Provence group: We're suited for the task

VALERIE RUSS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Paul Boni waves fake $100 bills marked "Hush Money" in protest of Bart Blatstein's casino proposal.
VALERIE RUSS / DAILY NEWS STAFF Paul Boni waves fake $100 bills marked "Hush Money" in protest of Bart Blatstein's casino proposal.
Posted: January 30, 2014

THE HEARING for Bart Blatstein's Provence Casino and Hotel started out routinely enough: tedious testimony on traffic studies, parking and public-transit ridership.

At one point, a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board commissioner asked: "Just how likely is someone going to get on a bus with a lot of money to go to a casino?"

And then, it was precisely that issue at yesterday's meeting - the reliability of traffic studies that Blatstein's Tower Entertainment submitted in its application for the city's remaining casino license - that led to a rabbit being pulled out of a hat.

Larry Spector, the lawyer representing Congregation Rodeph Shalom and two schools that don't want the casino in the area, pulled out the rabbit - a stuffed rabbit - to imply that that's how Tower got the numbers it used.

"I object to the rabbit's testimony," said Raymond Quaglia, the attorney for Tower, which plans to develop the Provence.

Spector's traffic expert, Frank Tavani, said that it appeared as if Blatstein's traffic experts had calculated that all pedestrian traffic near the existing SugarHouse Casino on Delaware Avenue comes from public transportation.

In fact, Spector said, residents of several high-rise apartments in the SugarHouse area can walk there.

Spector said Tower's experts used inflated SugarHouse transit numbers to make it seem that fewer cars would come to the Provence.

Spector alleged after the hearing that Tower inflated the numbers to make it appear that 31 percent of patrons will use public transit to visit the Provence and that only 37 percent will use cars.

Spector's chart said Tower is saying only 17 percent of SugarHouse patrons use public transit and 71 percent use cars.

But Frank Tavani testified that the Tower traffic study used one way to calculate public transit use but a different methodology to project the percentage using casino buses, taxis and walking.

Quaglia also objected to Spector's submitting a video showing cars moving through Philly streets in real-time traffic at 15th and Vine streets and at Broad and Vine streets.

Colleen Puckett, director of marketing at Friends Select School, said she was driving the car on the video and showed how hard it is to make a right on Vine Street from 16th, travel toward Broad and cross three lanes to get into the left lane to turn north on Broad to get to the casino.

Quaglia also objected to the video, saying that his team had not seen the information.

The gaming board agreed to permit Tower to return to the hearing room in the Pennsylvania Convention Center either today or tomorrow to respond to Spector's points.

Earlier, a commission member said he was surprised one day during a visit to the area of the proposed Provence about 3:30 p.m. to find many children getting out of school.

One school, Mathematics, Civics & Sciences, is directly across Broad Street from the former home of the Daily News and Inquirer, at Broad and Callowhill streets, which Tower plans to convert into a hotel.

But Blatstein noted that the peak hours for the casino would not be at 3:30 p.m. and that the main entrance would be on Callowhill near 15th Street.

Earlier yesterday, the gaming control board also heard from Penn National Gaming Ventures, which proposes to build the Hollywood Casino on Packer Avenue near 7th Street in South Philly.

Board members asked how much the Hollywood Casino would "cannibalize" profits from the existing SugarHouse.

Penn National said it estimated that about 40 percent of its business would come from SugarHouse. It also said it would spend $3 million to build a westbound I-76 ramp to alleviate traffic problems.

Although there were no major protests, several children from Math, Civics & Sciences showed up, and anti-casino advocate Paul Boni sat in the audience occasionally fanning wads of fake $100 bills with "Hush Money" printed on them.

Provence spokesman Frank Keel said the Blatstein group was "a bit taken aback by the confusing testimony and unprofessional antics orchestrated by counsel for the intervening entities [opponents of the casino license]."

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN

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