Chinatown

Dept. of miserable jobs: Sugarhouse's Asian Marketing Executive

(Update: Read WHYY's story here)

Remember how Chinatown made that big ole fuss over a neighborhood casino?

Here's more proof why: Sugarhouse’s Asian Marketing Exec:

Sugarhouse Asian marketing exec-Part1

Sugarhouse Asian marketing exec-Part2-c

Sugarhouse Asian marketing exec-Part3

Side note: It’s particularly nice to know the qualifications are in keeping with Sugarhouse’s top-notch standards, i.e. "regularly required to walk, stand, see, talk and hear." (don't want to surprise applicants with unexpected job requirements!)

Is Foxwoods Going Down?

Because the news out of Connecticut just isn’t looking good:

On the brink of default, the Mashantucket Pequots are seeking to restructure $2.3 billion worth of debt, a senior adviser to the tribe said in interviews this week.

The debt is $1 billion more than the tribe's Foxwoods Resort Casino - North America's largest casino and once the world's most profitable - can sustain, the adviser said. . . .

In a letter distributed by e-mail last week, Michael Thomas, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, updated tribal members on the seriousness of the situation.

”Earnings are down considerably and there are no signs of immediate improvement,” he wrote. “... These are dire financial times for our Tribe.”

According to Bloomberg News, Foxwoods could be the largest tribal casino to default. So what to do?

Thomas – who faces tribal election this fall – apparently issued a letter saying he could give two cents about corporate rules and Malaysian investors and says he’ll pay his tribal members no matter how much debt he owes. And just to make super sure, Thomas states that he’s even passed a resolution calling upon the tribe to – and yes, this is a quote – put their "last borrowed dollars" into a lock box.

”Foxwoods is here to support our people not Wall Street,” he wrote. “Those who put the interests of bankers and bond holders ahead of our tribal community will have to answer to me. To make sure, I have introduced a resolution to take our last borrowed dollars and put them in a lock box only to be used for Government and Incentive.”

Now that’s a plan!

In brief: Yoo on trial?; Surprise! Casinos need parking

Ahhh, the lowly brief. When I was a reporter in Mansfield, OH, it was always a struggle to define your artistic style by finding the right cut-off point for the AP wire story, or in limiting your words to fit the news hole while your overcaffeinated news editor yelled at you. Then again, less is often more.

Take these two examples today:

  • On John Yoo:

    A convicted terrorist can sue a former Bush administration lawyer for drafting the legal theories that led to his alleged torture, ruled a federal judge . . . The order by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco is the first time a government lawyer has been held potentially liable for the abuse of detainees.

  • And on the Foxwoods fiasco:
  • [Councilman Frank] DiCicco was peeved that Rendell recently met with representatives of Foxwoods Casino to discuss concerns that Foxwoods' planned Center City site did not have enough parking. This after Foxwoods testified before Council that it had ample parking, and Mayor Nutter extolled the virtue of a site so close to public transit. . . . "I'm not happy that I was not included in those discussions," DiCicco said.

Foxwoods Casino Countdown: 3 . . .2 . . . 1

It’s hard to believe that today marks nine months to the day since a line-up of politicos from the Governor on down stood end to end in City Hall and declared the heart of Philadelphia as their target for the flailing casino industry. Employing every tactic in the book (including political threats and gaming board maneuvers), with a hearty dose of environmental racism toward Chinatown, Rendell and city leaders made it seem like there was no done deal like this done deal.

But after nine months, where have things gone?

The casino, in Dan’s colorful imagery, has now lurched to Strawbridge’s, its third attempted site, where it sits fallow today. No plans. No drawings. Nothing "on the back of a napkin" as Mayor Nutter said last fall, to show what this thing will look like, what it will offer Philadelphians, and how it will contribute to a desperate economy.

Is it telling that despite seeking PR for its support of last weekend’s International Championship bike race, Foxwoods gave up its promotional table to Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center – perhaps because there’s nothing to promote?

Is it telling that last week’s City Council session came and went with barely a mention of Foxwoods’ zoning permit for Strawbridge’s that has sat for over a month, while owners squabble?

And is it telling that with only two more Council sessions to go, neither Foxwoods nor the City has anything to show for all their boasting and posturing of a December 2009 opening.

At the same time, a number of things have happened that bodes poorly for Foxwoods:

Deal? What deal? But the casino circus still rolls into Council

So, let's recap here:

  • For months, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), chaired by Rendell BFF Ron Rubin, has been claiming that they own the Strawbridge's building which they intend to lease to themselves via Foxwoods casino, whose lead investor is Ron Rubin's "charitable trust."
  • errr . . . they lied. OK they fudged facts since they are actually owners of Strawbridge's Unit A.
  • BUT the bill passed through committee and will be read in Council this morning anyway!

Now for the record, the Councilman promised he wouldn't bring anything to a vote because why would you want to deal with this?

The Strawbridge Building is a commercial condominium. DiCicco is concerned that there is something in the ownership agreement that would prohibit the bottom floors from being used as a casino. He is also worried that Gramercy might take either PREIT or City Council to court if the CED legislation is passed. He also said Gramercy could potentially file a lawsuit alleging that the zoning change lessened the value of its property.

But it begs the question again, what was the Planning Commission doing when it whole-heartedly gave the project its endorsement a few weeks back? or when everyone from the Mayor to the Councilman applauded the move to Strawbridge's?

And while all of city leadership bucks process, it's interesting how one tenant can say the same thing that our city leaders ignored from 1,000 people, 25,000 petitions, and the dozens of groups who are part of the No Casino in the Heart of Our City Coalition - which is that no one, not even the co-owners of a building, really thinks that casinos are a viable form of economic development.

An ambush at the Gaming hearings

Yesterday more than 70 Philadelphians headed to Harrisburg to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Hearing for what was supposed to be a "status update" on the Philadelphia casinos.

Instead, what many of us were greeted with was essentially an ambush - the announcement that Foxwoods used the status hearing to announce that they planned to move within a matter of months into the Strawbridge's building.

Residents and neighboring businesses have raised concerns over the scaffolding around the historic 8th & Market landmark which has been in place for weeks. After all, it would be highly inappropriate for a gambling establishment to start building out for a casino without first applying to the PGCB (the application process triggers a number of studies as well as some process).

Rendell, gambling, and the politics of fear - Part Deux

And so we’re back here again:

Harrisburg is losing patience. Rendell yesterday said that he was "disappointed" that the city's two casinos are not open. Rendell added that he would have to "weigh very heavily" any legislation proposed to strip Philadelphia of gaming-tax benefits.

Or in case you didn’t hear him clearly enough:

Foxwoods tribal chair convicted of felony-in violation of state law?

The relevant parts from Connecticut's The Day today:

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Michael Thomas, who was convicted in 1988 on drug-dealing charges, successfully cleared a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board investigation in 2006 despite a state law prohibiting convicted felons from obtaining gaming licenses there.

Thomas and the rest of the Pequot Tribal Council all underwent key-employee background investigations as part of ongoing plans to build a Foxwoods-branded casino in Philadelphia.

The board issued a license to Foxwoods Development Co., a wholly owned subsidiary of the tribe, and its Pennsylvania partners in February 2007 and made no mention of Thomas' felony conviction in its decision. The tribe has a 30 percent interest in the casino and will manage it.

Asian Americans United statement on Trump's federal casino lawsuit

The most ironic part of Donald Trump's federal lawsuit against the PA Gaming Control Board is his claim of its being a corrupt process. In any case, never say never in the life of PA's casino politics and the gambling industry.

Asian Americans United Statement on federal lawsuit

Asian Americans United is hopeful that the federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Gaming
Control Board sheds light on the sordid history of gambling in Pennsylvania. From midnight legislation to the backroom awarding of casino licenses to the placement of casinos over residents’ objections – these are the examples of the insider politics, back room deals and corruption that is endemic to the gambling industry.

"A Question of Place": An essay on the power of community

With all the news about the library and pool closings and Chinatown’s fight against a Center City slots barn, one thread ties these struggles together – the love of community. These struggles aren’t so much against something as much as they are a powerful statement of the sanctity of sacred spaces in our neighborhoods, of the rare places where the fabric of community is built, where our relationships with one another are fostered and cherished, and where lessons and values are passed onto new generations. Our communities are the heart of civil society.

Recently, Philadelphian Debbie Wei wrote just about the best piece I’ve ever seen on the notion of community and struggle in an essay "A Question of Place" published in Asian Week. Here's an excerpt:

As Philadelphia’s Chinatown fights a proposed casino mere feet from its doorstep, I’ve been thinking a lot these days about why saving Chinatown means so much to me.

Several years ago my youngest son, who studied kung fu and Beijing Opera in Chinatown, told me: "My favorite place to be is Chinatown. I know everyone there. I can walk around and hang out. The guy in the laundromat always gives me candy and everyone knows I’m a lion dancer and the old people all smile at me."

Chinatowns around the country represent an increasingly rare phenomenon. They are communities in the deepest sense: places not only defined by geography but also by memory and relationships. It is why my son would rather buy his candy in Chinatown even though he could get it cheaper at Walmart. When he buys his candy in Chinatown, he knows the clerks, he feels happy to see them and they are happy to see him.

The responsibility that comes with relationships and knowing that there is something bigger than yourself is part of what makes a community live — it is part of what makes us fundamentally human. It isn’t just about a geographic area. It is about emotion, about connection to a place.

It is a deeply moving and personal piece, especially at a time when our struggles seem greatest. As she writes:

"True progress has to do with the human heart and the relationships we build and sustain over time. Our future as a city is not about me and mine, not about rugged individualism, but about collective
responsibility. It’s about what is ours — all of ours.

When you see us in the streets protesting, this is why we fight.

Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczy wrote a nice Friday column about this as well. Ronnie was kind enough to reprint Debbie's essay on her blog post. And of course, you can find it at Asian Americans United’s website as well.

Asian Americans United statement on Mayor Nutter's signing casino bill into law

This morning, 24 hours after meeting with representatives from the Chinatown community, Mayor Michael Nutter signed the legislation both re-zoning the Gallery to a gambling district and designating an area from 6th to Broad Streets and Arch to Chesnut Streets as an area where a CED (commercial entertainment district - the name for a zone that permits gambling) may be laid.

Below is Asian Americans United's statement:

Asian Americans United is disappointed but not surprised by the Mayor’s decision.

It has been clear from the start that there has been no intent to engage in an inclusive process that respects the voices of residents and communities. Worse still has been witnessing the dismantling of processes that have been established in our city precisely to protect residents from capricious and self-serving development.

While Council sleeps on zoning, Terry Gillen talks casino deals, Sugarhouse on Market Street

This morning, City Council is expected to pass two bills that will re-zone the Gallery to a gambling district (CED), and re-designate an area from 6th to Broad Streets and Arch to Chestnut Streets as an area where a gambling zone "would be permissible."

For one of the City’s biggest projects, this could likely be the most fast-tracked in history. No plans, no proposals, no studies, and worse no questions. A Saturday Council hearing on November 1st saw up to 1,000 people in the streets, five hours of testimony from 60 speakers, and not a single question or dialogue among Council members before they unanimously voted it out of committee – adding a caveat that the rules would be suspended to set a special Nov. 6th hearing for first reading and that the Nov. 13th hearing would allow both a second reading and a vote on the same day.

City officials are silencing questions and asking Philadelphians to take a wait and see approach. But last month Mayoral advisor Terry Gillen gave a videotaped talk at the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association that gives troubling insight into the zoning legislation and what really is at stake – and perhaps, most troubling of all, the active role the administration might have as Foxwoods’ potential business partner in the Market East location.

It’s a long meeting (you can see the full video below), so I’ll help break it up for you:

First, the CED legislation is NOT exploratory in nature:

Contrary to city officials claiming that the CED legislation would only allow them to "explore" the Market East site, Gillen speaks candidly that the City and Foxwoods and the PA Gaming Control Board (PGCB) have an understanding that the CED could form the basis for a site license change – a process she said no one had done before and that city officials were "making up." She also implies how premeditated this is because they want things to happen before there's any possibility of the election impacting on the PGCB's make-up.

November 1: Talking casinos between Obama and the Phillies

Tomorrow City Council is holding a public hearing at 10 a.m. at City Hall on whether to re-zone the Gallery to permit gambling in the heart of Philadelphia.

Here’s a PSA about what’s at stake.

What’s interesting about this re-zoning, is that the broader area being discussed in the bill is actually 6th to Broad and Chestnut to Arch. This is the area that is defined as amenable to taking a CED (Commercial Entertainment District), which is the zoning specifically designed to permit gambling.

Let's repeat that again: A 16-square block area covering 6th to Broad Streets, Chestnut to Arch Streets. Take a look at that area here.

What’s it mean? Who knows?

After all, it’s our Mayor himself who said:

"I don't have anything on the back of a napkin to show what this would look like."

At a Society Hill forum earlier this week, Planning Commissioner Andy Altman denied that there was any intent to put a gambling strip on Market East, saying that the zoning process would protect that from happening. But in the same breath, he disregarded that same zoning process and said it was essential to forfeit zoning privileges in order to "get a process started" for Foxwoods. As residents pointed out to him after the forum, how do you say zoning doesn’t matter in one case, but it’s an essential protection in another?

So tomorrow, we’ll be headed to City Council to say slow up this process. A rush job after all feels like a hack job. Everyone knows you plan first and zone later. Doing otherwise raises eyebrows.

And in between the Phillies celebration and before canvassing for the most important election of our time, I'm inviting you to join hundreds of citizens for an hour or two Saturday morning to march from Chinatown to City Hall. We’re marching for neighborhoods and a better vision for Philadelphia, and we’re marching to make Philadelphia’s political process as worthy as its World Series title and as the deliverer of the PA electoral vote.

Saturday, November 1st
9 a.m. gathering
Chinatown gate: 10th & Arch Sts.

I’ll leave the last words on the significance of this hearing for Chinatown’s Debbie Wei.

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