Done deal

After winning a gaming license from the state, Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia races ahead with its $950 million project.

By Lorraine Gennaro
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 4, 2007

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Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia plans to break ground in February on a long-vacant parcel at Columbus Boulevard and Reed Street.

It might look like a massive wasteland secured by a chain-link fence, but come February, the decade-long vacant property on Columbus Boulevard and Reed Street will pulse with activity. That's when Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia plans to break ground for a slots parlor and entertainment complex to be built in three phases, with all slated for completion by November 2008, spokesperson Maureen Garrity of Tierney Communications said.

Dec. 20, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awarded two of five slot licenses to Foxwoods and SugarHouse. The latter plans to build on Columbus at Shackamaxon Street. Since the announcement came days before Christmas, Foxwoods officials did not have time to formulate details on the ground-breaking, Garrity said.

"We need to nail down the exact date and we'll do the specific planning from there," she said.

Gary D. Armentrout, chief development officer for Foxwoods Development Co., told the Review the Connecticut-based group was thrilled it was chosen among four "worthy" competitors, which included TrumpStreet, Riverwalk and Pinnacle.

"We've always believed the merits of our project -- which includes having the best location, a proven and financially strong operator, as well as benefits to the entire region via our partners' charitable-contribution commitment -- would earn us one of the two licenses," Armentrout said.

Bordered by Wal-Mart and Home Depot to the south, Comcast's CN8 studios to the north and the United Artists Riverview Theater west across the boulevard, Foxwoods calls for the three phases to total about $950.5 million.

Phase I will cost about $560 million and feature 3,000 slot machines, a 2,000-seat showroom, a 4,200-space parking garage, entertainment lounge, retail shops and restaurants, Garrity said. Two-thousand more slot machines will descend upon the waterfront in Phase II, along with 1,200 additional parking spaces, food and beverage outlets and development of a Riverfront Promenade entertainment district, which will include nightlife, casual dining, boutique shopping and a water taxi. The final phase will house a 500-room hotel, a 21,000-square-foot full-service spa, a 120,000-square-foot meeting- and conference-room space and a potential residential condominium tower.

The entire project is expected to generate a total of about 1,000 new construction jobs. After the first phase, 954 jobs will be available. In Phase II and III, employment opportunities are expected to total 1,254 and 1,780, respectively. The group is tapping the local market to fill about 90 percent of its casino positions.

Foxwoods held two job fairs July 13 and Nov. 18, both at Annunciation BVM school, 12th and Wharton streets. An additional two will take place in spring and fall, Garrity said.

"We had more than 450 people attend our most recent career fair who expressed support not only for the positions that Foxwoods would bring, but also for the first-class facility we would build, access to the waterfront that our facility will provide, as well as other entertainment options and community contributions," Armentrout said.

Al and Barbara Seaman, who live in Southwest, embrace Foxwoods in part for the jobs it would generate.

"If it is run correctly, it could be a big boost for the city. It would certainly mean more jobs and hopefully lower taxes," Al said.

But not everyone is happy with these two riverfront slot parlors. Hours after the gaming board made its announcement, opponents wasted no time in circling the wagons.

Casino-Free Philadelphia fired off a press release announcing two events that day. At 3:30 p.m. at Ninth Street and Washington Avenue, the group held a press conference and rally, followed by a 6 p.m. march from the SugarHouse site to Foxwoods. Casino-Free's e-mail also contained a list of blog addresses and facts concerning both sites, including two that noted each had the highest level of community opposition and Foxwoods investors were fined $200,000 for violating a ban on campaign contributions.

Armentrout said he believes protests of the Foxwoods site represent a small faction and maintains the project has received "overwhelming support from the community in our meetings with individuals and groups."

"There has been vocal opposition, but that we believe it is a minority view and that the concerns that have been raised have been responded to by us in the application, a fact acknowledged by PGCB's own experts and staff and obviously recognized by the gaming board in issuing us a license," the chief officer said. "Now that we have received a license, Foxwoods will continue to forge relationships in the community and is open to meeting with all of our neighbors."

Casino-Free Philadelphia was not the only one to send a mass e-mail press release within hours of the announcement. First District Councilman Frank DiCicco announced he would file a lawsuit to "challenge the issuance of a license to Foxwoods and will explore how and why the PGCB made their final determination," according to his release.

The biggest sticking point for the councilman is how the board "ignored" concerns expressed by engineers, city officials, politicians and community groups, he said.

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