The steering committee for the Central Delaware River Advisory Group, members of river ward civic associations, and concerned citizens spent more than an hour discussing the impact the imbroglio over casino sites in Fishtown and South Philadelphia is having on the waterfront planning process being facilitated by Penn Praxis and City of Philadelphia.
Monday morning’s animated conversation produced a unanimous recommendation that the planning process for seven miles of Delaware Riverfront not bog down over the issue of whether casinos should be built on the river. There was consensus that the planning process needed to move ahead by producing separate design scenarios imbedded in the overall plan, designs that both include and exclude casinos.
That recommendation will be forwarded to the Central Delaware Riverfront Advisory Group at its next meeting, Monday, Feb. 5.
Penn Praxis Director Harris Steinberg opened the discussion by acknowledging the impact the casino decision is having on the planning process. He also made it clear that while individual values and opinions about casinos will be respected, the planning process needs to remain neutral on casinos.
“We have heard and seen a lot of interest, concern, anger about, and support, frankly, for casinos,” Steinberg said. “We are trying to reflect everything we hear. Yes, there is civic opposition. We are meeting with developers, civics, with everybody in order to get a clear picture of what the issues are around casinos. We are not siting casinos. We are charged with creating a civic vision for the entire seven miles that is comprehensive and holistic. We need to figure out how we productively move forward in a civil, positive way and seize the opportunity to do something the city has not ever done.”
Steering committee member Paul Levy pointed out that State Act 71, which cleared the way for casinos in Pennsylvania, did not call for a planning process to pick the best casino sites.
“Act 71 envisioned developers coming in to pick the best sites. While it was a flawed process, we could get into what would be the best way to address casinos and get lost in it,” Levy said. “Either casinos will be stopped or one or both will succeed, so we need to get on with a planning process that addresses both concepts and fully respects people’s opposition but also gets along with the design process.”
Steering Committee members also voiced concern over whether funding would be imperiled by a planning process that included two casino scenarios.
“I don’t know what the stipulations of the funding you receive are,” said steering committee member Jon Edelstein. “So can Praxis clarify if there is a particular direction that is being advocated that would result in the funding being rescinded?”
“If this process was to come out and be anti-casino we would lose funding,” Steinberg said. “We have to hew right down the middle. We have met with many different groups trying to push us in different directions. We have to remain neutral. If we take a political stance, the project will be over.”
The members of the Steering Committee are: Janice Woodcock, Executive Director of the Planning Commission; Jennifer Lewis, Northern Liberties Neighbors Association; Steve Weixler, Society Hill Civic Association; John Childress, Executive Director African American Chamber of Commerce; Paul Levy, Executive Director, Center City District; Stephanie Naidoff, Commerce Director (Jon Edelstein representing), City of Philadelphia; Frank DiCicco, councilperson, 1st District; Shawn McCaney, William Penn Foundation and Fred Druding, Jr., and James Penza of Whitman Council.
Civic Association alternates are Sandy Salzman, New Kensington Community Development Corp., Cynthia Philo of the Old City Civic Association and Kirk Brown of Dickinson Narrows.