Breaking news roundup

Harris Steinberg / Daily News photo

July 7
Chris Brennan of the Philadelphia Daily News reports today on the status of Pier 11 on the Delaware River, which has been identified by PennPraxis and Mayor Michael Nutter as an opportunity for waterfront renewal.

July 1

    Kellie Patrick Gates follows The Inquirer story today about lead SugarHouse investor Neil Bluhm wanting a piece of a Pittsburgh casino entity that has run out of money; and Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron weighs in on the breaking news that the Chicago Sun-Times has lost an architecture critic.

Neil Bluhm looks across state

    In this corner of Pennsylvania, Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm is the chairman of HSP Gaming – developer of the long-delayed SugarHouse Casino project. His investment company, Walton Street Capital, also has a stake.
    Now Bluhm and Walton Street want to invest in Pittsburgh casino Majestic Star, which was under construction until work was stopped Monday because Star developer Don Barden owes $10 million to companies that did work on the site this spring.
    The SugarHouse project has been delayed by an on-going Supreme Court battle over the right to build into the Delaware River’s bed and a federal review of the history of the site, which includes much Native American activity and a British Revolutionary War fort.
    But Walton Street’s money could get the equipment running again in Pittsburgh, if the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gives its blessing to the investment.
    SugarHouse spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker says the Pittsburgh goings-on will have no impact on SugarHouse.
   “It has absolutely nothing to do with this project,” she said.
    Walton Street is just doing what investment firms do, she said. Bluhm and Walton Street are continuing to fund SugarHouse.
     “I think that as a business man, his company probably saw that the Pittsburgh casino would have the ability to get up and operating much sooner than the Philadelphia casino will,” said Mary Isaacson, spokeswoman for Rep. Mike O’Brien, in whose district the SugarHouse project resides.
      The two casino projects have another key player in common: SugarHouse contractor Keating is also the lead contractor for the Pittsburgh casino. It should be noted that Daniel Keating, who is the CEO of the Keating Company, is a SugarHouse investor.
      The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that it was Keating that called for the work stoppage because of the money owed to various companies. In addition to the $120 million from Walton Street, the paper also reported that Barden is putting together hundreds of millions more from other investors.
     A phone call and an email to Walton Street’s Eric C. Mogentale, the company principal who oversees marketing and investor relations, went unreturned. His assistant said the company does not talk to the media. But Mogentale told The Inquirer that Bluhm agreed to invest so that Barden could complete construction. “We just think potentially it’s a great opportunity, and we are working on it,” he told The Inquirer. “It’s not a done deal.”
   Pennsylvania gaming law allows the principal investor in one state casino to invest in another, provided the stake in the second casino is limited to 33.3 percent, said Control Board spokesman Doug Harbach. See PGCB ownership document
   The Board is scheduled to meet again July 10, but it is uncertain whether it will consider Majestic Star funding at that time, Harbach said, because the board must first receive and review all pertinent information. The board could call a special meeting to review the financing with proper public notice, he said.
   The Board and its staff will look at many factors, not just the 33.3 percent rule, Harbach said, including the financial viability of any investors.
   In Pittsburgh, financing has been a key casino concern among lawmakers. Harbach said if the Board were unsatisfied with the finances at Majestic Star, it could revoke its license. The Board can “take any action on any license that is in the best interest of the Commonwealth,” he said. But the Board’s goal is to see Majestic Star open its doors as scheduled, in May 2009. “At this point, the Board is looking at how it can get the Pittsburgh facility to open on target,” he said.

Chicago loses critic
     Blair Kamin, the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism reports on his blog The Skyline that Kevin Nance, the Chicago Sun-Times art critic who also served as the newspaper’s architecture critic, will leave the Sun-Times on July 10 and will join the Chicago firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture as director of publications.
     His departure again leaves the city’s second-largest newspaper without an architecture critic.


     This is what Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron had to say about Nance’s departure.

“Chicago is lucky to have several strong architectural voices, including Blair Kamin at the Tribune and Chicago Architecture Plus blogger Lynn Becker. Nance completed the trio. As we know, newspapers have been winnowing critics in every field to save money, and the Sun-Times is likely to be tempted by cost-cutting imperatives . But in a city where cabbies and barflies debate architecture along with the latest Cubs loss, they’d be crazy to abandon such a great beat and surrender to the competition.  To quote Pulitzer-prize-winning critic Paul Gapp (who is quoted by Blair in his introduction to Why Architecture Matters): “You can ignore a piece of sculpture or a painting hung on the walls of the Art Institute, but architecture is the inescapable art.”

     Read Saffron’s blog here

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