Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Market8 Casino

Three state officials have endorsed Market8 as the city's next casino. Michael O'Brien, John Taylor, and Mark Squilla considered several presentations and decided that Market8's Market East location presented the best economic possibilities.

Indeed Market8's Center City address could impact the surrounding area, and if it's done well, could impact it positively. Certainly compared to isolated proposals similar to SugarHouse and Harrah's, Market8 has the opportunity to integrate into the fabric of the city. Even with SugarHouse's forgotten hotel tower promises, it was always an island venue with poor walkability. It benefits the city in the tax it generates for the state, and nothing more.

Unfortunately this is what the casino opposition wanted when they finally ceded its inevitability, a flashy suburban center as easily ignored as a thoughtless strip mall. But we shouldn't discount the opposition camp completely. Though they seem to have lost some steam in the last few years, what SugarHouse has become and how it continues to evolve, proves some of the opposition's arguments against casinos and shows us where the potential ills in the Market8 proposal lie.

It's easy to look at bland proposals for "another SugarHouse," even Xfinity's Sports Complex proposed casino, then turn to Market8 and see something flashy in a worn part of town, a neighborhood that needs this shot of adrenaline. But things too good to be true are too easy to see.

Remove Market8's exciting hotel tower and it's SugarHouse without a parking lot. If we've learned anything in Philadelphia, not just from casinos, it's that phased development is a developer's route to a permit. Once Market8 gets the green light, there is little stopping its team from offering us the lowest common denominator.

What's worse than an empty Gallery at Market East? A windowless gaming parlor across the street? It could be. Parx, SugarHouse, and Harrah's, their crowds caravan to the regions of nothingness to gamble and nothing more. If Market8 finagles its way out of the hotel component, isolated gaming will be squatting on valuable real estate. Of course it's hard to view the Disney Hole as a valuable chunk of land, but in five years we could be cursing ourselves for allowing it to happen, complaining that Market8's unsightly slot barn is just another Gallery.

It may be an obstacle difficult to overcome. The state's relationship with casinos is anything but dynamic, which is how they land in barren wastelands and suburbia. Oddly this is one thing Detroit has managed to do right, at least relatively. MGM Grand and Greektown Casino both house large hotel towers, and Greektown Casino stands integrated in one of the struggling city's most thriving neighborhoods.

Unless our state gaming commission has an epiphany and considers a casino license a means to offer more than gambling, much more, any casino in the state stands to be exactly the same no matter where it's dropped.

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