Casino proposed for Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has an urban redevelopment plan in the works to enhance students’ city experience. Competition for Pittsburgh’s lone slots license heated up this week with the news of a joint proposal by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. and Forest City Enterprises for a $1 billion-plus Station Square Casino complex. The plan, unlike the joint proposal of the Isle of Capri Casinos and Pittsburgh Penguins, does not include the new hockey arena that many in the city so desire.
On the heels of shopping meccas such as South Side Works, the Waterfront, and the Strip District, three groups currently remain in contention for the rights to the $50 million slots license. All of the plans include extensive neighborhood development.
Harrah’s Station Square Casino would operate a casino that would be developed along with condominiums by Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises.
“We’re going to create, if you will, a new neighborhood for Pittsburgh,” Brian Ratner, Forest City’s vice-president of East Coast development, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last Tuesday.
Ratner also informed The Tartan that the plan features clubs, all-ages music venues housing a wide variety of genres, and restaurants. “Even the college students that are of gambling age are going to be on tight budgets, so the facility will not be all about gambling,” he said.
Detroit casino operator Don Barden would be the lead developer for a $300–$350 million Majestic Star Casino and entertainment complex on North Shore property. Barden owns 17 acres of riverfront property near Heinz Field. Four restaurants, a sports bar, a beer garden, a coffee shop, two nightclubs, and a 1000-seat amphitheater are included in this plan, according to a January 24 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report.
The Isle of Capri Casinos and Pittsburgh Penguins’ plan would cost more than $1 billion for a casino, arena, and neighborhood development in the lower Hill District. This would include residential and office development near Mellon Arena. The Post-Gazette reported late last Friday that Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is frustrated by certain aspects of this deal: The Penguins confirmed that the Isle of Capri deal prevents any sort of arena discussion outside the slot machine plans.
Rendell warned that the Penguins should have a backup plan lest they do not secure the license deal, reported the Tribune-Review on Sunday, January 23.
“We’re looking for an arena regardless of whether it is included in the slots proposal. The city needs a new multi-purpose arena,” said Dick Skrinjar, director of communications for Mayor Bob O’Connor.
“There is no room for any city tax money to do it,” Skrinjar said.
The Gaming Control Board may not make a decision until the end of 2007, the same year the team’s contract at Mellon Arena will expire.
“They only wanted to talk about a gaming license. That’s Plan A, but they need to start looking at Plan B,” Rendell told the Tribune-Review.
Local parking magnate Merrill Stabile, who had partners for a plan at a North Shore site, withdrew his $385 million bid on Wednesday, citing the strength of the competition.
“They’re all on a much grander scale,” Stabile told the Tribune-Review.
Each plan includes community enrichment. In the case of Harrah’s and Forest City, $1 million a year would be allotted for a community development fund. The Post-Gazette reported that plans for the Mellon Arena area would attempt to reconnect the Hill District to Downtown Pittsburgh.
Initial reactions from Carnegie Mellon students were positive: “I don’t know much about
the economics, but I believe it will be good for college students, as something more to do,” senior physics major Joe Lawrence said.
Skrinjar noted that Pennsylvania is a leading state in terms of rules and regulations for buying and leasing land from private owners for public use.
At the Station Square and North Shore properties, the respective developers already own the land.
“The mayor would like to see whoever has the best proposal that improves the quality of life and economic development in the Pittsburgh area,” Skrinjar said.