While Chicago hems and haws about bringing in a casino, Aurora is gearing up for the debut of a gaming operation that should give this city a good idea of what the razzle-dazzle theory of economic development has to offer. In mid-June the Hollywood Casino will lower its gambling-boat gangplanks on the banks of the Fox River in Aurora, a mere 300 feet upstream from the beautifully restored Paramount Arts Centre.
The casino's 64,000-square-foot, four-story permanent shoreside structure will house no fewer than five restaurants along with a glass-domed penthouse lounge for acts brought in to entertain customers between turns at the boats' gaming tables. The casino will book the nearby Paramount occasionally to showcase familiar Las Vegas and Atlantic City headliners such as Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, and Joan Rivers. No casino would be complete without some kitsch, and the Hollywood Casino promises a variety of Tinseltown touches, including Jean Harlow's posthumous Oscar and star look-alikes hired to circulate among the crowds. All gambling will take place on two newly constructed riverboats that will depart every 90 minutes between 8:30 AM and 4 AM for three-hour Fox River cruises.
The casino comes to Aurora via Atlantic City, where its parent company, the Pratt Hotel Corporation, owns the Sands Hotel and Casino. Hollywood Casino's optimistic president, Bill Weidner, believes the gaming operation can establish a strong foothold in the Chicago area in spite of its Aurora location. "I think it will be awhile before any comparable competition is in place," he notes, "and we view the western suburbs as a very affluent customer base where there will be big population growth."
Weidner naturally emphasizes the casino's potential for transforming a drab river town into a tourist mecca. Pratt has spent $65 million on the casino so far and claims to have used local companies wherever possible, for jobs ranging from architectural design to supplying the steel used in the boats. An obviously image-conscious Weidner explains, "We are trying to make sure the citizens of Aurora feel we are working to turn over dollars in the local economy." The casino plans to employ as many as 1,500 local residents, and if Weidner's projections are correct it could bring in between $6 and $8 million annually in welcome new tax revenue for the city.
But will a glitzy casino markedly change the face of Aurora? Weidner certainly talks a good story. He points to new businesses, including a pizza parlor, a gourmet coffee shop, and a new hotel chain that are already moving into the neighborhood on the heels of the casino. But unless this modest increase in commercial activity turns into a stampede, it isn't likely to elevate homely Aurora anytime soon into a major tourist destination. And as pointed out last Sunday in the New York Times, legalized gambling in Atlantic City has by no means cured the economic and social ills it was meant to alleviate. If Aurora truly hopes to be reborn, its officials would be wise not to count on the Hollywood Casino alone to do the job.
Michael Leavitt and Fox Theatricals, producers of Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers at the Royal George Theatre, weren't exactly thrilled to learn that the Columbia Pictures film adaptation of the play will debut nationally on May 14. The picture, which stars Irene Worth, Mercedes Ruehl, and Richard Dreyfuss, will be among the first major releases of the summer. "When we opened our production last September," says Leavitt, "we were told the film would not open until August of 1993." A Columbia spokeswoman said the decision to move up the film's premiere was made earlier this year. She said, "The studio executives felt that the May date was a perfect window for the film because it will be the only picture for adults opening around that time." The early release date could be taken as an indication that Lost in Yonkers is a strong picture, but Leavitt says he is making no assumptions yet about whether it might force his stage production to close earlier than it would have otherwise. He maintains, "A lot will depend on how the film is reviewed." The Leavitt/Fox production still appears to have plenty of life in it. Seven months into its run the show is grossing around $70,000 a week out of a potential $122,000 at capacity.
The David Leonardis Gallery has snared the first Chicago showing of the works of Paul Warhola, the budding artist and unabashedly exploitative brother of the late Andy Warhol. Set to open May 1, the exhibit, titled "Andy's Brother: Paul Warhola Gets His Due," will include limited-edition silk-screen prints and original paintings of such icons as Heinz ketchup bottles and cans of baked beans--all at prices ranging from $500 to $5,000. Dealer Leonardis says, "This is a chance for people who missed out on buying Keith Harings and Andy Warhols when the price was low to get a Warhola before the prices begin to climb."
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera can't seem to do enough to put our jokester of a mayor in the limelight. Richard and Maggie Daley have been designated host and hostess of an April 19 gala pep rally and dinner at the Palmer House to celebrate the $100 million corporate contribution to the CSO and Lyric building campaigns. According to a CSO spokeswoman, unless a last-minute sponsor is found, the Lyric and CSO will pick up the dinner tab.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.