8th and Market enters running as potential casino location

Developer Ken Goldberg hopes to get Philly's second casino license for the south side of Market Street between 8th and 9th. (Jessica Griffin / Staff)
Developer Ken Goldberg hopes to get Philly's second casino license for the south side of Market Street between 8th and 9th. (Jessica Griffin / Staff)
Posted: January 11, 2013

AFTER 85 YEARS as a grand temple to consumerism, the Gimbel Brothers Department Store was demolished in 1979, at a time when Philadelphia thought the next great thing was about to happen on East Market Street.

We're still waiting.

Next up for the south side of Market Street between 8th and 9th streets - dominated for more than three decades by parking lots - is a proposal for the city's second casino license.

"I think East Market Street is still as critical an artery as exists in Philadelphia," said Ken Goldenberg, the developer leading the investors seeking the license.

Goldenberg sees the proximity to Independence National Historical Park to the east and the Pennsylvania Convention Center to the west as building blocks for "a really electric corridor." He wants that development to pave the path to Penn's Landing.

Goldenberg has been grappling with the property since 1998, when he planned to build an indoor theme park known as DisneyQuest. That deal notoriously tanked, leaving a blank canvas on nearly two Center City acres.

The Goldenberg Group owns 60 percent of that land. Lewis Katz, a managing partner of the company that owns the Daily News, the Inquirer and philly.com, is a limited partner in Goldenberg but is not involved in the casino application.

The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, which owns the office space now occupied by the newspapers and their website, owns the remaining 40 percent of the land but also is not involved in the casino proposal.

City taxpayers have been on the hook for more than a decade due to the DisneyQuest flop.

The Philadelphia Parking Authority borrowed $47.4 million in 1999 to buy an acre just south of the Goldenberg property and build a parking garage for anticipated DisneyQuest crowds. The PPA returned $27.2 million of the borrowed money but still has the land and $20 million in debt.

That debt, if paid with interest over the life of the 30-year mortgage, will cost taxpayers $43 million. The PPA contributes about $300,000 to $400,000 per year toward the debt, from interest payments and profits from a parking lot operated on the site. The city contributes about $1 million per year to pay the mortgage.

The casino investors, known as Market East Associates LP, have budgeted $66.5 million for land-acquisition costs and are likely to have an interest in the PPA land.

Preliminary plans provided to the city call for four levels of underground parking and a five-story structure with a garden roof. Restaurants dominate the first floor with the main casino on the second and third floors, a poker room on the fourth floor and a VIP lounge on the fifth floor.

Neighborhood groups reacted angrily in 2009 to another attempt to put a casino at 8th and Market streets. They will get their first view of the plans Feb. 12, when the Gaming Control Board will have the six bidders for the casino license present their proposals to the public at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

" @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: phillyclout.com

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