I am Paul Snitzer and I am the chairman of the North Broad Community Coalition. I am submitting for the record slightly extended comments from the Coalition, copies of which have been provided to the stenographer and to PGCB staff.
The North Broad Community Coalition is a collection of neighborhood, educational, religious, civic, and business institutions whose members live, work, go to school, and pray in the neighborhoods surrounding lower North Broad Street, from City Hall to Fairmount Avenue. We are the stakeholders in the communities into which Tower Investments proposes to insert its casino. And we have come together to work with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to determine whether this proposal can feasibly and successfully be integrated into these thriving communities. Thank you for giving us the initial chance to present our views to this Board today.
The North Broad Community Coalition, Inc. ("Coalition") is a Pennsylvania not-for-profit entity that represents thousands of Philadelphia families who live, work, go to school, and pray within yards of the proposed Provence Casino. We include the primary registered community organizations for the neighborhood in which the casino is proposed, the neighborhood immediately across the street, and some nearby communities. We represent some of the City's most established religious institutions from across the spectrum, including Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Greater Exodus Baptist Church, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which has just commenced construction on a temple to, be home to all Mormons in this vicinity, a block from the proposed site). The schools we represent are independent and charter as well as a public school parent association. And we represent civic groups and businesses, including those that have dramatically invested in the current and future of North Broad Street. These are not new institutions. For example, Rodeph Shalom is one of the Commonwealth’s oldest synagogue and Friends Select is a Quaker School founded in 1689. A list of our current member organizations is attached. We are not an anti-gaming or a pro-gaming group. The Coalition is focused on determining whether the infrastructure and future of our community can support a casino and, if this Board selects our community as the site, what needs to happen to ensure the long-term and vibrant health of our communities. We have come together to participate vocally and collectively in this process now and, we hope, in the future.
We are the stakeholders -- the residents and the entities whose members have invested in and developed this robust area. We have visions for North Broad Street continuing its development as a center of this thriving and expanding community. This is not a dead-zone area of Philadelphia, but the heart of a growing mix of neighborhood, educational, religious and small-business institutions. And we do not want to see that future damaged by a casino development that may not fit in this area.
We are troubled by the unprecedented prospect of a large casino operation being inserted into densely packed urban neighborhoods that already suffer from traffic backups and parking shortages. These are neighborhoods that are already growing in myriad and exciting ways.
The parking and traffic studies presented by the applicant are in our opinion deficient, including the clearly flawed prediction that only 38 percent of gaming patrons will arrive by car or taxi See Table 3 to traffic report included with Local Impact Report. That is wholly inconsistent with the experiences of casinos in Philadelphia, Bensalem, Chester, Atlantic City, Detroit, New Orleans, or any other market outside of Las Vegas. Driving these neighborhoods’ streets at weekday rush is already a difficult and stressful task – a task that we respectfully suggest you undertake yourselves, personally – and the insertion of thousands of visitors during that rush hour will break our historic streets.
We are also concerned that the pattern we have seen at other local casinos, where criminals prey on victims not onsite, but immediately offsite, will occur in our neighborhoods. This is a particular concern because The Provence proposal relies heavily on off-site parking, public transit, and foot traffic through our community to deliver patrons. Provence's own economic impact report suggests that over 5 million visitors will wander our streets. See A-10 of Econsult report. Over recent decades, more and more people have made their homes in our neighborhoods and safety has dramatically increased. These neighborhoods must remain safe for all. A more aggressive safety solution is called for than what is currently proposed.
Look also at the immense potential of the City Branch – an old train line -- running directly beneath the proposed site. Some of our community see it as a future linear park -- a use similar to New York's High Line – itself a tremendous development potential and one potentially imperiled by this plan.
Finally, we also respectfully urge the Board to walk our area, and to do so early in the process. You will see a vibrant neighborhood that is full of life, where the schools and businesses serve the people who live, work, and learn here.
On a weekday morning, you will see children at the Mathematics Civics and SciencesCharterSchool immediately across the street from the hotel/casino's front door, or a block north of the casino at 17th and Spring Garden where the Julia R. Masterman Laboratory School has its home. There are numerous schools within blocks of the proposed casino, including public, charter, parochial/religious and independent schools. On the weekend, there are as many or more houses of worship, and on our various Sabbaths, often overlapping prime casino hours, families and children worship and study in the immediate vicinity.
This is not a community with the infrastructure for massive numbers to drive in and out. And it's a community that might be compromised if a very large drive in/drive out attraction is slapped down without sufficient development support, if such support is possible. It is reasonable for us to ask how this casino complex will benefit the thousands of people who live in the adjacent neighborhoods, the businesses that have been established there, the children who go to school there. And whether the community can stand a major project that exacerbates an already congested traffic and parking situation.
And look at Broad Street as a whole. Below Vine you have tourism and medical development abounding. From Vine Street to Fairmount, the residential communities that abut Broad Street have lept to grow on Broad Street itself.
We do want to note that Tower and Mr. Blatstein personally have been very accessible to our members, and to us as a group, throughout this process. We appreciate that dialogue.
Thank you for considering our testimony and for making a concerted effort to focus on which proposal will best fit the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth.
We look forward to providing our further insight as this process continues.