Report from Harrisburg: Foxwoods to South Philly (In A Tent?)

Update -- 1:39 pm -- The Gaming Board rules that Foxwoods gets extension but reiterates for it not to "waste it's time" on any other site but the waterfront at the level promised. Unanimous.

Helen Gym is in Harrisburg, and reports that Foxwoods says it will be operation in South Philly in May 2011, but wants a "temporary facility." (I am sure that will be beautiful.) And, it might ask for a relocation later. The Gaming Board would have to consent to either of these. More quickly jotted notes:

On conditions for the extension:

    • PCGB lawyers recommend conditions as follows: within 30 days of board extension provide plan for 1500 slots at it's approved location; provide written monthly updates on financing on approved location; within six months provide a financing plan; within 3 months of all architectural renderings, all documents related to construction of facility, including timeline, etc. In total 10 recommendations all of which state at "it's approved location." Last recommendation is negotiating with community groups.
  • On timing:

    • Foxwoods responding that they're worried about the timeline that they "might be in default of." They don't like the first month plan or the drawings for the facility; Dopn't like timeline for permits and licenses- "we can't control what the govt does." These things include mandated community negotiations, which "puts an axe over our head"
    • Gaming Board member says he'll revoke the license if they try to move; another said that they don't want to hear about phases and "want some sort of assurance that they'll have a facility".
    • Commissioner asks: you have six months, "are you going to do anything?"

    On the nature of the facility:

    • Foxwoods says that it needs time to assess the situation to make a "quality competitive facility"
    • Commissioner reiterates says that we voted for what you proposed in 2006. You made a commitment to this board and to this Commonwealth and we're going to hold your feet to the fire.

    On the location:

    • Office of Enforcement notes that Foxwoods lacks most basic permit at Columbus Blvd., which is the zoning and use permit.
    • Commissioner asks if, based on the original proposal, they would be prohibited from getting permits.
    • Chair: "Can't reiterate enough the concern of the board any discussion of relocating. I cannot say it emphatically enough that if this petition is granted we expect that facility to be on Columbus Blvd and in the way it was presented."
    • Any discussion of relocating "is a fool's errand."

    OK now lets call it

    They want South Philly. In a tent on a parking lot. Yesterday, if possible.

    Gee I wonder if its Rendell or Nutter that are the fool in that "fool's errand" expression.
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    Recognition

    Obviously there are any number of factors for the complete failure of the Gallery/Strawbridges plan, but I hope that the coalition that worked to keep the casino away from the Chinatown neighborhood can be recognized for the importance of its role.

    The City and local politicians, who had themselves been marginalized from the casino-siting process, turned around and tried to push the relocation through without anything close to sufficient community input. The consequences of that are a significant part of why the relocation bottomed out.

    A frequent IKEA/Lowes shopper

    I'm sure I will be reminded of this day for years to come.

    Or maybe Foxwoods bungles the whole thing and we end up with an even more neighborhood friendly final solution - which would be best of all.

    I see Jethro's participation got special mention in all the news coverage.
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    I think the responsibility for that is on the state

    and I'll leave it for more involved people to show up and talk strategy, but I think that as much pressure as possible should be put on that front.

    From these second-hand accounts, it sounds like Foxwoods would prefer to move, and doesn't see the Columbus Boulevard location as particularly financially viable.

    But the state, like you said, wants everything built yesterday. Which leaves us in a position of Foxwoods and the state fighting out exactly how shitty the final design can be, with the real possibility that Foxwoods can't afford to build anything particularly nice.

    The state has to step back and decide to cut its losses and aim for a responsible re-site at a scale that is economically feasible.

    Its an interesting strategic question

    Who has the "juice" in terms of steering the gaming board? Rendell obviously was a huge fan of the relocation plan. What happens, whose voice predominates if Foxwoods does lose the license? The gaming board still does not seem really very warm to public input on its decisions. I wonder what can be done to change that dynamic.
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    After-school activities?

    In one Pennsylvania casino there were fifteen incidents of underage gambling in a 7-month period, and those are just the folks that got caught.

    http://www.pgcb.state.pa.us/?pr=280

    time to pull the plug on philly casinos

    There just isn't any reason to continue to say things like "...but if there have to be casinos in Philadelphia..." We never needed them and we sure don't need them now. We have been at this for 40 months and are prepared to continue for as long as it takes. From the AP:

    http://www.philly.com/philly/wires/ap/news/state/pennsylvania/20090828_a...

    "A leader of the protesters predicted that a gloomy economic future for legalized gambling and unflagging local opposition from local groups , including civil disobedience such as obstructing bulldozers and blocking traffic , would prevent either of the Philadelphia casinos from succeeding or even opening.

    "The writing is on the wall that the Philly casinos are dead," said Jethro Heiko of Casino-Free Philadelphia."

    SS United States and Casinos

    Casinos are coming. Once again this is an opportunity to save the SS United States, an historical icon, create a legitimate tourist attraction, and add more hotel rooms to Philadelphia. Restoring the SS United States with the exception of parking which is a problem for any location, will have the least impact on any Philadelphia neighborhood.
    Let's make the best of this by lobbying for the SS United States for the casino location. It could always be moved if circumstances dictate.

    Yes, let's put the Philly Casino on the SS United States

    and then send the SS United States on a ten year world tour.

    They don't have the money to put a tent up in South Philly? What makes you think they have the 100 million they need to restore the SS US?

    Misrepresentation of Asian Americans United in Daily News

    In today's Daily News, Chris Brennan does a hack job on Asian Americans United in an effort that can only be described as deliberately divisive.

    For the record, Asian Americans United believes that the defeat of a casino is a victory for any neighborhood that stops it. We cheered for the waterfront activists who made it happen last year, and we'll celebrate in our share of victory for what has to be seen as a significant blow to the casino industry in Philadelphia.

    At the same time, everything in AAU's history has shown that our beliefs about neighborhoods and justice extend far beyond Chinatown's geographic boundaries. We're central partners in building the No Casino in the Heart of Our City Coalition, a coalition of more than 50 citywide groups that opposes predatory gambling in the heart of Philadelphia. We've built the No Blank Checks for Casinos campaign - because as much as proponents tout jobs and revenue, we know casinos are cutting deals behind doors on everything from tax abatements to utility caps to assessments that cost all of us Philadelphians. Chinatown, more than anybody, has put its heart and its people's stories on the table in making real the deeply human and social costs of predatory gambling and gambling addiction. In other words, we've highlighted issues and concerns that affect all city residents - not just Chinatown.

    We'd like to think that as Foxwoods makes its third attempt to site elsewhere, that Chinatown helped send it off in the weakest and most vulnerable state it's ever been in - and that's with little, if any, help from city leaders.

    It's wrong for Brennan to frame a year's worth of work and heart and politicization as some sort of NIMBY throwaway. Asian Americans United remains committed to the fight against predatory gambling. We're still co-owners of the No Slots Spot along with Casino Free. And together we'll celebrate and memorialize Chinatown's efforts in the broader fight - not over location - but over the notion that gambling has any viable place in Philadelphia's future.

    Point Missed

    Helen misses my point by a mile and drops the context just in case she comes near it. It's just silly to claim I'm trying to be "deliberately divisive." I was putting into context the community participation on the casino issue to date.

    My story today notes that Jethro Heiko of Casino-Free Philadelphia said the protests and other actions caused delays that he says will continue at South Philly. It also points out that Chinatown was silent on the issue until Foxwoods tried to move to Market Street. And finally, it looks south and finds community groups that protested the Columbus Blvd. site, went quiet when the project tried to move and are again revving up for protests.

    It's possible that some people who live or work in Chinatown will continue to organize on the casino issue. The question I asked was whether the community would remain engaged since the project was no longer a potential neighbor. Ellen Somekawa's answer was pretty clear -- she didn't know.

    Maybe more comprehensively explained context would ensure

    that no one could - at least in your eyes - "drop" context.

    You quoted DiCicco verbatim, without providing further context on whether his statement (that Center City would be a better location) is based on objective analysis rather than NIMBYism and/or political pandering.

    You also quote Nutter that a South Philly location would be "wrong," as compared to Center City, without examining the political context of his assessment.

    Perhaps you missed this?

    The topic of my comment above was putting community involvement on the casino issue into context. You pivot away from that to the politics of the issue.

    Did you miss these three paragraphs, which came immediately after the quotes that you mention? [Again: context.]

    Foxwoods and SugarHouse, the city's other casino, which is being built on the Delaware riverfront in Fishtown, faced two years of delays after winning licenses. City Council, neighborhood groups, anti-casino activists and Nutter's staff helped stall the projects.

    "They've been stymied at every turn," said Fred Jacoby, an attorney for Foxwoods.

    With Nutter urging relocation last summer and Gov. Rendell on board, Foxwoods agreed to consider it while SugarHouse refused to move. The city swiftly approved zoning for Foxwoods, first at the Gallery at 11th and Market streets and then at the former Strawbridge & Clothier department store at 8th and Market.

    I still don't see where you provided context

    for Nutter's opposition, or DiCicco's opposition. In your article, you clearly imply that there was a NIMBY component to the AAU's opposition, and to the opposition of the South Philly community groups - but I don't see where you give context for the positions of Nutter or DiCicco.

    Arguably, you put community involvement in context (I'm not sure I entirely agree with your characterization there, or that your contextualization of the AAU was entirely fair). But what about politician involvement?

    He quoted an individual AAU member

    who would seem to oppose casinos across the board herself but who said "its a question" indicating a fret on her part that there might be little bit of loss of momentum now that its back on Reed St. And its a direct quote.

    This all seems to have a whiff on browbeating the press for not repeating the exact approved phrasing from the appointed spokespeople which seems a tad "precious" for a movement thats supposed to be increasing democracy and coalition building.
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    Sean

    Stop being an ass. Way to jump on the bandwagon despite everything I've said on the blog.

    Give Brennan credit - at least he admits he wanted to create community division by trying to prove nimbyism. But given the copious, and I do mean copious, times you've harped on this and responded to me as a key rep of AAU, you have no excuse.

    Gross. Seriously.

    And re: that "individual member of AAU"

    Ellen Somekawa is pretty much the moral and intellectual heart of AAU and most any coalition and group she belongs to. Her rep far outlasts Brennan's cheap shot and yours. Just for the record.

    You might want to take a deep breath

    Most people reading that story are not focused on two quoted sentences that you feel were not taken in context because honestly most people are not focused on whether AAU is cast in exactly the right light of standing in united opposition to casinos across the board.

    Its entirely likely that the gaming board's decision had everything to do with declining confidence in Foxwood's finances, that if they were not able to put up enough money to buy off Gramercy that they are no longer a responsible financial agent to deliver the goods. And their concern about getting tax revenue pronto trumps the expressed wishes of every single elected official who represents the area in question.

    If you want to go out of your way to antagonize as much as possible one of two or three journalists who bother to cover the issue at all over arelatively minor issue, go for it. I don't think it serves your cause well, though.
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    Once again, Sean

    You are confusing your interpretation of what I wrote for what I actually wrote. I'm not browbeating the press for not repeating anything. I'm pointing out that the "context" provided in the article was selective.

    I respect your tendency to be a devil's advocate, Sean, as a kind of protector against "progressive" dogma - but the problem is that you're a bit compulsive about it, and in being so, tend to create straw men.

    What percentage of people on this forum

    would have believed as a result of that one quote that AAU has officially shifted its position? Do you really think this was necessary fight to pick?
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    I got to say

    the phrasing of the article appears to accurately quote one person's read of the situation - which is probably for what its worth accurate - some folks will continue to fight the casinos regardless, some folks will drop off as it becomes less immediately pressing, some folks in South Philly who were rabble rousers before but whose intensity had dropped off with the resiting will likely spring back into action. I don't see that as some terrible misrepresentation of what is likely to happen. And it remains an issue that Asian Americans don't just live in Chinatown - in fact South Philly - especially around Washington Ave and northern Passayunk Square - is (outside of Olney) one of the fastest growing Asian American population centers in the city. And for those people the casino just got closer and more convenient.

    What I notice more is that in the comments is how completely schizophrenic responses are to this. For casino supporters somehow Michael Nutter is alone and completely responsible for delaying the arrival of needed revenue and this is the sign he's the "worst mayor ever". Never mind that the governor, the Doc-supported state rep and the Fumo-endorsed State Senator all also strongly supported the re-site every bit as much. Nope its Nutter's fault and Nutter's fault alone we don't have a casino already and they are pissed. That no good bum.

    On the other hand for many casino opponents, Nutter is also Satan for not doing more to fight and slow down the casinos and for ever going along with any plan for putting it anywhere at all.

    What strikes me is how totally 100% contradictory the two versions of reality are. He can't both be Satan for going along with Rendell and the evil casino operators and be Satan for being a secret obstructionist to casino development, covertly plotting their sabotage at every turn.

    What also is striking with all the politicos lining up to express their disappointment at the decision, it also seems to clearly contradict any idea that our local electeds are secretly driving the process. Clearly once they passed the gaming law and the state got used to the idea of the revenue coming in, gambling in PA quickly became a juggernaut bigger than Rendell, bigger than Fumo and friends, bigger than Dougherty and friends. Which really sort of weakens the whole usefulness of the "casinos are the corrupt product of corrupt politician" theme I've been seeing going around to try to tap into outrage over Fumo's convictions for self-dealing. Gambling in PA is monster moving of its volition these days. It's no longer any single one politician's "baby" which has serious strategic implications if one's aim is really to stop them in Philly.
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    More missing context

    On the other hand for many casino opponents, Nutter is also Satan for not doing more to fight and slow down the casinos and for ever going along with any plan for putting it anywhere at all.

    I'm sure that for at least some (at least for me), the problem wasn't as much that Nutter "went along with any plan," but that he didn't live up to expectations of how he would run City government. He endorsed a proposal without requiring adequate planning processes (and that's giving him a huge benefit of doubt). As such, he did nothing to change, at least in appearance, the idea that large-scale decisions in Philly get made at the behest of moneyed interests, sacrificing the long-term progress of the City and simultaneously disenfranchising wide segments of his constituency.

    And for sure, in my eyes, that's pretty Satanic.

    If Market St. would have generated more revenue

    and more of that revenue would have come from tourists and non-residents and both locations will feed on a disproportionate number of poor and elderly - all of which I think is likely true - then Market St. was the lesser of two evils, but maybe not by much. If this leads to a total rebid or reconsideration of the license eventually (which still remains to be seen) this might be one small step backwards towards a larger step forwards. Or it might not work out that way and just be a very small step backwards.

    I agree 100% in terms of a full and transparent planning process for Market St. the "transparency" mayor fell well short of living up to what was promised. But there was some process, some planning - as insufficient as it was. On the other hand I'm having a hard time seeing a state patronage board elected by noone at all overrule every single elected official representing the districts in question as a "triumph for democracy". Our electeds may be bums (in fact you will frequently hear me say they are) but they are our bums and ultimately we can vote them out. Who does the state gaming board answer to at this point?

    For me, for the same reason why the SRC ultimately short circuits local democratic control over our schools and thats wrong, there is a possible potential problem with a board elected by noone erasing the plan supported by every single elected official whose district covered the two sites. It makes it hard for me to wave a flag and say "Woo hoo!. Particpatory democracy in action!"

    Both sites suck. The take away lesson from this should be that local processes need to be much better but they are still better than processes where the state completely ignores local input.

    And besides all that if you sincerely believe Nutter is "pretty Satanic" for supporting the resite, shouldn't you also say the same thing about Rep. Mike O'Brien and Senator Farnese and Councilman Frank DiCicco and every single member of City Council who voted unanimously to support the zoning changes and Governor Ed Rendell? Consistency says every single one of them would be equal co-Satans.

    In general, in both this and the budget mess (and especially in the continuous harping on Latrice Bryant more prominent on other places than this) I think people expect the mayor (any mayor) to magically act as some sort of omnipotent "knight in shining armor" separate from the people they themsleves helped elect and re-elect to City Council and to Harrisburg. It doesn't work that way. If you voted for a state rep and a city councilperson and a governor that supports gambling unconditionally as a source of revenue why is it especially horrible for the mayor to pursue what he percieves to be the better option that every single other person you helped elect actively supports?
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    There are a lot of "ifs" there.

    Perhaps they exist, but I haven't seen any studies that showed that a Market Street location would result in greater revenue from tourists an non-residents. I certainly haven't seen that given a thorough examination of costs and benefits (one which included plans of any specificity), the Market Street location would have been any more desirable. (FWIW, From my arm-chair planning perspective, I'd say that the Market Street location would have had significantly more long-term negative impact on City planning as a whole.)

    But my whole point is that Nutter endorsed the results of an entirely insufficient planning process. You say that there was some process, and indeed, it seems that there was: but was it a process where Nutter sat with certain vested interests and agreed with them that the Market street location would suit them better, or was it a process where thorough studies were conducted and planners solicited input from residents in inclusive planning?

    Once again, Sean, you have mischaracterized what I said. I didn't say that Nutter was pretty Satanic for supporting the resite. I spoke to his endorsement of an opaque decision-making process and lending his weight to the imposition of the results of that process on a community where there was strong opposition.

    Let's get to specifics Chris

    You spoke to Ellen for a good long time and chose to only pick four words that focus on "community participation" and Chinatown's role two years earlier.

    You refused to cite the fact that Ellen told you in that same conversation that AAU remained committed to the fight.

    You failed to mention that yesterday Chinatown Preservation Alliance sent you a press release that said in no uncertain terms that they would "support" South Philadelphia communities against the return of Foxwoods because of its proximity to neighborhoods.

    Yeah, that's not being divisive.

    What's particularly detestable about your characterization of AAU and Chinatown is that more than any other community Chinatown has been the least NIMBY of all. Our concerns have always focused on the devastating impact of predatory gambling and less on issues like traffic and congestion. It's true that it took a slots house landing on our borders for us to confront the pain that gambling addiction has wreaked on vulnerable Asian communities. Since then we've worked relentlessly to raise this as a broader issue for city and social service agencies.

    These human costs are real. You were at our public meetings where residents were in tears begging for the future of their families and children. Do you remember the testimony of young children describing what it's like to grow up with gambling addiction in the family - the poverty, domestic violence and neglect they endure? We bared our hearts and put our stories and tears before blank-faced boards and city leaders - do you really think we'll let this go because it was some sort of a ploy?

    Last night before your story ran I got a call from one of Chinatown's immigrant leaders - a man whom the mainstream media has largely ignored despite his tremendous local leadership on this issue. He asked me for help in translating a banner for a gathering of Chinatown leaders tomorrow. The words he wanted said something like "Casinos: Stay out of Chinatown; Get out of Philadelphia." He asked for help in reaching out to the many communities who have fought around the Market East location so that Chinatown could show its solidarity with the broader struggle. He wasn't thinking press; he was thinking heart.

    Actions will speak louder than words. Some people in other neighborhoods have made their positions clear. But AAU and others in Chinatown will do what's right for our common future as a city. It was flat out irresponsible and mean-spirited for you to figure you could typecast us otherwise.

    Point of parliamentary procedure...

    In a rational discussion, everyone is entitled to their opinion but not an alternate set of facts. This discussion has lurched from silly to absurd. I'm going to make a few final points and then bow out.

    Some back-story: On Thursday, Helen called me to discuss a story I had in the paper that predicted the action taken Friday by the Gaming Control Board. She made a point of thanking me for mentioning the Chinatown efforts to organize against Foxwoods, saying that not every reporter does that. Helen, in an e-mail today, said I "deliberately tried to undercut, undermine, misrepresent and trash a group that's done principled work over the past year."

    That screed and the posts above are based on two sentences in a newspaper story -- a question I asked and the answer I got.

    Helen's claims don't add up. I just did a clip search. I've mentioned Asian Americans United in six stories about Foxwoods in the last year. I re-read those stories, which live on forever thanks to the Interent, and find nothing to support Helen's accusations.

    And one clarification to some of Helen's complaint: I never said Asian Americans United was giving up the casino fight. In fact, I never said anyone was giving up the casino fight. I asked the AAU executive directer if she thought the Chinatown community -- not one group like AAU but the whole community, which has other associations -- would drop the fight now that Foxwoods has to return to South Philly. She told me she didn't know. I believed her. And I reported accurately what she said.

    And on that note, I'm signing off. Have a nice weekend.

    From Sunday's Chinatown rally

    Among those in attendance (list not at all comprehensive): Dr. Ying Zhang Lin, Mai Yip, Debbie Wei, and Mabel Chan – Chinatown community leaders and co-rally organizers (with AAU); Rev. Robin Hynicka, Arch Street United Methodist Church; Bishop Audrey Bronson, president, and Rev. Terrence Griffith, Political Action Chair, Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity; Harry Leong, Chinese Christian Church and Center; Justin Shilliday and German Parodi, Liberty Resources; Jethro and Hazel Heiko and Lily Cavanaugh, Casino Free Philadelphia; and Mary Yee and Adam Cutler, Chinatown Preservation Alliance.

    To address Josh's question a bit: for those of us engaged in community based struggle, any qualification of victory has less to do with the final outcome than in who’s around you when that outcome – whatever it is – becomes clear.

    So claiming "victory"

    does not make one in any way culpable for the end results?

    Interesting theory.

    I'm troubled by failing to see how thats substantively different from our former president's declaration of "Mission Accomplished".

    "Fighting the good fight" matters, but so do end results. Of course I am also a little bit more skeptical about handing out either "praise" or "blame" for anything other than than the state of Foxwood's finances.
    -Sean
    MrLuigi, my cat, actually only types half as badly as I do.

    Sean,

    Drop it? There's not really any point to this now.

    In general there are risks

    by claiming causality in something by declaring it a "victory", one innevitably takes ownership of the ultimate results of that "victory" both good and bad. To me thats not just political reality, thats entirely fair. If you say "we did this", you are claiming responsibility for the results, good and bad. Thats true across the board, beyond this one incident.

    Its entirely possible I misread something that was awkwardly phrased in Helen's post. If so I apologize, otherwise let's move on.

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