Rosemont officials hope a new northbound offramp from the Tri-State Tollway to Balmoral Avenue will serve as a "front door" to the village's many new entertainment projects.
The village board last week approved $25 million in funding for the project, forming an unusual partnership with the Illinois Tollway that will allow Rosemont to recoup up to half the costs through the 80-cent toll while expediting construction of the project, which is to begin in early May.
Local officials have said the new offramp is essential to the success of a new outlet mall, The Park at Rosemont entertainment complex and Rosemont Field, the new home to the Chicago Bandits professional women's fast-pitch softball team.
Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens said the village is "fortunate enough" to have the revenue streams available, mainly through steady development, to funnel money to the offramp on the Tri-State — Interstate Highway 294 — that he hopes will funnel visitors to the new local draws.
First up is the scheduled June 4 opening of the $5.5 million Rosemont Field, which is set to be unveiled at the corner of Bryn Mawr Avenue and Pearl Street on what has been dubbed Jennie Finch Way in honor of the Bandits' star player.
The third-base side dugout has already been formed and concrete poured, and construction is now under way on the foundation for the locker rooms and front office. Construction of the 1,500 permanent bleacher seats for the outdoor stadium is expected to begin April 11, Stephens said, and the village is hoping to sell naming rights to the ballpark.
Stephens' other pet project is the village's major entertainment venue, The Park at Rosemont, on the site the village had once hoped to build a casino.
Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill, Kings Bowling Center, and Lansdowne Pub have all signed leases to build venues in the 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex, which is currently anchored by the existing Muvico movie theater. The center of The Park will feature a recreational area that will host year-round programming including ice skating, farmers markets, concerts, fairs, festivals and exhibition sporting events. More than 16,000 ice skaters visited the free temporary skating site this winter, Stephens said.
"We're hoping that project will come out of ground in the next several weeks," Stephens said. "There's a push by the Toby Keith folks and Kings bowling and Lansdowne to open those three venues by the end of the year."
Stephens touted negotiations with five other restaurants for the site that include Italian, Greek and Mexican concepts, along with a German beer hall. All of the restaurants, he said, will have entertainment connected to dining.
"Not everyone wants to run into the city of Chicago for entertainment," Stephens said. "They can do similar things in Rosemont. We feel this will be a one-of-a-kind destination in the northwest suburbs."
Even before this build-out is complete, Des Plaines will be gearing up for the July opening of its casino — having won the license over Rosemont — on property just over the town line.
That construction work has entered its final phase and is "well on its way to completion," Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan said.
The 145,000-square-foot structure will house 45,000 square feet of gambling with five restaurants and a sports and entertainment bar. Recently, casino owners paid another $800,000 to expedite the nearby road construction at River Road at Devon Avenue past Touhy Avenue so the area will be ready for traffic when the casino opens this summer.
Though Rosemont's new developments were something of a Plan B after its casino dreams faded, Stephens said he's happy the gambling palace landed so close by. He said he's working with Des Plaines on joint advertising ventures and says the casino will "just be another form of entertainment for our hotels."
Yet his Des Plaines counterpart admits concern that gambling revenues are down in other parts of the state and country and said the city will "continue to monitor that."
Indeed, Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association said statewide, gaming revenues are down 31 percent from 2007, something he attributed mainly to Illinois' smoking ban.
The economy has hit the state's biggest producer, the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin, significantly, Swoik said. In 2007, its revenues topped $436.7 million but in 2010, the Grand Victoria brought in $287.1 million, he said. But he and others are confident in the new casino.
"In the past, we always felt a new casino in that vicinity would surpass what's being done in Elgin," he said, adding that's no longer clear.
One area of business that has grown during the economic downturn has been outlet shopping, asserts Arthur Weiner, president of Florida-based AWE Talisman, which is building Rosemont's new outlet mall, called Fashion Outlets of Chicago, a $225 million, two-level, enclosed mall that will set 550,000 square feet on what he calls "exquisite dirt" just east of I-294 at Balmoral. Plans include 140 upscale, luxury retailers connected to an six-level parking garage. The mall is scheduled to open for the holidays in 2012.
"Certainly, we will satisfy the appetite for high-luxury goods of all kinds," said Weiner, who projects construction will begin in early fall. Although he is still hesitant to release retailers' names before all contracts are signed, he did say "some of these retailers have flagship stores on Michigan Avenue."
"This will change the dynamic of outlet shopping, which is often just a stop on the way to somewhere else," Weiner said, noting many other outlets are in "cornfields." "This will act more like a retail mall, with multiweekly shopping. It's fully enclosed and warm and cuddly."