More than 200 Fishtown residents heard a pitch Monday night for a Steve Wynn casino on a 60-acre parcel on the Delaware River. Most of them liked what they heard: 173 voted to support the proposal, and 55 voted against it.
The proposal is still conceptual. Wynn is one of six would-be casino operators to apply for a gaming license in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will ultimately decide who gets the license, and Monday night’s vote was a chance for the Fishtown Neighbors Association to solicit community input before testifying at a PGCB hearing later this week. Matt Karp, chair of FNA’s zoning committee, said the Association will gather comments about the proposal submitted by Fishtown residents on note cards and transfer them to the Board.
For an hour, Fishtowners heard a fairly straight PR pitch from the Wynn development team. Wynn Resorts development director Annie Allman and Terry McKenna of Keating, a local consulting firm, reviewed the specifics:
· A 60-acre resort and casino, including 22 acres of public space along the river, three times as much as Penn Treaty Park
· 300 hotel rooms in a 300-foot tower, no room smaller than 900 square feet
· Restaurants, nightclubs, maybe an ice skating rink—the gaming and non-gaming components will be separated, Wynn representatives said
· Green roofing, water features, “cutting-edge horticulture”
· An estimated 3,600 construction jobs over two years, plus 2,200 permanent jobs—a total investment of $925 million.
“Philly, in our view, should take a great view of being selected by one of the premier developers in the world for a resort,” Terry McKenna said.
Wynn is also pursuing an urban casino in Boston, Annie Allman said. She said the company is prepared to develop both projects.
The team took dozens of questions from attendees at the meeting, which was held at the First Presbyterian Church on Girard Ave. Many of the questions dealt with specifics of the project.
· How many permanent full-time jobs? 1,700, according to the Wynn team.
· What would be the median wage? No answer.
· Would Wynn pursue any additional property outside the 60-acre parcel? No.
· Pedestrian amenities? Eventually, signalized crosswalks at Cumberland and Beach streets.
· What about the master plan for the Central Delaware? According to Terry McKenna, the plan’s suggestion of mixed-use industrial zoning “doesn’t make sense” for this portion of the river.
One attendee asked the Wynn team to consider the design of the hotel tower more carefully; it “looks like a Hilton in Topeka,” he said.
Terry McKenna of Keating said the site plans are under constant revision, but that the basic concept of the resort is unlikely to change.
“The building as it’s designed—the tower, the podium, the parking garage—that concept is set in stone,” McKenna said. “Now, will it rotate, will it move, will the nightclub out on the river be relocated to another portion of the property? That sort of stuff we’ll move around and we’ll continue to move around as the concept is refined.”
Matt Karp said that FNA had asked the development team for some more detailed information prior to the meeting, and thought they could have answered many of the audience’s questions if they had provided it.
“We were hoping to actually see perspectives and axons of how the building sits on the site,” Karp said. “They do have aerial photos, so it would have helped some people, especially with the height questions that came up, to see it in context with everything else.”
Robin Schmipf, a Fishtown resident and owner of The El Bar at Front and Masters streets cast one of the 55 “no” votes Tuesday night.
“Not that it’s a hardcore ‘no,’” Schimpf said. “… Largely, I’m opposed to the height of the building on the river. I believe tall buildings should be set back from the river and not cut off the neighborhood. With this particular project, Wynn builds large and well-lit, and I’d like to see something more cohesive with our colonial architecture. This is a quaint neighborhood, and that is a large monster—I wouldn’t call it a monstrosity; it’s a large thing.”
Schimpf said that the Sugarhouse Casino has been “managed,” and hasn’t grown too large. She hopes the Wynn proposal can be managed as well.
“I think by voting no, even though I’m not entirely opposed, I want to keep it in check,” she said.
PlanPhilly asked Matt Karp whether he thought Fishtowners are more open to casinos than they were during the run-up to the Sugarhouse development.
“I don’t know if it’s the gambling that they’re interested in,” Karp said. “I think it would be the amenities, the development, and the public access to the water. … There were some comments that were people who were against Sugarhouse and came out and supported this. It’s a variety of factors. It’s hard to tell.”
During the meeting, A.J. Thomson told attendees that the thing to keep in mind is that the site has been empty for decades and that someone with lots of money plans to pour a billion dollars into the neighborhood—rather than what some people who get “paid to advocate for planning” have to say about it.
The Design Advocacy Group recently gave the Wynn proposal a C- for design and a D for location.
Image courtesy of Wynn Resorts
Jared Brey writes about development, zoning policy, and city government for PlanPhilly.com. He wasn't interested in being a reporter until halfway through a master's program in journalism at Temple University that he intended to parlay into an academic career. His work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News, City Paper, Business Journal, and Metropolis.