Signs of trouble for Foxwoods move to Gallery

Posted: September 11, 2008

When officials began a news conference yesterday celebrating the planned move of the Foxwoods Casino to Center City, the audience already was sprinkled with protest signs held by community opponents, many from nearby Chinatown.

"We're going to the mat on this one," said Debbie Wei, a member of Asian Americans United and principal of a Chinatown charter school. "We're tired. No more. No deals."

Opposition, from Chinatown and other Center City communities, is among several factors that make plans to move the proposed Foxwoods casino to the Gallery mall on Market Street far from a sure bet.

"There are no guarantees," said Gov. Rendell, who worked with Mayor Nutter to convince Foxwoods to abandon its controversial site on the Delaware riverfront in South Philadelphia.

"There have been no deals made," Rendell said. "I have promised nothing but our best efforts to get this done." Rendell noted that if the plan collapses, Foxwoods can return to its South Philadelphia site.

The Gallery plan would have to be approved by City Council and the state Gaming Control Board, and might require action by the Legislature.

Nutter said that no one will approach state officials until City Council has its say on the idea, and he promised "the most open process you could possibly have" to review the proposal.

Nutter and Rendell said that they hope that the project will revive the Gallery, which was built in the 1970s and '80s with government assistance, and they believe that it will trigger further development on Market Street East.

Among other aspects of the proposal revealed yesterday:

* The casino would initially occupy space in the Gallery between 10th and 11th streets now occupied by the Burlington Coat Factory, Old Navy and other retail tenants.

* The plan is to house the slot machines in the existing buildings rather than demolish them, and perhaps go vertical, building more gaming space and even a hotel atop the mall.

* No casino signs would be on Market Street, and entrances would all be on the numbered streets or Filbert Street in order to respect the historic character of the area.

* Rendell acknowledged that the proposed move might prompt lawsuits from other companies that sought casino licenses in Philadelphia, on the argument that Foxwoods won a license with a proposal it is now abandoning. Rendell said that it's important to get those suits to the state Supreme Court and resolve them quickly.

* Nutter and Rendell said that there is "no expectation" that taxes will be used to repay Foxwoods for what the company says is a $100 million-plus investment in its current site. But Michael Thomas, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which partially owns Foxwoods, said that "an opportunity to recoup some if not all of our earlier investment will be a topic of discussion."

Both Thomas and Foxwoods executive Brian Ford said that getting the casino open quickly is the best way for them to recoup their losses.

Meanwhile, opponents from Chinatown promise a determined fight to block the proposal. Wei argued that it's particularly troublesome for that neighborhood.

"Gambling addiction in the Asian-American community is a well-documented public-health crisis, and Foxwoods knows it," Wei said. She and fellow activist Helen Gym showed up yesterday with T-shirts from their last successful campaign against a Center City project. They read: "No Stadium in Chinatown." *

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