41-year-old printing plant remains to be seen.

Bally’s Chair Soo Kim confirmed the acquisition Friday evening. Gary Weitman, spokesperson for Nexstar, declined to comment.

Chicago Tribune’s Freedom Center on July 28, 2022.

Dallas-based Nexstar Media Group, the nation’s largest TV station owner, acquired the Freedom Center site in 2019 as part of its $4.1 billion purchase of Tribune Media — the former broadcast parent of Tribune Publishing.

The proposed casino complex would have a 500-room hotel, an exhibition hall, a 3,000-seat theatre, an outdoor music venue and six restaurants. It also includes a gambling floor that features 3,400 slot machines and 170 gaming tables. Bally’s filed its Chicago casino license application with the Illinois Gaming Board in August, with plans to open a temporary facility at Medinah Temple by June. The permanent casino is not expected before 2026.

Chicago-based Tribune Publishing is extending its Freedom Center printing plant lease, which expires in June 2023, by 10 years. Nexstar and Tribune were involved in arbitration regarding the terms of the extension. As the new landlord, it is now up to Bally’s to resolve the lease dispute with Tribune.

The Freedom Center was established in 1981. It prints the Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal as well as other newspapers. Kim does not rule out keeping the huge plant on the site, which was originally scheduled for demolition.

Bally’s does, however, have the right to force Tribune to vacate, Kim said. Tribune could have an alternative north of the border if that happens. Tribune Publishing’s parent company, hedge fund Alden Global Capital, has purchased the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s idled printing plant in West Milwaukee from Gannett for $26 million.

While Bally’s is preparing to develop the 30-acre site, it may not own the land itself for long. The publicly traded company stated earlier this month that it will sell the land and lease the land back to raise money to build the proposed casino complex.

Bally’s owns and manages 15 casinos across 10 states. It made its entree into Illinois in June 2021 with the $120 million acquisition of Jumer’s Casino & Hotel in Rock Island, which it renamed Bally’s Quad Cities.

In May, Bally’s won a heated competition to build the Chicago casino, which is expected to generate $200 million in annual tax revenue for the city.

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