Last piece of SugarHouse’s skeleton in place

May 14, 2010

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

After Mayor Michael Nutter, State Sen. Larry Farnese and City Councilman Darrell Clarke added their names to the other Sharpie signatures on the white steel beam, a crane hosted it up above the crowd, and two iron workers guided it into place, atop SugarHouse Casino.

The last piece of the steel structure had been placed.

About 500 construction workers have been toiling at the site in two, eight-hour shifts per day, said Pete Frazier, construction superintendent for Keating Building Corporation, the company building the casino. The plan is to open the doors at the end of summer, and the hoisted beam marked the end of a significant construction phase. Another milestone comes next Wednesday, when the Gaming Control Board will hold a public hearing at the Convention Center regarding whether to allow SugarHouse to have table games. The other casinos that have asked for that consideration have been approved, and SugarHouse expects to be, too. There’s already room for the games on what will in a few months be the gaming floor.

A video tour inside SugarHouse

Despite the joyous noise of the friendly crowd at the event, the Rocky theme that played in the background as the steel rose into the air seemed appropriate. From community protests to lawsuits filed by elected officials, SugarHouse has had plenty of bumps along the way.

In fact, both Nutter and Farnese – who both spoke during the ceremony – were once on the side of the neighborhood activists who oppose the casino. For some of the community activists, notably Casino-Free Philadelphia, any casino on any site is a bad idea. For others, it’s the site on the Delaware River waterfront or the design of the big building that’s objectionable.

Nutter used to be among the latter group. But Friday, he said he changed his position because SugarHouse officials were willing to change their design. “It’s because of the flexibility they displayed by adjusting the design to the concerns of the neighborhood and city government,” he said. “There is more access to the water, and the shops and restaurants are oriented to get a view of the river. It’s clear they want to be good neighbors, and part of the waterfront redevelopment.”

The speakers were pretty excited about the jobs the casino promised to bring, too. But perhaps not as excited as those who hope to get one. General Manager Wendy Hamilton, said that at a recent job fair for about 800 positions, more than 8,000 applicants showed up. They were cheering in line, she said, like it was an Eagles game.

CEO Greg Carlin acknowledged the difficulties in getting the casino open. Any big project, any casino, is going to face opposition, so some of that was expected, he said. This project might have faced a few more roadblocks than anticipated, he said, but he never doubted the casino would move forward. “We always knew this was a great site,” he said of the Fishtown location.

Carlin said that in response to the concerns about the design, he personally saw that the windows facing the water were enlarged.
Frazier and Dan Keating, CEO of Keating Building Corporation took PlanPhilly on an impromptu tour of the inside. There aren’t many windows facing north, south or west. But most of the east wall will be glass. And the view is visible from everywhere in the building. It will remain that way, Carlin said.

Inside the future kitchen
The changes have pleased the mayor, but critics, including Northern Liberties Neighbors Association President Matt Ruben, believe it remains mostly a big, auto-centric box that is not appropriate for the waterfront.

Carlin said he considers the city‘s plan to redevelop the Central Delaware a vitally important project. While people like Ruben don’t like his building, he will like knowing this: Carlin said he was committed to community access to the river – a key component of the Vision for the Central Delaware. Carlin said that the public will be able to access the river through the SugarHouse site, whether or not they are casino patrons. He looks forward to the completion of the multi-purpose trail along the waterfront, and said his company will be building the trail across the property it owns. He looks forward to the day when casino patrons can walk from SugarHouse to Penn Treaty Park.

Inside the building Friday, groups of workers were scattered everywhere, working on what will be a kitchen with three expansive, walk-in freezers, the gaming floor and the future bar/restaurant area that offers a fantastic view of the river and the Ben Franklin Bridge. The bridge-facing corner consists of two enormous, roll-up walls. They offer views when it’s cold, but on warm days, they disappear, opening the building to an outside deck.

Keating said the skin of the building is the next step, and work on the outside will run simultaneously with finishing the interior – which now looks rather like an enormous industrial space. “It all has to come together in the next couple of months,” he said.

The last steel beam.

Along with the signatures, the beam was adorned with a small evergreen tree. Carlin explained to the crowd that according to a builders’  tradition, brought to this country by European craftsmen, the tree represented growth and good fortune.

Future casino patrons would be glad to know some luck has been put into the building, he joked.

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