Northeast Times

Gaming Board hears city’s opinion of Wynn

At a state hear­ing on ap­plic­ants for the city's second casino li­cense, not all res­id­ents agree with the opin­ions the city presen­ted about Wynn Phil­adelphia, which could be con­struc­ted in the River Wards.

  • Protesters opposed to a second casino in the city sit in the Convention Center’s hallway as the city presented its evaluation of the pros and cons of various casino applicants on Tuesday, Sept. 24. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • Paul Boni, a board member of Stop Predatory Gambling, held up a print-out of a 2007 quote by Mayor Michael Nutter to the effect that he does not support gambling during the state gaming board’s hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 24. STAR PHOTO / SAM NEWHOUSE

The Wynn hotel and casino pro­posed for a wa­ter­front site in the River Wards has the po­ten­tial to ac­tiv­ate un­used wa­ter­front space, but does not seem spe­cif­ic to Phil­adelphia, is in an isol­ated loc­a­tion, and needs more de­vel­op­ment of plans for pub­lic green space, said deputy may­or Alan Green­ber­ger at a hear­ing last week on casino li­cense ap­plic­ants.

“A power­ful trans­form­a­tion could take place on our wa­ter­front,” Green­ber­ger told the Pennsylvania Gam­ing Con­trol Board (PGCB) on Tues­day, Sept. 24, in ref­er­ence to Wynn Re­sorts’ pro­pos­al for a loc­a­tion on the Delaware River, which, in con­junc­tion with Sug­ar­House Casino, could po­ten­tially cre­ate a new en­ter­tain­ment des­tin­a­tion.

“We do have some con­cern about the ex­tent to which the es­tab­lished Wynn product has been or will be tailored more spe­cific­ally to Phil­adelphia,” Green­ber­ger con­tin­ued. “We are aware that Wynn Re­sorts is pur­su­ing sim­il­ar op­por­tun­it­ies in oth­er mar­kets along the east coast … We would like to hear more from the ap­plic­ant about why Phil­adelphia — and this some­what isol­ated site — will be par­tic­u­larly at­tract­ive to in­ter­na­tion­al vis­it­ors com­pared to ex­ist­ing Wynn re­sort des­tin­a­tions and pro­posed Wynn re­gion­al casi­nos.”

The PGCB held the hear­ing last week to hear the city’s eval­u­ation of the pros and cons of the six ap­plic­ants com­pet­ing for the city’s second casino li­cense.

A group of pro­test­ers in­ter­rup­ted Green­ber­ger’s testi­mony at one point, hold­ing signs and shout­ing “No casi­nos!” be­fore be­ing forced to leave the room.

One of the pro­test­ers was Paul Boni, a board mem­ber of the group Stop Pred­at­ory  Gambling.

“The big ques­tion was nev­er answered – ‘Why do we need a second casino?’” Boni said after the hear­ing. “Is a second casino help­ful or hurt­ful to our eco­nomy, our rev­en­ue, our city?”

Green­ber­ger was joined by two con­sult­ants from New York-based AKRF Con­sult­ing, who presen­ted a re­port stat­ing that all of the casino ap­plic­ants could cre­ate jobs and cre­ate new rev­en­ue for the city.

However, Boni was skep­tic­al of their re­port.

“They say the cost of the pro­jects ranges from $400 to 900 mil­lion. But where did they get those num­bers from? They got them from the ap­plic­ant,” Boni said. “He is basing the rev­en­ue pro­jec­tions on the square foot­age of the gam­ing floor. Is there any basis for that?”

R. Keith Row­an of AKRF Con­sult­ing said in an email that their re­port was an “in­de­pend­ent ana­lys­is” ased in part on in­form­a­tion provided by ap­plic­ants to the Phil­adelphia Com­merce De­part­ment, and cal­cu­lated us­ing re­search in­to re­gion­al casino rev­en­ues and ation­al gam­ing in­dustry trends, as well as site ana­lys­is, study of mar­ket con­di­tions, and in­ter­views con­duc­ted with City Plan­ning De­part­ment of­fi­cials.

Green­ber­ger also said that there is “no sig­ni­fic­ant op­pos­i­tion” from res­id­en­tial com­munit­ies liv­ing near the Wynn site.

Neigh­bors at­tend­ing meet­ings of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation and Olde Rich­mond Civic As­so­ci­ation earli­er this year both voted in fa­vor of the Wynn pro­pos­al. The pro­pos­al has also seen pos­it­ive en­dorse­ments by the New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion and Port Rich­mond on Patrol and Civic.

But some neigh­bors do op­pose the Wynn pro­pos­al.

“I’m dis­ap­poin­ted that they haven’t taken a stronger po­s­i­tion,” said Fishtown res­id­ent Jethro Heiko, who op­poses a second casino, of the loc­al civic as­so­ci­ations. “Rather than edu­cat­ing people, they’re just tak­ing a simple vote. That’s not a pro­cess for mak­ing a more in­formed cit­izenry. People are des­per­ate right now, and of­ten think of short-term solu­tions.”

Green­ber­ger also men­tioned the “Mas­ter Plan for the Cent­ral Delaware” dur­ing his present­a­tion, which was de­veloped by city plan­ners and cit­izens and ad­op­ted by the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion in 2012. Green­ber­ger said he would like more in­form­a­tion about Wynn’s plans for green space, but did not state wheth­er the Wynn pro­pos­al meets the goals of the mas­ter plan. Green­ber­ger’s of­fice did not re­spond to re­quests for cla­ri­fic­a­tion.

The mas­ter plan for the Cent­ral Delaware, which ap­plies to the Delaware River wa­ter­front between Al­legheny and Ore­gon av­en­ues, en­cour­ages pub­lic open spaces, wa­ter­front trails, river­front ac­cess for the pub­lic, and height re­quire­ments for de­vel­op­ment.

River Wards res­id­ent Phil­lip Stoltz­fus said in an e-mail that the Wynn pro­pos­al does not con­form with some prin­ciples “at the heart of the mas­ter plan” — such as op­pos­ing isol­ated, high-rise de­vel­op­ments with park­ing lots or gar­ages, in fa­vor of low- or mid-rise de­vel­op­ments that en­cour­age use of pub­lic trans­it and trans­port­a­tion al­tern­at­ives. 

“Is a casino strip gambling dis­trict our only hope of a ‘power­ful trans­form­a­tion’ on the north­ern wa­ter­front?” Stoltz­fus wrote. “Will the prin­ciples of the mas­ter plan be held host­age by ‘all or noth­ing’ de­velopers? Will the people’s vis­ion, that so many have hoped and fought for, come to life? Or will that vis­ion be com­prom­ised pro­ject-by-pro­ject un­til the next gen­er­a­tion is left won­der­ing what happened… like my gen­er­a­tion won­ders about so much va­cant land today?”

Terry McK­enna, ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent of Keat­ing Con­sult­ing, which is de­vel­op­ing Wynn Phil­adelphia, poin­ted out that part of the mas­ter plan called for light in­dus­tri­al de­vel­op­ment on the river­front. 

“I think any­thing Wynn is pro­pos­ing to do is bet­ter than light in­dus­tri­al,” McK­enna said.

“We’re provid­ing 20 acres of green space and river­front ac­cess to the pub­lic … I don’t think there’s a con­flict [with the mas­ter plan].”

McK­enna said that the Wynn Phil­adelphia is cur­rently look­ing at sug­ges­tions made in a Sept. 10 let­ter sent to Wynn and the Pennsylvania Gam­ing Con­trol Board y the Cent­ral Delaware Ad­vis­ory Group, which over­sees the mas­ter plan for the Cent­ral Delaware and is made up of rep­res­ent­at­ives of 20 com­munity or­gan­iz­a­tions from the River Wards to South Phil­adelphia. CD­AG’s let­ter stated that they neither op­pose nor sup­port the Wynn pro­pos­al on the Delaware River.

CD­AG in­stead had sug­ges­tions for the design of the Wynn pro­pos­al that could make it “more com­pat­ible” with the mas­ter plan for the Cent­ral Delaware, in­clud­ing re­du­cing the pro­ject’s height from 300 feet to the area max­im­um of 225 feet; ad­just­ing the main path of entry to lead straight to the wa­ter­front; and modi­fy­ing plans for a 20-acre, one-floor sub­ter­ranean park­ing gar­age with a green roof – which tech­nic­ally does not qual­i­fy as green space since it would not be ac­cess­ible to ped­es­tri­ans.

Sandy Salzmann, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the New Kens­ing­ton Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion, a mem­ber of CD­AG, said that a casino would not be pro­hib­ited by the mas­ter plan for the cent­ral Delaware.

“I think that it’s in keep­ing with the re-de­vel­op­ment of the wa­ter­front,” Salzmann said of the Wynn pro­pos­al. “We all want to see more de­vel­op­ment of the wa­ter­front.”

Over­all, Green­ber­ger’s testi­mony was most sup­port­ive of the two pro­pos­als closest to Cen­ter City – the Provence casino pro­pos­al on North Broad Street and the Mar­ket East pro­pos­al on Mar­ket Street. He poin­ted out that the Wynn pro­pos­al is in an “isol­ated loc­a­tion” and re­lies on the un­cer­tain factor of draw­ing in­ter­na­tion­al vis­it­ors. He also poin­ted out that the three casi­nos pro­posed for South Phil­adelphia could face con­ges­tion from the nearby sports sta­di­ums.

At last week’s hear­ing, the Pennsylvania Gam­ing Con­trol Board also an­nounced that their fi­nal hear­ings for this ap­plic­a­tion pro­cess will be held in Janu­ary 2014 – mean­ing that the casino li­cense won’t be awar­ded un­til some point next year. **

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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