By Kellie Patrick Gates
A group of Fishtown residents who want SugarHouse to build in their neighborhood have asked Gov. Ed Rendell and other elected officials to include them in a big-player meeting being set up to discuss moving the casino and its South Philly counterpart, Foxwoods.
The upcoming meeting which will include Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, other elected officials and casino principals was called by Sen. Vince Fumo and Rep. Dwight Evans, who announced earlier this month that Philadelphia’s Harrisburg delegation had become united in its belief that the casinos should not be built at their currently proposed waterfront locations. The meeting is expected to take place within the next couple of weeks, but has yet to be scheduled.
The members of Fishtown Action, also known as FACT, on Monday sent a letter to Rendell, Evans and Fumo in which they asked to be part of the meeting. In a press release, FACT said its 600+ members are “fed up” because their elected officials seem to hear only those who oppose the casino sites, despite FACT’s rallies, protests, and letter-writing campaigns.
“If, as some politicians argued, re-siting is about the community, then we hope and expect to be invited to any meeting so that we can make it clear to one and all that there is widespread support for SugarHouse at its current location in Fishtown,” said Donna Tomlinson, a Fishtown Action Board Member, in the same press release.
FACT will not be invited to the meeting, Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said Tuesday morning. But neither will the members of the Fishtown Neighbors Association, or any of the other riverfront neighborhood organizations that oppose the casino sites, he said.
“This meeting was not intended to include community groups, but rather elected leaders and representatives of the license holders,” he said. “It’s for a small group of people to discuss the issue in depth, and in a very frank and open way.”
Rendell wants casinos to be built in Philadelphia so that the revenues can bring tax relief. He thinks that with the current political climate, the casinos would open sooner at locations that face less opposition – a point with which neither casino agrees.
FACT Board Member Maggie O’Brien was disappointed to hear that FACT won’t be at the meeting. “I think it is unfortunate that the Governor will not allow our group to attend – much attention has been paid to the ‘anti-casino’ voices – like those people we have opinions, and more importantly, we actually live in the neighborhood.”
O’Brien said that many of the people who are working to stop SugarHouse from building in Fishtown do not live in Fishtown. “When they built all the condos in Northern Liberties, they never came and talked to anybody in Fishtown,” she said. “I don’t think people in Old City, Society Hill and Northern Liberties should decide what happens in Fishtown.”
FACT emailed the press release and a copy of the letter sent to the governor to all the media contacts on SugarHouse’s media list. SugarHouse spokeswoman Leigh Whitaker confirmed that she shared her contacts when asked.
Because FACT supports the casino, and has met with casino officials to discuss community benefits agreements while Fishtown Neighbors and other neighborhood associations have refused to do so, FACT and SugarHouse have developed a friendly relationship, Whitaker said. But SugarHouse does not give FACT any money, Whitaker said. Nor was SugarHouse involved in the formation of FACT.
FACT was born in January 2007. O’Brien said she and several other members of FNA became frustrated over the association’s decision not to negotiate with SugarHouse or hear from people who wanted the casino to be built. O’Brien, who was a founding member of FNA, said she felt that both sides needed to be heard in order for the community to make a decision.
Monday, City Councilman Darrell Clark asked Evans to have another meeting – with residents who want the casinos to be built where they are planned.
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