Commission approves master plan for South Philly casino

The City Planning Commission voted on Tuesday to approve a master plan for the proposed Live! Hotel and Casino planned for the sports complex in South Philadelphia.

The Commission’s approval was a necessary step toward getting the city’s second casino built. City Council will also have to approve the project with a bill rezoning the site, at 10th and Packer, to a special gaming district. The state has the power to grant gaming licenses in Philadelphia, and zoning legislation is the city’s only leverage in siting a second casino.

That zoning classification, SP-ENT, carries its own requirements for open space and limits on signage. The developers, Cordish Companies, have put forth a master plan that doesn’t conform to some of those requirements, so Council will have to decide whether to enact additional changes to the underlying zoning as well.

On Tuesday, members of the local chapter of the National Action Network, an advocacy group started by Rev. Al Sharpton, asked the Planning Commission to reject the casino proposal over concerns the group has raised about discriminatory practices at other Cordish Companies properties. The group presented a report last month detailing allegations that Cordish casinos had actively sought to limit the numbers of black people in their properties. The report was at odds with a previous investigation by the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity which found no evidence of discriminatory practices at Cordish properties.

Richard Hayden, a lawyer representing Cordish, said that no court has ever found that the company engaged in discriminatory practices. He said that the state gaming control board could have withheld the casino license from Cordish if it believed the allegations had merit.

Alan Greenberger, the deputy mayor for economic development and chairman of the Planning Commission, said that the planning process isn’t the best arena for discussions about discrimination allegations against Cordish. Greenberger acknowledged that the allegations are “serious,” but said the Commission didn’t have the expertise or the wisdom to determine which of the two conflicting reports is accurate. Those discussions should happen in “the political process,” he said, meaning during City Council hearings.

Greenberger said that Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the area in City Council, had asked the Commission to weigh in on the planning merits before he drafts a zoning bill. An aide to Johnson said after the meeting that he didn’t know yet when a bill might be introduced.

Plans for the project include a 260,000-square-foot casino, a 300-room hotel, more than 3,000 parking spaces, and a number of restaurants. The Commission first reviewed the project in August. At that meeting, Commission staff noted that some the proposal called for more signage than the SP-ENT zoning allows. The developers have since reduced the total signage proposed.

See materials from the company’s presentation to the Planning Commission here.

The Commission voted unanimously to approve the master plan, except for Commissioner Patrick Eiding, who abstained.

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