Oct. 19, 2006
Mr. Tad Decker, Chairman
Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
P.O. Box 69060
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9060
RE: Evaluation of Pittsburgh Casino Applicants
Dear Mr. Decker:
For the past 18 months the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force has had the unique responsibility and privilege of representing the larger Pittsburgh community on gaming, and to report to the public as well as to you and your colleagues on the Gaming Control Board. (A roster of Task Force membership is attached).
Our charge from the first day has been parochial; we appreciate the fact that state law places ultimate authority on licensure with you but our interest is Pittsburgh’s welfare. Our charge, as we see it, is to determine which proposed operator promises to be the best neighbor, offer the best economic return to this region and compliment other local development priorities.
The Task Force’s initial comments after an exhaustive series of community meetings and detailed presentations were equivocal. We did not believe any of the three proposals adequately addressed several critical issues and so stated in our Interim Report of June 2, 2006. Questions about traffic and design were of particular concern to us and we suggested to your board that an independent analysis of traffic impact be undertaken.
In the months since then we have asked each of the applicants to provide us with more precise information on his casino’s environmental impact; its size and operational guidelines; what it would look like both within and without; how many cars would be parked; and a best estimate of impact on the immediate neighborhoods. Because non-casino matters – development funds, a new civic arena, apartment and town house projects, etc. – have been center stage from the first day, we revisited in detail related plans each operator had for his neighborhood as well as in two instances the economic development of the lower Hill.
This process included a two-phase Design Study. One component of that work was a visit by a Task Force team to Black Hawk, Colorado and Kansas City, Missouri (markets where at least two of the Pittsburgh casino applicants operate competitive facilities.) The second was an extensive face to face panel review with the applicants on their design plans for Pittsburgh.
The complexities associated with assessing the multiple components of a multi-million dollar gaming enterprise make it unlikely that a cohort of disparate Gaming Task Force members would achieve unanimity on the selection of a single operator. However, after eighteen months, the Task Force members have achieved solid agreement on the elements that must be present to best serve the interests of the City of Pittsburgh. The project by project analysis and recommendation that follow is the product of these cumulative efforts. We offer them now because Control Board deadlines require it, but accompanying them with a request that we be permitted further comment. This would include the opportunity to offer a final supplemental written analysis of proposal modifications made at the November 20 and 21 hearings in Harrisburg for Pittsburgh casino applicants.
The reason for this request is that one of the applicants, Forest City, may provide amendments to its application in its final filing due Oct. 20 and also at those hearings. We cannot promise that this will be so, but we cannot foreclose the possibility either because as of this date Forest City has refused to provide the public any additional information since its disclosures at the May 25th meeting. It also has not accepted invitations to participate in the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force’s work under any circumstances.
Because the stakes for the people of Pittsburgh are so high, we hope this will change with both their October filing and the November hearings testimony. But to repeat, we cannot promise that and the following analysis and recommendation are based on the best information available to us as of today’s date, Oct. 19, 2006
MAJESTIC STAR CASINOS
Majestic Star has made the commitment that its Pittsburgh casino will be its flagship operation. They consistently have been responsive, and throughout our interaction with them have demonstrated that Majestic Star is willing to work with the Task Force and the community. The design of their casino incorporates the theme of water reinforcing the riverfront position, and does an excellent job at integrating external access to its in-casino restaurants. Based on the applicant’s conceptual design drawings, lighting pollution does not seem to be a concern although the metal skin currently recommended for the garage could be quite bright during the day from reflected sunlight. The size and massing of the garage is a design concern that needs to be addressed. In many ways, Majestic Star has the most problematic site; the road system around the proposed casino requires significant alteration and the island-like nature of the location makes adjacent economic development more difficult.
Our positive evaluation of the Majestic Star proposal is qualified by the unresolved traffic concerns. The North Side neighborhood where the proposed casino would be located is strongly impacted by heavy traffic uses on certain days because of sporting events. Before a license could be awarded to Majestic Star any proposed street realignments or mitigations to the existing infrastructure must be resolved to the satisfaction of the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force.
Forest City’s decision not to participate in the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force’s recent Design Study is a discouraging sign because it undermines their contention that they will be a strong community partner. This concern is exacerbated by the many unanswered questions surrounding their project. First and foremost is the absence of any response to date to the major questions raised about traffic congestion in the Task Force’s Interim Report. What is to occur on Carson Street? At the West End Circle? Other important and unanswered questions include such fundamental matters as what is the architectural quality of their proposed casino? Does it adhere to the Design Guidelines developed by the Task Force? What amenities are included? What opportunities exist for local economic development? How will light pollution on the riverfront be prevented? Finally, there are matters of economics. The community “giveback” by Isle of Capri far exceeds the commitments made by Forest City to date, and recent Wall Street occurrences indicate the need for further review of the Forest City/Harrah’s arrangement.
As of this date we have no other choice but to give a negative evaluation to the Forest City plan because of the serious traffic issues we raised in our Interim Report that to our knowledge are still unresolved. Also, the total lack of information on significant design issues that effect Pittsburgh remain unanswered; we expect the Forest City casino design to meet or exceed the Design Committee Guidelines developed by the Task Force.
ISLE OF CAPRI/PITTSBURGH FIRST
This proposal demonstrates excellent use of its site, exceptional design and urban planning, a comprehensive traffic plan, a commitment to a new arena, and a solid casino operator who will work with the local community. Isle of Capri has a better business model than the other proposals because of their planned synergy with arena programming. The proposed retail space on Fifth Avenue represents an opportunity for local businesses. The contractual agreement between Isle of Capri and Nationwide Realty for mixed-use development on the existing Civic Arena site is a promising sign. Isle of Capri’s dedication to achieving a successful Pittsburgh operation is paramount to their company because of the risk they are taking. Finally, Pittsburgh First, the organization created to coordinate the Isle of Capri’s work with the Pittsburgh community, has proven to be the most effective of the three applicants’ initiatives to reach out to the public. The Task Force is aware that community constituents, including (but not limited to) Duquesne University and some Hill District residents, have expressed concerns about the impact of a casino on their communities. We encourage on-going dialogue and planning to mitigate the negative impacts of gaming on the abutting communities.
The community giveback is significantly greater in the Isle of Capri proposal than either Majestic Star or Forest City’s proposals. When we consider what is the best casino for Pittsburgh – and in the larger context what is the best deal for Pittsburgh – the Isle of Capri plan is the strongest. We give them an unqualified positive evaluation of their plan to date. Further we are greatly encouraged by their ongoing engagement with the community and feel that they will meet any further requests by the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force.
We encourage the Gaming Control Board to evaluate each of the three applicants for the Pittsburgh slots casino license using the Isle of Capri proposal as its standard. We also request that the Gaming Control Board insist that all applicants reaffirm their commitment to diversity in all phases of business.
We appreciate the consideration the Gaming Control Board has extended to our previous recommendations, and hope that it will continue to consider our comments. They are submitted with our genuine dedication to securing the best possible casino project for the City of Pittsburgh.
Ronald D. Porter Anne J. Swager
PITTSBURGH GAMING TASK FORCE MEMBERS
Ronald D. Porter – Co-Chair
President and CEO, RDP Consulting Service
Adjunct Instructor, Carnegie Mellon Heinz School
Anne J. Swager – Co-Chair
Executive Director, AIA Pittsburgh
A Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
Director of Concept Development
Eat ’n Park Hospitality Group
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Past Co-Chair – Riverlife Task Force
Richard DeYoung, AIA
President and CEO – WTW Architects
Rev. David Gleason
Senior Pastor – First Lutheran Church
Herman Jones, Ph. D.
Professor – Slippery Rock University
Former Mayor – City of Pittsburgh
Jonathan S. McAnney, Esq.
Attorney – Tucker Arensberg, PC
Former Educator – University of Pittsburgh
Executive Director – New Hazlett Theater
Managing Partner – Fourth River Development
President – Allegheny County Labor Council – AFL/CIO
Dean of the Heinz School
Carnegie Mellon University
Patrick Ford – ex officio
Director of City Planning – City of Pittsburgh
Dan Onorato – ex officio
County Executive – Allegheny County