Group eyes casino-hotel at sports complex's Holiday Inn

Posted: November 03, 2012

A group that wants to add a casino to the Holiday Inn at the sports complex in South Philadelphia has emerged as a contender for the city's second gaming license.

Stadium Casino L.L.C. - a partnership between Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., which owns Parx in Bensalem, Pennsylvania's top-grossing casino, and Baltimore-based Cordish Cos., owner of Maryland's top-grossing casino as well as entertainment and dining districts nationally - is proposing a $425 million to $500 million casino-hotel next to the stadiums and Xfinity Live!

Cordish co-owns Xfinity Live! with Comcast-Spectacor.

"We looked at a number of sites throughout the city and decided this was the best location for a casino," said Bob Green, chairman of Greenwood Gaming.

The agreement to acquire the 240-room Holiday Inn was completed over the last week.

During a conference call Thursday, Green and Cordish president Joe Weinberg enumerated the advantages of the Packer Avenue locale:

• It sits at the heart of an entertainment and sports district that attracts 8.5 million to 10 million visitors per year.

• It has easy access to I-76 and I-95.

• It will capture a new market - those attending events at the three sports facilities, as well as patrons of Xfinity Live! - rather than cannibalize the local gambling market now served by SugarHouse on the Delaware River waterfront.

Green said many people patronizing this casino "will be out-of-towners going over the Walt Whitman Bridge into the stadium complex."

Until Thursday, developer Bart Blatstein had been the only confirmed applicant for the second casino license.

Last week, Blatstein unveiled plans for a $700 million, French-style casino and entertainment complex at the former home of The Inquirer and Daily News on North Broad Street.

Green said his group plans to add a 200,000-square-foot casino and entertainment complex at the front of the Holiday Inn. Although the 10-story hotel would remain intact, he said, it would be redesigned as an upscale boutique hotel under a different brand.

Stadium Casino L.L.C. would own both the hotel and a casino that would house 2,000 slot machines and 125 table games. The complex also would feature fitness and spa facilities, a pool, six restaurants, a live music venue, a rooftop party deck, and a parking garage with about 2,500 spaces.

The group began looking at potential sites right after the state Gaming Control Board announced in early July that the second Philadelphia casino license would stay in the city, Green said. The board reopened the application process and set Nov. 15 as the deadline for applications.

"You have two of the most dominant regional casino operators coming together to build a premiere facility," Weinberg said.

Since it opened in late 2006, Parx has been Pennsylvania's top-grossing casino among what are now 11 gambling venues statewide. Cordish's Maryland Live! opened in June and has emerged as the top-grossing casino among the three in the state.

Cordish also owns Live! complexes in Baltimore, Kansas City, Mo., and other cities, and developed hotels at the two Hard Rock casinos in Florida.

Green said his group would cover the project's entire cost, including acquiring the Holiday Inn, with its own cash, eliminating the need for financing.

"The gaming board will look at the financial capability and operational credibility of these applications because they don't want the debacle that was Foxwoods," he said, referring to the investor group stripped of its gaming license after repeated delays in getting a South Philadelphia waterfront casino built for reasons that included financing.

"The last thing they want is someone who says they want to spend $1 billion that is unfundable and have a situation where nothing happens," he said.

With a South Philadelphia casino, Green would cover both ends of I-95. Parx has done well with patrons from Bucks County, Northeast Philadelphia, and central New Jersey. And Cordish would have another venue just two blocks away to entertain its Xfinity Live! customers.

Doug Harbach, spokesman for the Gaming Control Board, said there was no distance requirement for the two Philadelphia casinos, both of which will have so-called Category 2 licenses.

"There is, however, a distance requirement of 10 linear miles for a Category 2 [standalone] facility in Philadelphia from a Category 1 racetrack casino," Harbach said.

Weinberg said his group's casino met that criterion: It would be 11 miles from Harrah's Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack in Chester.

Building casinos near stadiums has become a popular option for developers because of the customer traffic they generate.

Baltimore is building a casino next to M&T Bank Stadium (home of the NFL's Ravens), Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh sits near Heinz Field (home of the Steelers), and Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland is a block from basketball and baseball venues.


Contact Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2855 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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