Wynn’s Fishtown casino: the River Wards’ reaction

An artist’s rendering of Steve Wynn’s proposed Fishtown casino and hotel. COURTESY OF WYNN RESORTS, LTD.

Following Steve Wynn’s detailed presentation of his proposed Fishtown hotel and casino, neighbors and community group representatives have mixed reactions to the project that could bring yet another gambling destination to the communities’ waterfront.

Last week, Las Vegas casino owner Steve Wynn presented his plans for a $900 million casino and hotel dubbed “Wynn Philadelphia” on the Delaware River waterfront in Fishtown, on land north of the SugarHouse Casino.

He joined five other developers lining up for a chance at securing the city’s second casino license in presenting pitches to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board at the Pennsylvania Convention Center during a public hearing on Feb. 12.

“This is a billion-dollar development for Philadelphia … and he has the money to do it,” A.J. Thomson, president of the Friends of Penn Treaty Park said of Wynn’s proposal last week.

“I think it’s cool,” said Maryann Trombetta, president of the Port Richmond Town Watch, who was also in attendance. “I think he’s the only one who speaks from the heart.”

Port Richmond West Community Action Network group facilitator Michael Blackie said Wynn’s casino proposal is a good thing.

“I see what SugarHouse has done with the community benefits agreement [the Penn Treaty Special Services District, which disburses grants to local programs and projects with funds provided by SugarHouse] and that’s good for the community. This area would need it.”

Blackie mentioned increased traffic and real estate investments as potential economic boosters the casino could bring to Port Richmond.

Theresa Costello of the Port Richmond Community Group said, “I am excited about the Wynn hotel and casino project because it could really spur development along the waterfront. This is the largest piece of land with the most experienced operator [of the six developers’ presentations]. Steve Wynn knows how to bring tourism, business and residents to our area. Port Richmond would benefit.”

But not all neighbors think Wynn’s proposal has hit the jackpot.

FACT (Fishtown Action)’s board does not support another casino in Fishtown or Philadelphia, said its president, Maggie O’Brien, though it was supportive of Fishtown’s SugarHouse casino, which holds the city’s first casino license, during early battles over zoning for its construction.

“This is not Las Vegas. We do not want to turn this into Las Vegas,” O’Brien said. “We have to protect the integrity of the neighborhood.”

Phillip Stoltzfus, president of the Old Richmond Civic Association, said that ORCA does not endorse or oppose individual development projects, but rather acts as a facilitator to gather consensus from its constituents and communicate with the appropriate authorities.

In sharing his personal views, not those of ORCA’s, Stoltzfus did say he has some reservations.

“Speaking as a resident who lives within a stone’s throw of the proposed casino site,” he said, “I have serious concerns about the impact on the residential neighborhood which is less than 500 feet away.”

The Wynn project would fill 70 acres along Richmond Street from Schirra Drive to Columbia Avenue.

Stoltzfus also pointed out that there are no casinos included in the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s Plan for the Central Delaware, (plancentraldelaware.com), the result of a three-year collaboration between the city and community on how to renew the waterfront.

The Fishtown Neighbors Association and the East Kensington Neighbors Association declined to comment on Wynn’s casino proposal before the groups hold membership meetings to discuss and vote on the issue.

Larry Freedman of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association’s zoning committee offered no comment, and the New Kensington Community Development Corporation could not be contacted by press time.

But Wynn may have spoken to some neighbors’ concerns when he told attendees that for any local businessman, “If I build next to him, his business goes up.”

Wynn Philadelphia is planned as a destination resort, which Wynn described during his presentation as potentially becoming “the nicest hotel on the East Coast,” citing Amtrak trains as key to luring in customers and guests from other cities.

The Wynn casino would boast slot machines, poker tables, luxury suites, and a 2,000-foot riverfront green space as well, where he said families could stroll independently of the gambling space without getting “anywhere near a slot machine.”

A video shown during the presentation included images of 900-square-foot suites in the 300-room resort, as well as other successful Wynn hotel and casino developments, like the Wynn Macau in China.

Addressing the crowd, Wynn promised a luxury hotel with gambling tables and fine cuisine, not “just slot machines,” he said.

Wynn said that financially he is ready to break ground immediately on building Wynn Philadelphia, with his $2 billion cash reserve available to fund the project. He promised that the project would create jobs in the area, spur local business growth, and draw visitors to all of Philadelphia. The audience applauded his presentation.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will award one developer a casino license after several months, possibly not until the fall, according to sources familiar with the process.
Public hearings on the six proposals will be held April 10 and 11 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215–354–3124 or at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

Additional reporting by Managing Editor Mikala Jamison, who can be reached at 215–354–3113 or at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.