Remarkably, Aurora was on board, with city officials calling the new plan “one of the most significant developments in the history of Aurora,” which is exactly what they said when the riverboats came to downtown and were compared by the then-mayor to the coming of the railroads. Penn Entertainment also announced a similar plan for the casino in downtown Joliet, which it also owns.
Better, it said, for the casinos to be near the expressway for easier access. But what about the promises made to downtown Aurora and Joliet?…
Illinois casinos, it seems, have become like NFL franchises, supremely skilled at lobbying and dangling the promise of revenue to cash-strapped cities but on their own ever-changing terms.
Was the Hollywood Casino good for downtown Aurora? It’s debatable. The charming riverwalk got finished and area landscaping improved. The Paramount Theatre came back to life, but on its own merits. And on a recent Sunday night, those new restaurants in downtown Aurora were either closed or mostly empty. The action, it felt, had shifted elsewhere.
Numerous suburban downtowns have struggled for decades as activity moved outward to new neighborhoods and communities plus shopping malls and strip malls. Thus, when an opportunity presents itself, like a casino, many communities would be interested. A new attraction or business or development could help attract visitors, residents, and firms while bringing in new revenues.
Except building thriving downtowns in the suburbs is complicated. The suburban communities highlighted in this editorial are unique industrial suburbs outside of Chicago. Firms and jobs left. Suburban sprawl continued. The riverfront is still there. Other suburban downtowns thrived like Naperville or Arlington Heights, both of which are different kinds of suburbs.
While this is a tale about specific developments, it sounds like a generic development pattern: developer and/or company comes in with grand plans, community agrees to help make it happen, the developed property enriches the property owners, and if another location emerges where more money can be made, the development might move.
As the casino moves from downtown Aurora, what plans does the large suburb have to grow its downtown? What is the new attraction or set of steps to keep the downtown going?