City releases Foxwoods design review plan

Jan. 19

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

City officials haven’t seen Foxwoods’ plan for creating a casino at The Gallery at Market East, but today they released their plan for evaluating that proposal.

“We have a process we’re embarking on. No drawings yet, but a general schedule,” said Philadelphia City Planning Commission Executive Director Alan Greenberger.

The process outlined in the city’s press release includes community meetings in Chinatown and Washington Square West to “review plans, traffic analysis and mitigation measures.” The Planning Commission will hold two meetings on the Foxwoods’ plan – one to gather information and a second to consider approval.

City Council will also hold public hearings.

A lot more detail – such as the dates and times of those proceedings – is still being worked out, but will be advertised ahead of time so that the public can attend, Greenberger said. The public meetings won’t begin until the concept drawings from Foxwoods are in hand. Greenberger hopes that will happen by February.

“Ideally, sometime next month I’d like to be able to show something,” he said. But he doesn’t want to set any meetings up until he has the goods to show – and those elements will come from Foxwoods and the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust. PREIT owns the space where Foxwoods hopes to establish a casino.

According to the press release, Foxwoods and the City have agreed on what information the Plan of Development will contain:

-Drawings that show the proposed development in the context of the city and of Market Street, including proposed modifications both inside and outside of the existing building that is being proposed for casino use.

-Renderings that show the anticipated character of the proposed development from the major streets.

-Phasing plans that show anticipated and/or possible future developments.

-A detailed transportation management plan that includes pedestrian, vehicular and transit traffic flows.

-A parking management plan describing resources for patrons as well as employees.

-Anticipated landscape improvements, streetscape improvements, building signage and graphics, incorporation of public art and green building strategies.

-A project schedule that shows anticipated construction durations and commencement of operations.

An inter-agency group that includes the Planning Commission, Commerce Department, Law Department, Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, and the Redevelopment Authority will participate in the review process, which is expected to take several months to complete.

Foxwoods and the city have encountered a lot of opposition to operating a casino in The Gallery from residents of nearby neighborhoods, including Chinatown. Protestors have for months accused city leaders of railroading the project through and ignoring their concerns, which include gambling addiction, traffic problems and a detrimental effect on nearby businesses and property values.

The elected leaders and planning officials have just as staunchly maintained that the project is not a done deal, and that they would continue to include the public as they analyze the project.

“As part of the development process and regulatory review, issues of security, public safety and gambling addiction will be evaluated,” Monday’s press release read. “The Police Department and the Department of Behavioral Health will be available at public meetings to listen to community concerns and discuss proposed mitigation measures.”

“We continue to work closely with the city,” said Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity. “We’re all interested in moving this project forward as quickly as we can.”

Casino-Free Philadelphia co-founder Jethro Heiko was disappointed that the requirements listed in the city’s press release do not include a financial analysis.

“We feel strongly that planning needs to include the real, big picture vision for the city, and that includes the economics of the proposed casinos, regardless of where they are,” he said. That should include the impact on local business, and any extra costs in services that the city will have to pay because of a casino, he said, and it should also examine how the revenue side of the equation might change because of the recession.

Casino-Free, Asian Americans United, and others who oppose Foxwoods have questioned at earlier neighborhood meetings with city and state officials whether a casino is a legitimate way to raise money for state and local coffers.

Elected officials, including Mayor Michael Nutter and State Rep. Michael O’Brien, as well as Greenberger and other planning officials, have responded that the decision of whether there will be casinos in Philadelphia was already made by the state legislature and governor. The city is stuck with them, like it or not, and so steps must be taken to make the most of the situation.

Heiko is willing to accept that perhaps the casinos already open across the state cannot be shut down, but not that Philadelphia’s two proposed casinos can’t be stopped. “The idea that elected officials in this era can not question previous decisions is foolish,” he said.

City officials and local state leaders have pressed back on the casino issue in the past. They’ve lost 14 cases in the State Supreme Court related to casino issues.

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