By now you’ve surely seen the pretty pictures and read numerous stories that detail at length a story we first told you about in April. Bart Blatstein of Tower Investments has come forward with a bold proposal to build Philadelphia’s second casino at Broad & Callowhill, as part of a giant entertainment complex that will include the former Inquirer Building. Last night, at Tendenza, at one of the swankiest press conferences in recent memory, Blatstein described his plan to media members, local pols, and others.
In a nutshell, Blatstein envisions a 120,000 sqft casino on the 1500 block of Callowhill, a 125-room hotel in the Inquirer building, two blocks of shopping on the roof of the casino with a French flavor, as well as a garden, a swim club, a theater, a spa, and plenty of food and drink options. He’s coined the development “the Provence,” and has tapped Hard Rock International as a casino partner.
Here are some renderings, captured from a promotional video on the project’s website:
The 676 onramps have never looked better
And just to provide a little perspective, here’s what this site looks like now:
A distinctly less fancy current view
The Inquirer Building from the 676 onramp
Without question, this area is in need of improvement. And the Inquirer Building cries out for a creative and appropriate adaptive reuse. And looking at the pretty renderings is extremely exciting and makes us want to throw both arms around this project.
On the other hand…
Wasn’t the original Sugarhouse proposal far more exciting and awesome than what we’ve gotten so far? What guarantees that a similar story won’t play out? And do we really want a new casino at this location? Do we want a second casino at all? Are there any success stories of American cities integrating a casino complex with their downtown areas without generating the negative elements that near neighbors surely fear?
Not even close to what we got. Image from howardmodels.com
The fact is, North Broad Street is in the midst of a tremendous turnaround and is poised to take the next step with the (hopefully) upcoming renovation of the Divine Lorraine. Removing the casino aspect, Tower’s proposal would clearly be a tremendous positive for North Broad. With a casino, there’s definitely a risk that the momentum could be slowed or stopped completely. By our estimation, the casino will have to be done just right for the project to have a neutral or net positive effect on the area, and any execution flaws could prove disastrous.
It’s encouraging that the developer behind the project is both extremely knowledgeable regarding Philadelphia real estate and has experience doing large-scale mixed-use projects. But while the Piazza is one of the most impressive and important projects we’ve seen in this town in a decade, most would agree that there are several imperfections there, notably on the commercial side. Hopefully, Tower has learned those lessons and comes to this new project equipped with a new approach.
Will the rooftop stores be more successful than the shops that the Piazza?
Whether any of this ultimately happens will hinge on whether the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awards the second Philadelphia license to Tower and Hard Rock International. Plans are due by the middle of next month, and there will almost certainly be several other applications. Will this be the one to win out? Should it be the one to win out? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, find a comfortable chair, as we’ll be watching this thing for years.