Blatstein unveils top chefs for the Provence

Bart Blatstein
Posted: January 17, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Standing on the top deck of a parking garage he hopes to replace with the Provence casino, developer Bart Blatstein on Wednesday introduced two high-profile New York chefs who want to join him as restaurant partners.

TV personality Tom Colicchio of Top Chef and Manhattan restaurateur Andrew Carmellini said they would open restaurants if Blatstein's project is selected for the city's second casino license.

Both chefs declared Philadelphia "a great food city."

Blatstein "didn't have to sell me very hard," said Colicchio, Top Chef's head judge and owner of the Craft restaurants in New York.

Colicchio said he would open a steak house, while Carmellini, who runs three restaurants in Lower Manhattan, said he would feature Italian cuisine.

With less than two weeks before the state Gaming Control Board holds final hearings on the suitability of five casino proposals, Blatstein was anxious to tout his project, proposed for Callowhill Street between Broad and 17th Streets.

In addition to his plans for restaurants, the developer is engaged in behind-the-scenes talks with neighborhood groups to nail down the final terms of a "community benefits agreement."

An agreement under consideration would expand security around the site and surrounding neighborhoods, including cameras and foot and vehicle patrols, said Kevin Greenberg, a lawyer working for a coalition of about 20 groups to negotiate an agreement.

It also includes commitments to upgrade lighting, control signage, and make traffic and street improvements. Neighbors, too, would be given preference for jobs and vendor contracts.

Under the pact - first reported on Wednesday by the Philadelphia Daily News - Blatstein's Tower Entertainment would provide $300,000 a year for five years to a nonprofit dedicated to neighborhood groups and projects. The amount would rise to $450,000 a year, according to a draft of the agreement obtained by The Inquirer.

In addition, seven days after the completion of an agreement, Tower would pay an additional $90,000 to cover legal and other professional fees for the North Broad Community Coalition, an umbrella group for about 20 community groups, schools, and religious organizations.

The agreement needs to be approved by the coalition and five others: organizations for the Logan Square, Callowhill and West Poplar neighborhoods; the J.R. Masterman Home and School Association; and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is building a temple nearby.

Some groups have decided to actively oppose the Provence. Two schools and Congregation Rodeph Shalom have intervened in the casino proceedings as opponents.

By signing the community benefits agreement, groups will agree not to actively oppose the licensing of the project.

Sarah McEneaney, president of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, said while the proposed agreement is under discussion, her organization would have no comment.

Greenberg said organizations are in the process of "reviewing and tweaking" the document. He said each group will decide whether it wants "to sign or not sign" the agreement by next week.

The Provence is one of five projects being considered for a license. Others include Market8 in Center City and three projects in South Philadelphia: Casino Revolution, Hollywood Casino Philadelphia, and Live! Hotel & Casino.

Paul Boni, a local activist with the national group Stop Predatory Gambling, argues against community agreements. "The harm to the community that will be done by a casino far outweighs any mitigation money," Boni said. "All you're really doing is helping the casino's public relations."

Blatstein would like an agreement by Jan. 28, when he is scheduled to appear before the gaming board.

He said he had been working with neighbors "from day one."

Having a signed agreement before the hearing would make it "more relevant," he said.

When asked what would happen if there was no signed agreement by then, Blatstein said, "I haven't thought past that."

jlin@phillynews.com215-854-5659 @j_linq

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