Friday, September 12, 2008

Casino chaos

I have to admit I was shocked to hear that Foxwoods was considering a move of their site not to someplace else remote like the airport or the navy pier, but to the Galleria downtown, and that this appeared to generate widespread approval from the political class. After some days' coverage and rumination on my part, I gather that there are some logistical possibilities I'd never have considered, such as the capacity to make the building taller if so desired (since the foundation was made to carry ore), the fact that the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust owns both the Galleria (which is has been waiting to renovate) and the empty Strawbridges building, so that a department store could be relocated to make casino space easier to create, etc. A downtown casino in a major city is a novely in many ways, and this particular one has a range of pluses and minuses, including:
  • Pro: The location is near the convention center and the Independence Mall visitors' center, as well as most of the big hotels, meaning it's in tourist central and would get a lot of business.

  • Pro: It's on top of a transit hub (the Market East station), with both subway and regional rail access, with PATCO nearby for NJ. This would take a lot of pressure off the traffic aspect of casino siting, and would probably mean no new ugly garage -- let folks use transit or park in current pay lots.

  • Pro: Nearby sections of Market are pretty much quiet and in need of some revitalization, and there's not much residential space right there (but see below) that would feel the effects.

  • Pro: It could generate business for nearby restaurants and other attractions, moreso than a more isolated site.

  • Con: Quite close to Chinatown. While this isn't new construction, it definitely brings new traffic and unknown problems -- whether crime or idling buses -- right close to a neighborhood that already feels underappreciated by the city. Residents are already getting their No Stadium t-shirts out of mothballs to protest. And, given that one of the arguments agains the original Foxwoods location was "not within 1500 feet of homes, churches, schools," they have grounds for feeling this is a violation for them.

  • Con: There's a feeling of insider games here, with the head of the PREIT being a Foxwoods investor. What happened to open process, community input, blah blah? We'll have to see how neighborhood meetings play out.

  • Con: No way of knowing in advance what the effects of a downtown casino will be on the character of the city (historic, e.g.), on the nearby institutions and neighborhoods (Chinatown, Reading Terminal, Market St.). Is this easier to police than a Delaware Avenue location, because Center City is already well covered by cops? Can it be kept from looking tacky? etc.
Anyway, Inga Saffron wrote a fairly convincing argument that this is a great opportunity for the city and the state to do a better job of designing a casino that befits Philadelphia, so I guess I'm tentatively in favor of this idea. But only time will tell whether a reasonable design that accomplishes her goals will be proposed, and whether reasonable protections for Chinatown and other city interests can be guaranteed. Stay tuned!

Edit:
I suppose that I should list another point, which is the downside to the prime location argument: increased convenience means increased liklihood of problem gambling, especially as folks can bring their payday checks directly to the casino on their way home from work...

Edit2: An article today enumerates the hurdles to moving the Foxwoods casino -- essentially rerunning the entire process, from architects to City Council to state Gaming Board approval.

2 Comments:

Blogger MB said...

Deep deep deep sigh. People have not been paying attention. They have not studied the consequences of casinos on Atlantic City, particularly:

*The number of independent restaurants in Atlantic City dropped from 48 the year casinos opened to 16 in 1997 (Evelyn Nieves, "Our Towns: Taste of Hope at Restaurants Casinos Hurt," New York Times, March 23, 1997, section 1, p. 39).
*Within just four years of the casinos' arrival, one-third of the city's retail businesses had closed (Robert Goodman, The Luck Business: The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America's Gambling Explosion (New York: Free Press, 1995), p. 23).

All of those businesses were thumbs up on AC casinos in 1978 and look what happened to them.

But there's more. The National Gambling Impact Study from 1999 is just one place to start (http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/ngisc/). The real challenge here is to read all of information about the impacts of casinos--volumes and volumes of social science and legal research for over 25 yrs. Really. Apparently very few of our civic leaders or the talking heads have done work on this at all. There is no way to learn this information and still be a cheerleader for this bad proposal in Center City.

I like Inga Saffron but she has got to do some independent research and stop listening to the power brokers. The Inquirer has let this city down by its weak coverage of the full story about casinos. Instead they've let it be a spat about NIMBY when in fact it's very very serious issue that will impact the full region's economics and public health.

There is magical thinking blowing smoke that this is an architecture problem; that there is a "right" way to do this and Phila is just the place to do it. They are lulled by examples of European casinos, particularly a beautiful old building in Germany (see PlanPhilly.com). But the reality is that this city struggles to perform even its most basic services the "right" way. The city cannot even manage the "right" way to run its public schools, utilities, safety, property tax assessments or collections. What makes any reasonable person believe that this city with its ongoing culture of political corruption can manage the inherent corruption of the gaming industry any better than anywhere else in this country? I don't think so.

Please keep learning more about this. Particularly learn that the radius of 30 to 50 miles from a casino is the epicenter of its damage. And learn that it takes 3 to 5 yrs for the negatives to be experienced.

Look how long this comment is and it doesn't even cover it all. Here's a game, use Philly.com's search engine with key words like National Gambling Impact Study Commission and see how many hits come up.

3:07 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

well, as I've said before, I'm in the "no casinos in Philly" camp, but I'm not sure there's any point in having that discussion anymore. if the radius of destruction is 30-50 miles, then riverfront or downtown doesn't matter, so you might as well talk about traffic flow and hotel access...

7:22 PM  

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