SugarHouse and anti-casino protestors dig in

Oct. 8

By Matt Golas
For PlanPhilly

They stopped the pile drivers, whose sound reverberates all around Penn Treaty Park, in mid-afternoon so the politicians, investors and lawyers could officially break ground for an interim casino on the site of the old SugarHouse refinery in Fishtown. And yes, there were five Mummers on hand from the Polish American string band.

Here’s one headline: The $310 million facility will be up and running in 10 short months. According to Gregory Fajt, chairman of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the project will bring 500 fulltime jobs, 500 construction jobs and millions of dollars of tax cuts to Philadelphia. First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, who fought both waterfront casinos hammer and tongs, is now respectful of the participants and ready to move ahead. Mayor Michael Nutter, who has repeatedly called for an appropriate design for any riverfront gaming enterprise, has endorsed the SugarHouse vision.

Of course, this being Philly, there was more to this classic autumnal day then the ordered up “Happy Days are Here Again” and designer shovels.

Prior to the on-site festivities, Casino-Free Philadelphia, an organization that almost religiously opposes gaming, presented officials at PNC Bank with its “Snake Eyes” study, which details the economic reasons why Casino Free believes SugarHouse is not viable in the long term. According to Casino Free research, bank lending to SugarHouse “is a bad idea. It amounts to the same sort of reckless, irresponsible investment that got us into the deepest economic slump since the Great Depression.”

At the same time that a banner plane hired by CFP circled the event with the message (crime … poverty … addiction … jackpot) and CFP speakers shouted that “independent economists have concluded that for every one casino job created, three jobs are lost,” SugarHouse presented a $175,000 community benefits check to Fishtown Action, a group of local residents who want SugarHouse to build in their neighborhood.

Just prior to the groundbreaking ceremony, Chicago-based developer and lead investor Neil Bluhm addressed the 300 invited guests, saying “this will be a beautiful project, I assure you. This world class casino overlooking the Delaware River … in about 10 months the interim casino will open and will have 1,700 slots, a wonderful restaurant and a lounge with terrace seating overlooking the river. The building will incorporate and complement the river’s edge.”

The record states that the casino has promised more than $1 million per year to the local community, which will be overseen by the Penn Treaty Special Services District. And that district represents the communities of Fishtown, Kensington South, Old Port Richmond and Northern Liberties, said chairman Joe Rafter, who lives in Northern Liberties.

So …

The pile driving will go on, although SugarHouse project manager Terry McKenna was not ready to talk about what the footprint being created will eventually support. And Casino-Free Philadelphia says it will just keep showing up on Delaware Avenue. So stay tuned.

AIA Architect review of Bluhm’s Pittsburgh casino

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