THE LOOP — The Loop as a neighborhood has undergone a number of changes since 2008, transforming it into "a 24-hour destination for folks," Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said Tuesday.
That's one of the reasons the alderman said he'd likely push for a casino to be built in the South Loop if he's ever approached by Mayor Rahm Emanuel about it.
"Casinos historically have posed economic development opportunities for neighborhoods that need that little extra push to get over the hump and truly transition into a vibrant area," Reilly said at a Chicago Loop Alliance panel Tuesday, where the group was presenting its economic report on the neighborhood.
"I think there are areas in the near South Loop that present some real opportunity," he said, adding later, "That, to me, seems like the best place for a casino."
At the event, sponsored by the alliance and billed as a check-in on development and economic growth in the neighborhood, Reilly also raised concerns about the bus rapid transit plan, which would get tourists from Union Station to Navy Pier in nine minutes or less.
"Bus Rapid Transit, by its very nature, is a disruptive program," he said. "It changes the way people get around in a dramatic fashion. ... I think the ultimate payoff is getting people from Union Station to Navy Pier, the state's number one tourism destination."
Before the alderman and a panel of civic leaders fielded questions about development in the neighborhood, Christine Williams of the Goodman Williams Group highlighted the findings of the three-year economic study of the Loop conducted by her agency and the alliance.
The "State of the Chicago Loop" report examined an area roughly bordered by the lake, the Chicago River (on the north), Canal Street and Congress Parkway.
(Check out our slideshow for graphs from the 2013 "State of the Chicago Loop" Economic Profile.)
The area has seen steady residential growth: Between 2000 and 2010, the Loop population more than doubled from 7,056 to 15,710. The median income is higher than the rest of the city: $81,000, the report found.
Reilly attributed some of the growth to "empty-nesters moving to the city from the suburbs."
He celebrated recent changes to Downtown infrastructure "to support that residential base in the central business district," including "streetscaping, dog runs, the things a neighborhood needs to thrive."
Still, he emphasized that there was room for growing those amenities in the Loop "so that Downtown feels like any other neighborhood in the city of Chicago."
The report celebrates big corporate relocations, like the move of GrubHub from Bucktown to 111 W. Washington St., AT&T's move from Hoffman Estates to 225 W. Randolph St. and PLS Financial's move from the West Loop to 1 S. Wacker Dr.
The report tallies 9,452,300 square feet of new Loop office development between 2001 and 2010, with more than 4 million square feet of office space now in development.
Reilly said he has 80 "generally real projects that can get capital backing" awaiting action from his office.
"When I'm busy with zoning and development intake days every Thursday," he said, "that means Chicago's prospects are looking good."
More than 2.1 million square feet of recently vacated office space has been adapted for a new use since 2010, including nearly a million more square feet of residential real estate and nearly 200,000 new square feet of new student housing for the neighborhood's 21 higher learning institutions.
The report also celebrates recent tourism gains, including the previously reported figure of more than 46 million visitors this year, plus near-record hotel occupancy.
While the Loop has lost roughly 9,950 jobs in finance and insurance (12.6 percent of the industry) since the economic downturn began in 2007, there's been a total 10.1 percent growth in employment in all other private-sector industries since then.