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!
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.