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.
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