Stadium Casino eyes Holiday Inn site

Two companies have proposed a concept that would rebrand a Packer Avenue hotel with an adjoining gaming hall. 

By Joseph Myers

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Dec. 13, 2012

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Renovated two years ago, the Holiday Inn soon could welcome even more change in the form of an adjacent 200,000-square-foot casino.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Having resided outside of South Philly for only eight months of his 33 years, Paul C. Stricker has firm ideas on what it needs to thrive. Knowing money usually fuels progress for its neighborhoods, he has classified concepts as helpful or detrimental and always has considered casinos catastrophic. 

He received potentially saddening news last month, as six groups filed applications to acquire a Category 2 slot machine license for Philadelphia projects, with three desiring to construct on or along Packer Avenue. Though none of the parties with local ideas could emerge the victor, Stricker does not like the odds. 

“With the gross amount of loss of character, style, values and basic care I have witnessed in my life here, not to mention [Mayor Michael A.] Nutter and City Council trying to make a buck any way they can, I’d say it’s high,” the resident of 20th Street and Pattison Avenue said of the likelihood South Philly will become the home to Philly’s second license. “I’d much rather not have any site, especially one that would be so close to me.”

One of the groups with local aspirations, Stadium Casino, unites Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc., which oversees Bensalem’s Parx Casino and Racing, and Baltimore’s The Cordish Companies, a co-owner, along with Comcast-Spectacor, of Xfinity Live! Philadelphia, 1100 Pattison Ave. They have agreed to acquire the 240-room Holiday Inn, 900 Packer Ave., redesign and brand it as a boutique hotel and erect a 200,000-square-foot facility in front of it, according to the organizations’ impact report the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board released Nov. 27.

Their project, Live! Hotel and Casino would contain 2,013 slot machines, 125 table games, a garage with 2,550 parking spaces, four restaurants, an entertainment venue and a feature bar, according to the report. 

Cordish President Joe Weinberg hopes to receive great feedback from the board’s pending examination of and public forums on his group’s proposal. His company, which opened Xfinity Live!, a $60 million, 55,000-square-foot entertainment district March 30, and the Greenwood principals are banking on successful pedigrees to secure the second license and add to the state’s tax revenue, which the board’s website notes as a daily endowment of $4 million.

Soon after the board’s June solicitation for plans, they felt a partnership might prove profitable, as Greenwood’s three-year-old Parx grosses the most revenue among the Keystone State’s 11 casinos and Cordish’s six-month-old Maryland Live! Casino, a $500-million multi-use complex that stands as the country’s third largest commercial casino with 4,750 slot machines and electronic table games, already paces the Chesapeake Bay State’s five sites.

“We analyzed all viable sites in Philadelphia, including Center City and the [Delaware] waterfront areas, and concluded that the stadium district and our site on Packer Avenue was the ideal location for the final casino site,” Weinberg said. 

He said his collaboration’s potential product should resonate with evaluators because of unparalleled visibility from the major highways; accessibility to SEPTA, including the Broad Street Line; the existing hotel; and the possibility of attracting to the district even more visitors, with eight million patrons taking in its nearly 400 annual occasions, according to the Sports Complex Special Services District’s website.

“We are and have been very committed to South Philly, understand the dynamics of the market and, when the license was announced, felt the addition of a world-class hotel and casino in the stadium district would create one of the most unique sports, entertainment, gaming and dining destinations in the country,” Weinberg said, adding Live! Hotel and Casino would employ approximately 1,600 people. 

“In fact, the Stadium District will be the only place in the country and world where people can experience live every significant major league sport, attend concerts by international touring acts, find world-class dining and entertainment, while also being able to experience non-stop casino gaming excitement, all in one place.”

He also noted the companies have sufficient liquid resources to finance the initiative, which could amount to $500 million.

“We are uniquely capable of opening and operating the project in the quickest possible time frame,” he said.

The city’s second license became available again two years ago when, after receiving numerous vows from investors to raise sufficient equity, the board revoked trust in backers of the Foxwoods Casino project, which would have operated on South Columbus Boulevard between Tasker and Reed streets. A half-dozen hopefuls are now coveting a chance to offer as many as 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games, with representatives each having submitted letters of credit or bond worth $66.5 million to the board by the Nov. 15 deadline. 

PHL Local Gaming LLC has proposed to build Casino Revolution at 3333 S. Front St., which currently houses Procacci Brothers Sales Corp., a produce wholesale distributor. Wyomissing’s PA Gaming Ventures LLC hopes to construct Hollywood Casino Philadelphia at 700 Packer Ave., in the Food Distribution Center, which would join the Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, located just outside of Harrisburg. Two entities want a Center City gaming hall, while mogul Steve Wynn, whose April 2010 decision to back out as developer also hurt Foxwoods’ chances, is craving a Fishtown creation. 

“Since the [Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and] Gaming Act [of 2004] prescribes that the second license to be located in Philadelphia be awarded in order to further the laws’ goals to maximize tax revenue and jobs, the board felt it was proper now to begin the process,” board spokesman Doug Harbach said. “The review [of applications] has already begun and will be ongoing. We have not announced a hearing schedule as of yet. We will, however, conduct public hearings in the city in the first part of 2013.”

The Live! project would be Greenwood’s second casino and Cordish’s sixth. In seeking to situate a hall by the current lodge space, the entities would honor the state’s mandate that a Category 2 casino, dubbed a “standalone” location, be more than 10 miles from a Category 1 racetrack casino, as their site would be 11 miles from the Chester-based Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack, Weinberg said.

“I’d love a casino by the stadiums,” Tim Hasek, of Fourth and Carpenter streets said. “I understand what people say about increases in crime, and I don’t live near the facilities, so I don’t have as many concerns, but I think people will go there to avoid trouble, not to cause it.”

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