The Fishtown Neighbors Association granted its support with a 173-55 vote Monday night to billionaire casino developer Steve Wynn’s proposal to build a resort and casino on the Delaware riverfront.
Wynn’s $926 million proposal would be the largest privately funded construction project in Pennsylvania history and is one of six proposals before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board for Philadelphia’s second and final allotted casino license.
If the proposal is approved, the new casino would be less than one mile from the SugarHouse Casino on Delaware Avenue. When SugarHouse was contacted for a response to the proposal, it declined to make any comment for this story. Wynn representatives, however, said they believe SugarHouse would not be affected by the close proximity.
Terry McKenna, executive vice president of Keating Consulting and project manager for the Wynn proposal, helped present information about the casino to over 200 people during Monday night’s community meeting at the First Presbyterian Church on East Girard Avenue. “Wynn will bring out-of-town clientele and grow the gaming market rather than cannibalizing SugarHouse and other casinos,” McKenna said.
After the meeting, McKenna elaborated further by explaining what makes Wynn’s proposal different from not only SugarHouse but also the other five contenders to the license.
“Wynn is all about building the marketplace, bringing in the resort customer that would otherwise not come to Philadelphia,” McKenna said, “whereas the other fine folks are going after a different market where they’re building a locals casino as opposed to a full blown resort.”
This echoes comments made by Wynn during his appearance in Philadelphia to present the proposal to the Gaming Control Board in February. During the presentation, he referred to casinos like SugarHouse as “slots in a box,” a statement repeated several times by McKenna at Monday’s meeting.
The Wynn presentation centered on three important aspects designed to cater to neighborhood residents. They included the economic aspects as well as the activation of the riverfront property and public access to the space.
The first topic discussed was the near-billion dollar private investment in the neighborhood which promises the creation of almost 6,000 jobs. However, 2,200 of the jobs would be permanent and the remainder would be temporary construction work.
“Area residents will hear about the jobs first, will have the first job fairs and will have the first applications accepted,” said Annie Allman, Wynn Resorts director of development during the meeting.
Another key factor the Wynn development team pointed out was that the area for development, an old shipyard and industrial plant, was one that had been inactive for decades, a point echoed by neighborhood resident A.J. Thomson after some residents questioned why land that was zoned for industrial purposes was now being proposed as the perfect location for a casino.
“We have a chance to have a billion dollar development, shielded mostly by [Interstate-95], from the guy who invented the resort casino. That’s what we have to consider,” Thomson said. “Not what might go there because some consultant drew it and a bunch of people who get paid to advocate for planning are advocating for. That land has sat fallow for the entire 36 years of my life.”
Finally, they discussed the plan for free public access to the riverfront property which would occupy 22 of the property’s 60 acres. McKenna explained to the audience the plans included a public access green space and potentially an ice skating rink.
Another topic of interest to residents was the plan for a 20-acre, one-story parking garage with a green roof. The green design would add ambience to guests seated at restaurants with second floor windows, which was revealed last Friday by Wynn in a phone interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. One resident questioned representatives if the space could be better utilized. However, Wynn representatives said this plan was to ensure there wasn’t another tall parking garage being built and under the current plan, every building other than the hotel tower would be no more than two stories.
This proposal is not Wynn’s first attempt to get a casino in the Philadelphia market. Wynn was an investor in the Foxwoods casino project in 2010, which later fell through and had its license revoked, opening the door for his current proposal.
“I so wanted Wynn to come here and take that parcel over,” said resident Phillip Menaged. “Unfortunately, he got pushed out. I’ve been to all his resorts in Vegas and they’re all spectacular. World class.”
Since Wynn is competing for this license against five other proposals, there are some other contenders which are slowing down the process. Two of Wynn’s bigger competitors include the $700 million proposal by developer Bart Blatstein to build an entertainment complex on Broad and Spring Garden at the old Philadelphia Inquirer Building and a $500 million proposal for a similar complex on Eighth and Market streets.
Although Fishtown residents have approved Wynn’s proposal, its next steps will include public input hearings held Thursday and Friday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Approved representatives from community organizations as well as the city at large will testify before the Gaming Control Board about all six proposals. Representatives from the Fishtown Neighbors Association will convey the results and concerns from Monday’s meetings. There will also be representatives from other community groups like the Olde Richmond Civic Association and the Central Delaware Advocacy Group speaking at the hearings.
To follow the progress of Wynn’s Proposal and stay up to date on future community meetings, visit the Fishtown Neighbors Assocation’s website.