By Kellie Patrick Gates
Construction workers will begin driving the first support piles for SugarHouse Casino within a couple of weeks, and job interviews for professional and clerical positions have begun, casino officials told members of Fishtown Action at a Monday night meeting.
“We have had a very busy summer, and a successful summer in terms of moving the project along, and we really are now very much in the home stretch,” casino attorney Chuck Hardy told the group gathered in the basement meeting room of Holy Name Church on Gaul Street.
“The first thing you do when you’re constructing something this close to the river and on this kind of soil is, we need to drive piles,” said Hardy. “The first of what we call production piles, which are the permanent support piles, are arriving, as we speak, to the site.”
In two or three weeks, the casino will hold a formal ground breaking, he said.
Hardy said the interim casino – 1,700 slot machines with a surface parking lot – will open about 10 months after construction starts, by late June or early July of 2010. He said SugarHouse came up with the interim plan, which has approval of both the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the City Planning Commission, for two main reasons: There was a big shift in the financial markets and with costs, he said. And, under financial strain because of the same bad economy, city and state officials “urged us to re-examine what we were doing and see if we could get it up and running sooner.”
Hardy said. SugarHouse has one more hearing. This Wednesday, the casino seeks the PGCB’s approval of its financing plan. “We’re hopeful that they will go ahead and approve financing. Promptly thereafter, the spigots open and construction goes on.”
By the time Phase I of the casino is finished, 3,000 slot machines are scheduled to be available there, he said. And gamblers may have more ways to wager sooner than anyone expected, Hardy said.
Originally, it was expected that table games would not be allowed in Pennsylvania at least until all the state’s planned casinos are up and running. But one compromise “that appears to have been reached” in the course of on-going negotiations that have to do with the state budget would bring table games sooner, he said.
SugarHouse does not have all of the permits it needs to finish its interim phase, Hardy said, but with the foundation permit in hand, it has what it needs to begin. In coming months, as construction ramps up, electricians, carpenters and others will be hired.
Joann Weber, SugarHouse’s vice president for human resources, said she is already advertising some positions in accounting and human resources, and conducted her first interview on Friday. She will be looking to make hires in purchasing and other “professional positions” relatively soon, as training will be necessary, and some positions require a licensing by the state – a process that could take time. All 500 employees the casino will need to open will require some sort of training.
Weber said she will be holding resume writing workshops and job fairs in the neighborhood around the casino. On a personal note, Weber said she had worked in the gaming and hospitality industry for more than 25 years. She is proud of the work she had done – which put her son through college. “We are looking for people who feel the same way. We want people who say, ‘I’m proud to work at SugarHouse.”
When construction begins, SugarHouse will pay its first installment of community benefits money – about $175,000. The casino has promised more than $1 million per year, which will be overseen by the Penn Treaty Special Services District. The District represents the communities of Fishtown, Kensington South, Old Port Richmond and Northern Liberties, said chairman Joe Rafter, who lives in Northern Liberties.
Fishtown Action co-founder Maggie O’Brien urged those present to submit their ideas for how the money should be spent. Forms were passed out at the meeting, and O’Brien said others could email suggestions to email@example.com.
Ideas so far include a “Welcome to Fishtown” sign, roadside banners honoring famous Fishtowners and Fishtown’s history, and an outdoor concert venue, perhaps with a place to dance. Groups can apply for grants, she said, and ideas can also be submitted which would benefit all of Fishtown.
Rafter said the new special services district was still establishing procedures for application and criteria for deciding what projects to fund.
PennDOT project managers Elaine Elbich and Mark A. Rhoads, a consultant from the URS Corporation, gave a presentation about the ongoing I-95 roadwork. The Girard Avenue ramp will have an offshoot that takes cars right onto Aramingo for access to Delaware Avenue and the waterfront, Rhoads said. And, he added, it will be finished by the time the interim SugarHouse facility opens. Elbich and Rhoads also discussed plans to work in conjunction with other organizations and the city to create more green areas – including some that will help the water department with its goal to reduce storm runoff into the city’s sewer system. Some areas beneath the highway that are now closed off to the public will be open and used for things like parks and parking, they said.
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