Developers in chase for Philly casino license talk up plans before Pa. board

 On E. Market St. between 8th and 9th street is the proposed Market8 casino location. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for Newsworks)

On E. Market St. between 8th and 9th street is the proposed Market8 casino location. (Nathaniel Hamilton/for Newsworks)

Location. That’s what Market8 developer Kenneth Goldenberg said is the core strength of his casino project — and what makes it a “game changer.”

Goldenberg and his partners, one of five groups vying for the city’s second and last operating license, stressed that point Wednesday during a two-hour presentation before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board — the final pitch before a decision is made.

Seated inside Ballroom A of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, he argued that his casino would sit “at the heart” of Center City Philadelphia, making it an easy draw for customers and, thus, an easy draw for gaming revenue for the state.

The 17-story project would rise from a parking lot at 8th and Market Streets, directly across the street from The Gallery and close to Independence National Historic Park, home of the Liberty Bell.

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“Whether by car of public transportation, Eighth and Market may also be the most accessible location in Center City Philadelphia. By car, there’s not one major highway system or bridge that doesn’t directly or indirectly deposit itself within five blocks of our site, some within three blocks,” Goldenberg told the board.

The $570 million casino development would also feature restaurants, a large boutique hotel and an entertainment space.

The proposal has received mixed reviews from its nearby neighbors.

A large civic group in Washington Square West, which sits just south of the site, has endorsed the project, while leaders in Chinatown have strongly objected to it.

During a question and answer session, commissioners asked about the impact the casino would have in Chinatown, the closest residential neighborhood to the site.

“Right from the get-go, we had very, very constructive meetings with numerous groups in Chinatown and talked about the sensitivities, didn’t try to suggest that they don’t exist, acknowledged them and said, ‘We are going to do everything possible to maximize the benefits of this project for your community and minimize the negative impacts,'” said Goldenberg.

“I think they appreciated that commitment.”

An office property near the proposed site has been leased to primarily serve problem gamblers.

Other bidders want to build a casino along North Broad Street or in and around the sports stadiums in South Philadelphia.

Casino Revolution is one of the projects in South Philadelphia. Like Goldenberg, Joseph Canfora, president of PHL Local Gaming LLC, also thinks his casino has the best location, especially when it comes to his two neighborhood competitors.

“Not too close and not too far. If we were next to the stadium, congestion would occur, affecting casino revenues. Yet being near the stadiums, we would then benefit from the $8 million annual sports patrons,” said Canfora during his team’s presentation Wednesday afternoon.

The $428 million project would sit on a 24-acre site directly below I-76 and I-95 in the warehouse district near the Walt Whitman Bridge. It would feature a “four-star quality” hotel and a mixture of restaurants and cafes.

Doug Harbach, spokesman for the board, said members hope to award a license in the next couple months. He said the board has the option of not giving one out at all, but that’s unlikely at this point.

“The board has a number of ways it can go,” said Harbach. “Certainly, it’s listening to a lot of testimony and we’ll hear more from the existing casino at SugarHouse about why it’s not a good idea to put an additional casino. But, at the same time, the board is moving forward with listening to the testimony with the idea that it will make an award sometime in the next 60 days or so.”

The hearings continue through Thursday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

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