Steve Wynn says the casino he hopes to build on Richmond Street in Fishtown would include a riverfront trail, a park, and other green space open to the public.
The river could play an even greater role in the casino, spa, restaurants and hotel project, he said during an interview when he was in town for a gaming board hearing last month. But he needs to further study the weather here before making any final decisions about amenities like outdoor dining terraces.
“I think the riverfront is important, and is a terrific place to be,” Wynn said. But “Philadelphia has a limited indoor/outdoor experience, as opposed to say, Nevada. We get seven months.” Wynn noted that even some summer days are out for al fresco dining in a climate that can get very hot and humid in the summer. The tipping point, Wynn said, is about 120 days where people want to sit outside.
“When people are playing in the park, they want to be outdoors no matter what,” he said. “When you start to put food and beverage facilities and that sort of thing out there … it’s one thing to look out, and it’s another thing to be out.”
The weather analysis is still happening, a Philadelphia team member said, and will inform the site plan that Wynn expects to release later this month. Wynn is vying with five other candidates for Philadelphia’s second casino license. If he is successful, Wynn Philadelphia would be north of the city’s first casino, SugarHouse, which is also on the Delaware. (Three of the other contenders want to build near the sports stadiums. The other two sites are at Callowhill and Broad streets and 8th and Market streets.)
According to 30-year average daily temperature information information provided to PlanPhilly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Philadelphia’s temperature hits 70 degrees at some point during each day between May 4 and Oct. 6. On some of those days, the temperature dipped lower or soared higher, of course. And this doesn’t account for humidity. The temperature hit 65 degrees at some point during about half the days of the year.
Cara Schneider, media relations director for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, said some of Philadelphia’s fair weather activities rev up in March, with the bulk of them running from April through October or November. Schneider noted that visitors are more likely to spend time outdoors in just-barely comfortable weather if there are indoor spaces nearby where they can pop in for a rest to warm up or cool down.
What is already certain about his plan, Wynn said, is that “all 2,000 feet” of the riverfront on the property would include the multi-purpose trail called for in the Central Delaware Master Plan. And that the north end of the project will include a park of at least several acres.
A Philadelphia team member said Wynn would be constructing the riverfront trail himself, and public waterfront access would be 24-7.
Building the trail and creating public open space are the kinds of amenities that would likely earn waterfront developers bonuses under an in-the-works zoning overlay, allowing them to build higher than the 100-foot maximum on the Central Delaware. But without a city council tweek to the SP-ENT zoning classification given to casino properties, Wynn would be able to build up to 300 feet high without earning a bonus.
In most cases, wherever a zoning overlay and base zoning conflict, overlay provisions rule, but the Central Delaware is different, said Natalie Shieh, deputy chief of staff in the office of the deputy mayor for economic development. Shieh said both the interim Central Delaware overlay and the draft of its permanent replacement contain an exemption for SP-ENT. A waterfront casino developer must follow the rules of both the overlay and the base zoning. But if they conflict, Shieh said, SP-ENT trumps the overlay.
SP-ENT allows for structures up to 300 feet tall. Wynn’s hotel tower would be taller than the 100-foot overlay max, but shorter than this.
Shieh said on any issue where SP-ENT is silent, the provisions of the overlay would have to be followed.
But neither Matt Ruben, chairman of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, nor Craig Schelter of the Development Workshop are sure it would work that way if challenged. Both CDAG and the workshop have been working with First District City Councilman Mark Squilla on the overlay language.
Ruben wishes SP-ENT didn’t trump, but he doesn’t think anything can be done about it, though. “It’s the way it is because of the state’s preemption of City zoning authority. At least SP-ENT has some zoning controls that (I believe) improve on the old CED – and that are much better than what state legislators or a judge would likely require if they had their way.”
In a separate role, Schelter represents Jim Anderson, who owns the property where Wynn wants to build. Schelter said he hasn’t done a full analysis of what would happen if the SP-ENT is silent on a subject the overlay speaks to. He said what he knows of Wynn’s plans seem to fit the overlay, anyway, and the SP-ENT zoning requires an extra step – a project plan that needs Planning Commission approval.
Wynn’s presentation to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board included images of the inside of the hotel rooms he wants to build and one image of the tower, but lacked the detail of some of the other proposals. Wynn said at the time he didn’t want to give too much that early in the game.
Community members and master plan advocates are eager for more detail.
The Central Delaware Advocacy Group, whose board members represent riverfront civic and other organizations, will meet with Wynn at 6 p.m. April 4, location to be determined.
“Any input CDAG gives on the Wynn proposal is going to be … based on how we think the proposal would comply with or not comply with the principles of the master plan, and the emerging framework of the zoning overlay,” Ruben said.
“It is outside CDAG’s mission to take a public position on casino gambling, one way or another,” he said. “It would also be irresponsible for CDAG to not give clear and firm input about the way it would or would not fit into the master plan.”
Wynn’s team has also begun talking to neighborhood civic organizations about his plans. He gave a presentation last week to the Port Richmond Community Group and will later this month present to Fishtown Neighbors Association – a meeting which President Kate Micklow expects to be so packed that she’s seeking an alternate to their usual meeting place.
The local Wynn team has also talked to or are setting up meetings with New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Port Richmond Town Watch, Old Richmond Civic Association, Friends of Penn Treaty Park and the Richmond Corridor Association.
Fishtown Action’s Maggie O’Brien said in an email she was contacted by someone from Wynn and returned the call, but never heard back. The Wynn team say they never heard back from her.
CDAG and the civics wanted to find out more about the Wynn proposal before upcoming gaming board hearings on all six casino proposals, to be held in April and May.
One organization that is not planning to testify: The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the quasi-city agency that oversaw the creation of the Master Plan.
DRWC is not going to advocate for or against any particular site, said President Tom Corcoran. “That decision will be made by the PA State Gaming Commission, a decision that we anticipate will be informed by the opinions of elected City officials and community leaders,” he said in an email in response to a request for comment.
“DRWC would welcome the opportunity to meet with Mr. Wynn’s representatives to explain the principles of our master plan and to discuss ways in which those principles could be incorporated into their proposed site plan,” Corcoran said.
The hearings are scheduled to take place in room 114 of the Pennsylvania Convention Center from 9 am to 9 pm on April 11 and 9 am to 3 p.m. On April 12, and in the West Club Level at Lincoln Financial Field from 9 am to 5 p.m on May 8. Register or learn more at the PGCB website. For anyone who can’t or doesn’t wish to attend: Written comments may be mailed to PA Gaming Control Board, Attention: Board Secretary, P.O. Box 69060, Harrisburg, PA 17106 or faxed to 717-346-8350. Written comments can be submitted now, and past the hearing dates. PGCB spokesman Doug Harbach said the end of the comment period has not yet been determined.