City sees Foxwoods designs

Sept. 30

Previous coverage

Asian Americans United website

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Foxwoods Casino yesterday gave city representatives a rough idea of what a casino at The Gallery at Market East might look like.

“We showed them very preliminary sketches for discussion purposes only. We didn’t even leave anything” with the city, said Foxwoods Spokeswoman Maureen Garrity.

Neither Garrity nor Terry Gillen, senior adviser to Mayor Michael Nutter for economic development and his point person on casinos, would describe the drawings.

Garrity said there was “still a lot of work to do” before the design could be made public.

But Gillen said the city told Foxwoods to have something ready for the public soon.  “We’ve told Foxwoods that we really need to have something by the end of the week that we can show the public,” she said late Tuesday afternoon.

Gillen wants to have the drawings and other information about Foxwoods’ ideas for the Gallery to present at next week’s community forum, hosted by the mayor’s office, Councilman Frank DiCicco and State Rep. Michael O’Brien.

But Garrity said Foxwoods can’t provide more detailed drawings until officials know how much space they’ll have to work with at The Gallery.

“We do not have a definitive agreement with PREIT yet,” she said. “We are still in negotiations with them about things like how many floors we can use, and what part of the building.”

Whatever portion of the building Foxwoods might use, it would be leasing it from PREIT – Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust – owns Market East.  Its vice chairman George Rubin is a Foxwoods investor. A call for comment was referred to Joseph F. Coradino, president of PREIT Services, LLC and PREIT-RUBIN, Inc. His assistant said he would not be available for an interview until tomorrow.

Garrity said that it would be “weeks or months” before Foxwoods had more precise drawings that could be made public.

“We’re all interested in making drawings available to the public as quickly as possible, but we need to know what we have to work with,” she said.

Leaders of Asian Americans United and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation say their members indeed want more information. But they have also been disappointed in the process. Both organizations currently oppose the casino.

“I think this whole thing needs to grind to a halt,” said Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United and co-founder of the Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School – a school that sits where a proposed baseball stadium that was defeated after much community protest would have gone.

Gym, who lives in Logan Square, said the city needs to study the social and logistical impacts a casino would have on Chinatown before any proposals are made. “How do you do a proposal absent those things?” she asked.

AAU is “organizing” for the community meeting, Gym said.  “There’s going to be a lot of people mobilized to communicate their concerns to the Mayor,” she said. “And people want to hear what the mayor has to say – there has been so little information.”

The group’s website is filled with information geared to help people fight the casino.

Gillen said city representatives have been having “lots of private meetings with community groups” ever since the potential for a casino at the Gallery was announced. The need for more information always comes up, she said.

Mary Isaacson, spokeswoman for Rep. O’Brien, said that he needs more information, too.  At this time, O’Brien hasn’t taken a position for or against the Gallery site, she said. “We are not making any declaratory statements until we see what’s going on.”

O’Brien’s office has also been meeting with community members about the proposed casino. “Right now the situation is that people just have the concept of casino,” Isaacson said.  That’s enough for the “anti-gaming element” to know they don’t want it, she said. But others “can’t make an accurate assessment of what’s proposed until they have the correct information in front of them, not just a concept.”

Gillen said by the meeting, the city might have a better sense of when a Foxwoods proposal might go before the Planning Commission – one of the first steps as the city weighs Foxwood’s proposal.

The Planning Commission is already involved in research, Gillen said. It is looking to see what existing traffic and parking studies have been done related to the proposed location. “One of the good things about Market East is that a number of people have studied it already,” she said. The Commission is gathering those studies to see if any are applicable and “what we have to do over,” she said.

Other city agencies are looking at studies relating to gambling addiction, particularly to the susceptibility of specific ethnic groups, including Asians.

Foxwoods still has the legal right to develop its originally planned waterfront site on Columbus Boulevard in South Philadelphia – a site that O’Brien, Nutter, other elected officials and community activists opposed.

In July when a contingent of state legislators said they had joined forces to get both casinos to move. The next day, Gov. Ed Rendell joined the cause – he said there had been a change in political climate in the city, and the casinos would go up faster if they changed locations. Elected officials announced in late August that Foxwoods was considering alternative locations. The group announced The Gallery site at a Sept. 10 press conference.

The Gallery site is not a done deal, the elected officials say. But, they say, if it doesn’t work out, the waterfront site is likely to have a casino on it.  They have also given many reasons why The Gallery is a better site, including the convergence of public transportation at Market East, nearby existing hotels and restaurants, and a need for a resurgence along the Market Street corridor.

Gillen said in a previous interview that if Foxwoods wants to go back to the waterfront, the city will go back to its previous position that they’ve got to meet traffic and other requirements before Philadelphia issues a zoning or building permit.

But Foxwoods has already taken the city to the State Supreme Court over this issue. The casino has filed a request asking the Court to appoint a Special Master, saying that the city is once again dragging its feet in violation of an earlier court order.

The Court hasn’t rendered a decision yet, but Gillen doesn’t think much of the city’s chances, noting that the city has lost 12 casino-related court decisions already.

Last week, the Design Advocacy Group welcomed the news that Foxwoods was considering The Gallery.

Some of the activists who opposed the South Philadelphia site – including Casino-Free Philadelphia – say they can’t support the Gallery site, because it is too close to residential neighborhoods. Others, including the Philadelphia Neighborhood Alliance – a group of community organizations that united against Foxwoods’ original site and that of the other proposed Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse – have not yet taken a position.

The elected officials say they want to talk to SugarHouse about relocating, too. But the governor says there’s no point until the Supreme Court makes a decision regarding the casino’s right to build on state-owned riverbed land. The Court has already ruled that the city’s Commerce Department had the power to issue SugarHouse a license to build there, and that the license, issued during the John Street administration, remains valid despite an attempt by the Nutter administration to revoke it. The city has asked the Court to reconsider that decision, and the court is still considering that petition.

SugarHouse officials have said they are willing to meet about relocation, but they do not think moving is a possibility.

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