National Media Ridicule Nutter's $100 Million Casino Request as Pork

Last month, the Nutter administration submitted a $2.6 billion wish list to the Obama transition team. At the top of the money pile – ahead of new schools and a youth study center? The Market East/Foxwoods casino – coming in at a cool $167 million* (correction: $125 million).

Just because there’s no plan in place doesn’t stop the City from putting it forth. After all, here was Terry Gillen’s reason for including the Market East casino project:

"We just want to make sure the opportunity for funding doesn't go away just because the project's not ready to be defined," said Terry Gillen, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority and senior adviser to the mayor.

Well, it’s not just Philadelphians who aren’t sold on that kind of logic. Earlier this week, the national press, including the Washington Post and CNBC, took notice of this line item after GOP leaders flagged it as one of the top examples of a stimulus package that was pork barrel politics as usual:

My favorite line?
"The mayors are calling a lot of their projects shovel ready. The question might be asked is what it is that they’re actually shoveling."
But more seriously, Nutter’s delineation of $125 million for the casino is troubling because it’s the first time a ballpark number has been put on the potential cost of the Market East location. Those costs include:
  • Market Street Corridor: Acquisition, construction, infrastructure and related costs to revitalize Market East Corridor and Convention Center District, including adjacent Chinatown development: $100 million
  • Casino Entertainment corridor: Construction of a new combined 50,000 square foot facility to serve the citizens among the developing entertainment corridor. The location would include the relocation of the 6th and 9th police districts: $17 million
  • Co-location of services: Co-location of engine 20, ladder 23 and medic 1 for casino entertainment district: $8 million
In addition, here’s the City’s public safety director being pretty frank that the City needs to have a reality check when putting a slots house at the heart of a business and residential corridor
Everett Gillison, deputy mayor for public safety, said $17 million requested for a new police facility would relocate the Sixth and Ninth Districts in a new building. An estimated $8 million more could be used to locate the Fire Department's Engine 20, Ladder 23 and Medic 1 in a facility that ideally would be combined with the police building, Gillison said. "We're going to have to change our thinking and at least be prepared" for the coming of Foxwoods to the Gallery, Gillison said.
That is worth discussing because I don’t know that folks in Fairmount counted on the loss of their police station as a casino "cost." As I said before, the Mayor’s team is talking about $125 million public tax dollars to get Market East to where they want it to be – a cost omitted in the frequent claims by city leaders that the casino itself would spur development along the Market East corridor. So what happens if (or when) the city doesn’t get this money from the Obama administration? What then? Who pays and what are we getting? The costs of the Market East location and the impact on the safety, health and wealth of all of Philadelphia's residents needs to be front and center in the dialogue around the move and indeed the siting of any casino in the City.

And KUDOS to Casino Free Philadelphia

for a glowing op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month.

Shouldering into Philadelphia may prove to be the American casino industry's Waterloo.

On one side are people like Chicago investor Neil Bluhm, who has targeted Northern Liberties and Fishtown (revitalized Philadelphia neighborhoods) for his SugarHouse casino. Another contender, the Pequot Indian tribe, recently changed its proposed venue to an existing mall just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell. So unlike the situation in Detroit, where casino projects could pose as alternatives to urban blight, in Philadelphia they clearly would be the blight.

Opponents point to a drain on restaurants and other small businesses that compete with casinos; more traffic and other disruptions in long-established and healthy urban neighborhoods; predictable increases in crime and other nasty byproducts of gambling addiction.

Casino-Free Philadelphia calculated that the casinos would end up pushing a net cost of $52 million a year onto the city.

That is enough to scare anyone. Opposition "has united people of very different political beliefs," says Dan Hunter, a lawyer and Casino-Free Philadelphia board member.

"We have strong conservatives and Republicans, and we have people like me who are strong leftist Democrats."

Read the rest here.

Great Piece!

Most especially coming from the WSJ, showing that which divides us is not as important as that which unites us.
Good going for the CFP team!

Joshua Vincent
Phree Philly

I'm embarassed for myself and City Hall

Two days ago I said in reply to a comment that Sam left somewhere that I would bet the mayor had solid lobbying priorities for the federal stimulus plan.
'Guess I was way freaking wrong.
I mean, how do you leave yourself open this wide. Did he really think the Obama administration was going to help him pay for a gambling hole straight out of the box? I mean, seriously?

I am not Obama acolyte, but even the casual study I've made of the guys character tells me that that's the kind of decision he'd let his high school interns veto it's so far off the mark of what he's going for.

Wow. Freaking WOW.

Great post, Helen. I'm just flabbergasted. And embarrassed that the Chief Executive of our City didn't see that he was laying himself wide open for ridicule.

Worse, as the Republicans try to undermine what is, probably, an overall well-thought out and reasonable stimulus plan from the new administration, all Nutter has done is give the GOP a talking point to use against opening the door for chaotic pork fest that a stimulus plan would be.

OK, I know I'm writing incoherently here, but I'm flabbergasted.
This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

especially if you compare Philly's request to another city's

In an earlier post, I recommended that people read the Mayor’s wish list as an example of the administration’s priorities and vision for the future. But you're right, after looking it over more carefully and making some comparables to other cities, I really do rescind that recommendation.

Rather, the majority of the Nutter wish list is more like a scribbling down of a random hodgepodge of requests from various departments rather than a real economic stimulus vision for the city. Where are things like bridging the digital divide or promoting greening in Philadelphia?

Take a look for example at Portland’s request. They asked $300 million for five projects that focused on transit, including bridge repair and parks and trails construction. That seems a lot more focused than what Philly put up.

Another View of the Mayor's Request List

Helen, I took your advice and read Philadelphia's list and other cities. The conclusion I came up with is that Philadelphia and other cities must have put together their best wish list. I saw some projects that I could support,such as, book mobiles,Branch Library Improvements, Renovations to the dell, and Chinatown Community Center. It does mention projects like greening of neighborhoods,demolishing poroperties, and water infrastructure. All in all I think they did an good job. At the end of the day, the submissions that Philadelphia and other Cites submitted will not be funded per project, but rather by some sort of allocation formula.

Be the Change you seek!!!!

I wouldn't say everything on the list is bad

There are plenty of things I would support: weatherizing homes; citywide supermarket development; potentially the residential solar energy revolving loan fund. There are also a lot of building projects that I would like to see happen (a health center targeting a high immigrant population) but when the city's on record as saying that they'll be downsizing their workforce, I question the ability to staff such a project adequately.

My concern is that Philadelphia was the second largest city requesting money out of 400 cities, and it asked for scattershot projects, one of the largest of which - for the Market East corridor - was explained by a city official as something they included because they didn't want to lose a shot at funding "just because the project's not ready to be defined."

I have a hard time believing that this was a targeted list submitted with serious intent for completion. It was too big for one thing and therefore made us particularly vulnerable to scrutiny. It had a lot of pet projects that wouldn't fit most people's definition of "main street recovery" (the airport patronage pit for example?), and as a result made us a national scapegoat by the GOP for "pork" barrel politics as usual.


I am using a lot of this to mangle karen heller's disgraceful column today.

I'm going to start referring to the Mayor as Mayor One-term.

Wow! Just read that article

Disgraceful? Ya' think?

"I would have loved to have had more time to do things better. I've apologized. Next time, we'll do better. We'll have much more public engagement, share information," Nutter said yesterday. "Then people can see what it's like inside the government and how you manage all of the parts. This is a massive enterprise, a huge undertaking. When you're in a flood situation, you don't have time to schedule a meeting."

Ok, so in the same quote, Nutter goes from paying lip service to public engagement, to ridiculing public engagement as "scheduling a meeting."

And later in the article?

Unfortunately, the mayor said, "you don't get everything until you go to heaven."

So those who disagree with a poorly explained, terribly justified, and horribly implemented policy to cut libraries "want everything?"

Unbelievably, this just keeps getting worse.

heller savaged in her comments

in the comments to that article, heller is literally ripped to shreds by her commenters, including sean dorn. a sampling:

I said it before, but people like this author don't want to listen. Yes Nutter inherited the problems. But he stuck his head in the sand. And if you remember and I quote "This snuck up on us" from Nutter. How's that? He did the easy thing. He lopped off what he thought would be easy. Close fire houses, firemen can't strike, cloase pools libraries rec centers, kids don't vote. But thankfully it blew up in his face.


In a recent listing I saw, the major delinquents of city property taxes was the City of Philadelphia and SEPTA, followed by several more that were city or big business-related.

the idea that tickles me the most is michael's nutter's claim that ""Then people can see what it's like inside the government and how you manage all of the parts. This is a massive enterprise, a huge undertaking. When you're in a flood situation, you don't have time to schedule a meeting.""

So when a massive undertaking like runnign city run into an emergency, the last thing we should do is put our heads together and come up with good solid solutions. No, the important thing is to stop thinking at all, and let the mayor take care of everything, as if he's Superman and Mensa rolled into one. the Mayor knows better, and no one else has good or practical ideas except for him.

pardon the blogwhoring, but i think my analogy about Michael Nutter permanently boarding up the family bathroom because of a leaky toilet is a good fit. the only mistake was that i neglected to refer to the outhouse as an "excrement center".

Actually, the doozy of a quote came from the news article

Nutter said he just wanted time to work on his proposal to get community groups and nonprofit organizations to operate programs in the 11 targeted libraries. He also said library supporters he met with during the weekend were "not necessarily thrilled" to hear their branches would be affected because the 11 branches are staying open.

"It's a theoretical thing you read about in newspaper that you're really not affected by until it happens," Nutter said.

1. Gee don't proposals to "community groups" to run libraries require actually contacting "community groups" kind of suspicious the striking lack of actual such meetings being scheduled.

2. Excuse me but folks in my neighborhood and each of the 11 closings were already well past the idea of the permanent closings you pushing all of uh last week were pretty aware that those closings were not going to be "theoretical". Perhaps you ment now the pain of library cuts will be more than "theoretical" to the people you still think are the only ones that matter, Mr. Mayor, because the folks in Kingsessing, Fishtown, Holmesburg, Ogontz and 8 other neighborhoods don't really count to you - at least according to your statement here, apparently.

MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

Karen Heller: 'the populist'

Karen Heller's blog is called "the populist." Uh, Karen:

Gee, I don't know - more money

for schools, or for a casino.

I mean if we spent it on casinos, the kids who drop out of school can pick up a few extra dollars dealing three card Monty to the exiting gamblers on Market Street (assuming they have any money left).

I'm having a really hard time figuring out which choice would be more compatible with progressive values. I wonder what Sam thinks?*

* (my cheap shot for the day).

And getting back to the question of cost

To view casinos as solely revenue generators and not realize the cost is a major failure for the Dem party which has backed gambling as a revenue generating tool across the country.

It's easy for AC and Las Vegas to do that - they're gambling destinations, where the money stays and the problems go home. But here in Philadelphia, placing a slots house atop the central transit line at a prime youth hangout, where everyone can be a SEPTA token or transpass away, is asking for trouble on a scale that no city has ever even dared - and that includes Detroit.

The $125 million figure should force a re-looking at this whole idea.

Why 30mn for a New Youth Center when we already have one?

I would like to know how $30mn for a New Youth Study Center when we already have one (with no net increase in jobs) is justifiable?

The Governor was out on the Ben Franklin Parkway in October acting like he had the money to build the New Youth Center when he was setting off fireworks for the bizarre and unpopular Barnes Museum Move. (You know, I thought succesful people with excess resources built museums, not beggars.)

How will a new Youth Correctional Center or the Casino make Philly or America more Globally Competitive? Where is the Mayor's conscience, Patriotism and sense of National Pride? This kind of rampant waste will turn us into a bankrupt country if we don't wise-up.

These disgracefully inane expenditures by our politicans have gotten WE THE PEOPLE here to the brink of economic ruin to begin with. Philly is no better than that Merrill Lynch CEO who spent $1,400+ for a waste basket or a $30,000. for a commode after we gave him our kids' TARP funds.

Is there no individual accountability anymore, must we just jump back into the Pork Barrel again? WHY TOLERATE THE SAME OLD SLOPPY WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY? WHERE IS THE CHANGE TO RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT? Looks like we'd save many many many millions if we kept the Barnes Museum in Merion! NO TARP FOR THE BARNES MOVE! Stop the Destruction of one of teh Philadelphia Region's most important National Landmarks!

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