It was no surprise when Bally’s released an official notification of relocation for Tribune Publishing workers several weeks ago. The Rhode Island-based casino company intends to demolish the Freedom Center, which is where the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times are currently printed and the Tribune newsroom is located, for the construction of Chicago’s first casino.
The Tribune first reported receiving the relocation notice on Monday. As the Freedom Center houses the Chicago printing press utilized by the aforementioned publications, as well as the offices of the reporters and editors of the Tribune, the casino plan has caused a public relations issue.
The $1.74 billion complex proposed by Bally’s, including a 500-room hotel, a 3,000-seat theater, 11 restaurants, and 4,000 gaming positions, was selected by the Chicago City Council in May 2022. Subsequently, an ordinance was passed to amend the city’s laws to allow casino gaming.
The Freedom Center was built in 1979 by Tribune Publishing for $150 million (approximately $590 million in today’s money). The name was chosen through a companywide contest won by the newspaper’s then environmental reporter, Casey Bukro, as it is meant to remind people of the importance of a free and active press in a democratic society.
In November 2022, Bally’s purchased the site from Nexstar Media for $200 million. To finance the casino construction, Bally’s also entered into a sale-leaseback arrangement with Oak Street Real Estate Capital, raising $500 million.
As of yet, Bally’s has not specified a move-out deadline for Tribune Publishing, but time is of the essence. The company has two years to find a new location for its printing plant before the casino breaks ground. Bally’s chairman, Soo Kim, had considered preserving the Freedom Center, but the plan was rejected by the city. Tribune Publishing has exercised an option to extend its lease for another 10 years, however, this will not save the Freedom Center.
Bally’s and Tribune Publishing are now engaging in arbitration to determine fair compensation. Bally’s is obligated to assist Tribune Publishing in finding a suitable printing location, as well as sharing some of the relocation costs. If all else fails, Bally’s may provide a cash settlement or build a new plant for Tribune Publishing and lease it to them. There is also the potential to relocate the Chicago publishing empire to