City seeks citizens' input for next Philadelphia casinos

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission displayed several casino projects to the public

· March 28, 2013, 11:42 pm

As the race heats up for a second city casino license, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission hosted three open houses this week to gather citizen opinion.

“We’re trying to get these proposals to be as good as they can possibly be,” Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, who also chairs the PCPC, said.

Posterboards displayed renderings of each casino, the projects’ statistics and maps of current land use in the area. Each visitor, handed a clipboard and a survey at the door, could give their opinions on the survey and through big pads of white paper at each station.

Greenberger emphasized that the city is simply listening to citizen input and not attempting to pick a favorite out of the casinos. “There’s nothing to be gained from us getting behind one proposal at this time,” he said.

Citizens who could not make it to any of the open houses can fill out a survey online to give their thoughts.

The information will be collected and used when Greenberger gives testimony on behalf of the city in April at one of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s public hearings on the casino.

The six proposals are broken down into three different geographic areas. Three are in South Philadelphia along Packer Avenue, not far from the city’s stadium complex.

The two most urban proposals include Market8, led by city developer Ken Goldenberg, at 8th and Market streets, and the Provence, a French-themed casino and hotel at Broad and Callowhill streets.

The other is a proposal from a group led by 1963 College graduate Steve Wynn for a casino and resort along the Delaware River in the Fishtown neighborhood of the city.

Philip Browndeis, who lives two blocks away from the proposed Provence site on Broad St., said he came to the second open house session because he wanted to ensure that the Provence was not chosen.

He said that “no casino has ever raised the quality of life in a neighborhood.” He also added that he found it “disturbing” that the proposal for the Provence puts the casino “just south of some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.”

Area resident Nick Cvetkovic said he preferred the Market8 proposal, because it is the “most centrally located” of the six.

Jeffrey Saunders, the president of West Poplar Community Development Corporation, said he thought the Wynn proposal, along with the Provence, were the best of the six. This was because they “are the [only two] going after a different market.”

A 2004 law signed by former Governor and 1965 College graduate Ed Rendell created the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and opened the doors for casinos in the state. The bill allowed for twelve state casino licenses, including two specifically designated for the city of Philadelphia.

One casino, SugarHouse, opened in 2010. A second planned casino, Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, was never built after running into a number of issues, leaving the second license open.

All six groups behind the proposals gave a presentation to the PGCB last month.

Harris Steinberg, the executive director of Penn Praxis, the applied research section of PennDesign, said that this current race “is much less clean-cut” than the first casino license application process several years ago.

According to Steinberg, whichever “proposal is ultimately picked for the license will be decided by whether the PGCB is more focused on urban planning or economics.”

Steinberg noted that the Market8 proposal was intriguing, as “it has the potential to raise a new model for casinos where you can go vertical rather than horizontal.”

He also described the three proposals for casinos in South Philadelphia as “not much more than big boxes of slots.”

The PGCB is hosting public input hearings April 11 and 12 at the Philadelphia Convention Center and on May 8 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Greenberger was quick to note that the process for the new city casino license is not yet near an end. “This is just the fourth inning of a ninth inning game,” he said.

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