The city won't pick a favorite from the six applicants for Philadelphia's second casino license at April's gaming control board hearings.
“We've got no intention of saying 'This is the one,' said Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger before the start of a public input session on the casino proposals held Tuesday evening at Lincoln Financial Field.
Sometime in the future, the city will advocate for one or more casinos that it determines would be the best fit for the city, said Greenberger, who also chairs the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. But at this relatively early stage of a long process – the gaming board isn't expected to award the license until this fall – the candidates are still making changes to their proposals.
Besides, Greenberger said, it behooves the city from a strategic perspective to keep working with all six applicants. “It makes sense for us to get every singe one of these proposals better,” he said. “We don't know who the board will ultimately pick” so the city's goal is to maximize the potential benefits of each plan.
At the first set of Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board hearings, “We will try to provide an analysis of each proposal so far,” he said. This will include a discussion of the elements of each plan the city likes and those it believes need more work, and a summation of public comments and concerns on the proposals, gleaned from Tuesday's session at Lincoln Financial Field, tonight's at the Center for Architecture and tomorrow's at The Painted Bride.
The city's comments will also include a preliminary economic analysis, now being done by consultant AKRF in New York. It will look at not only how each project would help spur new development or harm existing businesses nearby, Greenberger said, but how it would impact the city's existing casino, SugarHouse.
“People talk about (a second casino) cutting into the audience share of SugarHouse, and we do need to look at whether any will do more harm or less harm,” Greenberger said. Since the city's share of the casino tax revenue will be based on the total revenue from both casinos, it is in the city's interest that the second casino not take customers away from the first, he said.
There was evidence last night that the proposals are still evolving. The Wynn Philadelphia proposal's new site plan was shown – the city just received it. The tower is now surrounded by an indoor parking garage with a green roof. It's about 35 or 40 acres of covered parking space, said a member of the Wynn design team who was at the comment session. It's not certain whether the roof will include amenities and recreation space or if it will be solely for rain water management, he said.
At last night's session, participants saw poster boards with renderings and summaries of each casino proposal. They were able to tell staff members and representatives of Portfolio Associates, Inc., the company that is helping the city gauge public opinion, what they liked and didn't like about each proposal, and make suggestions on how each could be improved.
A common concern about all the casino proposals: What impact would they have on traffic and congestion? Other comments that turned up on multiple boards: The winning bidder needs to hire local workers. Why does Philadelphia need a second casino? Would a casino increase crime in the area?
Participants were also given questionnaires, on which they were asked to rate how each proposal would provide an economic benefit for the city, support development in the surrounding area, preserve the existing positive character of surrounding neighborhoods, make effective use of existing buildings, streets and other infrastructure and create a positive tourism/entertainment destination.
Anyone who can't or would rather not attend one of the public sessions can view all the material and take the survey and provide feedback at the planning commission's website, here. Renderings of the casino plans and information about each proposal are also available there.
Taking a break from filling out their survey, John and Pat Brock of South Philadelphia said with what they know so far, they would prefer the state choose one of the three sites near the stadium district.
“I prefer (casinos) to be away from the neighborhoods,” John Brock said. The sites near the sports arenas are already entertainment draws, Pat Brock noted. “The energy is there, but they are out of the neighborhoods. It's not interfering with people's daily lives.”
Pat Brock said she likes both the name and design of Casino Revolution. The tall tower “invites people to look at all the city's tall buildings,” she said.
Here is a sampling of what participants told the planners, taken from the boards where comments were written down:
The Provence, Tower Entertainment, 400 N. Broad Street.
Likes: Good use of land, good proximity to the Visitor's Center. Won't take away from SugarHouse. Would serve as an anchor for the Avenue of the Arts North.
Concerns: Too close to Catholic schools. The activity faces inward, like a mall.
Suggestions: Orient activity to the street. Connect to the Reading Viaduct.
Casino Revolution, PHL Local Gaming, LLC, 3333 South Front Street
Likes: Open space location with ability to expand. The looks of the building. Proximity to other entertainment venues and I-95, I-76 and the Walt Whitman Bridge. It's away from local neighborhoods.
Concerns: It would be another casino along the I-95 corridor. The design is too plain.
Suggestions: There should be I-95 ramps off of Packer and Pattison Aves..
Hollywood casino, PA Gaming Ventures, LLC, 700 Packer Avenue
Likes: The theme and a brand name that people will recognize. The location and its easier access for New Jersey residents.
Concerns: Adding to congestion after sporting events. Detracts from the neighborhood quality of life. No room for expansion.
Suggestions: Create a neighborhood buffer. Work with the Philadelphia film office to jointly host events and create another attraction rather than just the casino.
Wynn Philadelphia, Wynn PA, Inc, 2001 Beach Street and 2001 through 2005 Richmond Street
Likes: The park along the river and the green roof over the parking garage.
Concerns: Is driving the only way to get to the site? Is the site possibly too isolated? Would this project have a negative impact on SugarHouse? Would there be free parking for use of the public spaces?
Suggestions: A more detailed rendering is needed to depict the parking. It looks like it should be in Atlantic City, not Fishtown.
Market 8, Market East Associations, 8th and Market streets
Likes: Transit access is good, but do casino users use transit? There is good food in the area. It fills a gap in the street scape and may enliven the area. It is a good central location close to cultural draws and would capture city visitors.
Concerns: Parking and access will be difficult for people who are going or not going to the casino. The site is too small for the proposal. There is not enough dedicated parking. It could detract from existing restaurants. There are too many casinos near I-95 already. Keep (casinos) away from the city's historic district. Construction will create congestion in the area – how long will construction take?
Live! Hotel and Casino, Stadium Casino, LLC, 900 Packer Avenue
There weren't many comments that were unique to this proposal.
Likes: Creating jobs, hiring local people
Concerns: Too close to residences. Game day traffic is already problematic. This could lower the quality of life.
Greenberger said the city will likely have another set of public input sessions as the casino proposals become more concrete. “What we see tonight may or not be what the real proposals look like,” he said.
The gaming board may also have additional public hearings as the process moves forward. That has yet to be determined.
“We hope so,” said John Mondlak, the city commerce department's director of real estate development. “And we hope they will be in Philadelphia.”
A second public input session is scheduled for tonight, March 27, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch Street. A third session is set for 6 to 8 p.m. tomorrow, March 28, at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine Street.
Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.
Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates