Northeast Times

City Council could OK Grasso venue

Last week, a City Coun­cil com­mit­tee OK’d a bill that would al­ter zon­ing and make the 34,000-square-foot mu­sic ven­ue pos­sible, with plans to vote Thursday, June 16, on the bill.

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Al­though his pro­ject was voted down at a spe­cial com­munity meet­ing last Au­gust, de­veloper Dav­id Grasso might yet see his vis­ion of a 34,000-square-foot mu­sic ven­ue on the shores of the Delaware River ul­ti­mately real­ized.

Last week, a City Coun­cil com­mit­tee OK’d a bill that would al­ter zon­ing and make the pro­ject pos­sible, with plans to vote Thursday, June 16, on the bill.

City Coun­cil’s Rules Com­mit­tee voted in fa­vor of the bill dur­ing the June 7 hear­ing, with Coun­cil­men Dar­rell Clarke (D-5th dist.) and Wil­li­am Green­lee (D-at-large) the only to vote against the pro­posed changes.

Still, Clarke said he’s “not ne­ces­sar­ily op­posed” to the pro­ject, but he’d like to see a pub­lic pro­cess — with some sort of Com­munity Be­ne­fits Agree­ment cre­ated, as had been done dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of Sug­ar­house casino — be­fore he would fully sup­port the pro­ject.

Last week, Grasso, own­er of Grasso Hold­ings De­vel­op­ment Co., said his plan for a 3,000-pat­ron ven­ue could trans­form an un­der­u­til­ized, run­down area of wa­ter­front prop­erty at 2055 Rich­mond St. in­to a vi­brant en­ter­tain­ment des­tin­a­tion.

He test­i­fied that, if built, the ven­ue would provide a “north­ern an­chor” to a Delaware Av­en­ue com­mer­cial cor­ridor, re­vital­iz­ing an area that is a “des­ol­ate, dan­ger­ous place for people to go who want to avoid de­tec­tion by po­lice.”

“People have parties back there, and it’s very close to be­ing called a Wild West, in my opin­ion,” said Grasso.

Joined by Mi­chael Rapino, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of Live Na­tion Inc., the pro­mot­ing com­pany that would book per­form­ances, Grasso said his pro­ject would “clean up a dan­ger­ous part of the city while help­ing to clean up the wa­ter­front.”

Grasso said his pro­ject would bring the com­munity 300 new jobs:  75 con­struc­tion and more than 200 full-time in box of­fice, food sales and oth­er po­s­i­tions.

Yet, some didn’t seem too sure of that claim, as rep­res­ent­at­ives from the Olde Rich­mond Civic As­so­ci­ation, the New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Corp. and the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation ex­pressed con­cerns that Grasso’s ven­ue would be a “night club” — a seem­ingly hated term that, for many, brings back vis­ions of a time when seedy es­tab­lish­ments lined the wa­ter­front and pat­rons caused head­aches for res­id­ents.

Coun­cil­man Frank Di­Cicco (D-1st dist.) draf­ted the bill that would change the zon­ing des­ig­na­tion of the area bounded by Rich­mond Street, Cum­ber­land Street, Beach Street and Schirra Drive to al­low for night clubs, by mak­ing the area a C-3 com­mer­cial dis­trict and re­move a pro­hib­i­tion on night clubs from a Delaware Av­en­ue zon­ing over­lay that Di­Cicco him­self cre­ated.

Speak­ing last week, the re­tir­ing coun­cil­man said he sup­ports Grasso’s plan, and said the com­munity meet­ing that re­jec­ted the ven­ue  “was nev­er done in a sci­entif­ic way.”

He — in­ac­cur­ately — claimed the FNA had nev­er had a sign-in sheet at the meet­ing, where Grasso pro­ject was voted down 57-38.

When Clarke asked about the po­ten­tial for a CBA doc­u­ment, Di­Cicco said that after that meet­ing, “all dis­cus­sion at that point ended” with the com­munity groups.

“Lead­er­ship just didn’t like it, end of dis­cus­sion,” said Di­Cicco.

Even if that was the case, Grasso made it a point to note that he re­mains open to cre­at­ing a CBA with area groups. 

“I’m hear­ing mixed sig­nals,” com­plained Clarke dur­ing testi­mony.

Peg Rzepski, Demo­crat­ic lead­er of the 31st Ward and a mem­ber of ORCA, test­i­fied that the group had sent a let­ter of op­pos­i­tion to the plan due to the worry that Grasso’s pro­ject could ush­er in a new wave of prob­lem clubs in the area.

While Grasso owns two prop­er­ties on Rich­mond Street, loc­als ex­pressed con­cern that the two oth­er prop­er­ties in that area, which are cur­rently op­er­at­ing busi­nesses, could be closed and re­opened in the fu­ture as night clubs, as the bill would in­clude these prop­er­ties.

“It’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate and must be re­jec­ted,” said Rzepski. “The im­pact on our area is go­ing to crush it.”

Loc­als poin­ted to park­ing con­cerns, al­though Grasso as­sured the com­mit­tee that he had enough park­ing with a plan for at least 640 spots due to park­ing be­ing leg­al all along Rich­mond Street.

She said she’d like the bill to be put on hold un­til Di­Cicco was out of of­fice so that it could be re­viewed by the new coun­cil­man, pre­sum­ably Mark Squilla.

Capt. Mike Cram of Fishtown’s 26th Po­lice Dis­trict had con­cerns of his own.

He said that with the new casino, his dis­trict already is spread thin along the wa­ter­front. He wor­ried that a new mu­sic ven­ue, and the thou­sands it could at­tract each even­ing, could tax his dis­trict.

“What sort of re­sponse are we go­ing to need to cov­er this?” he asked. “I need to know what type of events they are go­ing to have, what type of se­cur­ity, how will they handle crowds.”

Paul Kais­er, an aide for State Rep. John Taylor’s (R-177th dist.), re­ques­ted a com­munity pro­cess be ini­ti­ated in or­der to en­sure the com­munity is pro­tec­ted from any head­aches the ven­ue may cre­ate.

“If we are go­ing to have this, it needs to be something that’s a com­munity ef­fort,” said Kais­er. “Now, all of our folks are up in arms about it.”

Rep­res­ent­ing the NK­CDC, Tom Potts, head of the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s Neigh­bor­hood Ad­vis­ory Com­mit­tee, said he’d like to see the bill tabled for “at least five years,” to wait un­til on­go­ing im­prove­ments to I-95 are fi­nal­ized be­fore mov­ing for­ward with the pro­ject.

Fi­nally, Neil Brech­er, pres­id­ent of the FNA, spoke in op­pos­i­tion to the plan and dis­cussed last year’s meet­ing, which in­deed had a sign-in sheet to take a tally of res­id­en­tial votes.

Ac­cord­ing to Brech­er, about 120 people showed up at that meet­ing, 95 of which were eli­gible to vote.

Res­id­ents, he said, were con­cerned about park­ing in that area be­cause pub­lic trans­port­a­tion isn’t much of an op­tion for the wa­ter­front site.

“Pub­lic trans­port­a­tion isn’t par­tic­u­larly ro­bust in that area,” he test­i­fied. “This is just not the right time for this pro­ject.”

After the meet­ing, Clarke said he spoke with Grasso about work­ing with the com­munity to cre­ate a CBA be­fore mov­ing for­ward.

At the end of last week, Clarke said he was still ex­pect­ing de­tails in writ­ing from Grasso on how fur­ther meet­ings in­ten­ded to cre­ate the CBA would take place.

“We still need to talk,” said Clarke. “I’d like to see Cap­tain Cram’s con­cerns re­spon­ded to. You only have so many po­lice.”

Clarke said Grasso could pos­sibly ease these con­cerns by hir­ing a lar­ger se­cur­ity staff or com­mis­sion­ing off-duty po­lice of­ficers.

Grasso said he would be reach­ing out to the loc­al or­gan­iz­a­tions in the com­ing weeks to “dis­cuss is­sues re­lated to the op­er­a­tion of the ven­ue and a pro­posed com­munity be­ne­fits agree­ment.”

He ex­pects to hold a meet­ing on the CBA in the near fu­ture.

City Coun­cil will meet on Thursday, June 16 in a pub­lic meet­ing where, Clarke said, a fi­nal vote could be held on the bill.

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

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You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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