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Casino just part of plan for Harrah’s

By Andrew Conte
Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The backers of Harrah’s Station Square Casino unveiled plans Monday for a $1 billion-plus development they characterized as a resort that would draw tourists from a wide region, create 2,000 jobs and forge a new city neighborhood. The proposal by Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, lead developer of the project, would include a $512 million slots casino, a hotel expansion and 1,250 condominiums on land east of the Fort Pitt Bridge.

Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., of Las Vegas, the world’s largest gambling company, would operate the casino if the group wins the $50 million state license for Pittsburgh’s slots parlor, but would not have an ownership stake.

As a community giveback, the group would establish a $25 million endowment for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, which developed Station Square in 1976. Forest City, now owner of the property, also would set aside $1 million a year for local community groups. Job seekers would be trained through Bidwell Training Center in the Hill District.

The developers estimated the Station Square casino would take in more than $550 million a year, said Brian Ratner, a Forest City director.

“This is a massive development plan,” he said. “We’re going to create, if you will, a new neighborhood for Pittsburgh.”

The proposal does not include money for a new hockey arena for the Penguins, as other potential casino operators have offered. Ratner said the company would “be happy to talk with” Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato once they develop a financial plan for a new arena.

The state Gaming Control Board, which will license and regulate casinos, might not select winning bidders until early 2007.

Forest City’s local investors, who would share a 25 percent stake, include insurance broker William Lieberman, former chair of the city’s financial oversight board; Charles Zappala, a Pittsburgh investment adviser who is the brother of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala and uncle of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.; Glenn Mahone, a lawyer at Reed Smith and member of the Allegheny County Airport Authority; Yvonne Cook, president of Highmark Foundation; and Hall of Fame running back and ex-Steelers great Franco Harris.

“Unfortunately, there’s a perception that you take in partners because they’re well-connected,” said Ratner, who declined to give specifics about their investments. “These people are here because they make a difference for the community.”

The project would be located on 12.3 of the 20 acres Forest City owns along the Monongahela River. The casino, with terraces with views of Downtown, would take 16 to 18 months to build.

Jan Jones, a Harrah’s senior vice president and former mayor of Las Vegas, said she does not know whether the company would seek to open a temporary casino during construction. The company initially would hire 2,000 employees, but the number could rise to 3,000.

“The greatest giveback is jobs and the quality of jobs,” Jones said.

Condominiums would be built at a cost of up to $500 million over three to eight years, Ratner said. The housing would include buildings of varying heights with first-level retail shops. The units likely would sell for $150,000 to $200,000.

“What is so amazing about this site is the proximity to Downtown,” said Dehan Glanz, a principal with the California-based architectural firm of Calthorpe Associates, which laid out the neighborhood plan. “For someone in my profession, this is just an amazing resource.”

Forest City would expand the Sheraton by adding 200 rooms. The project includes plans for a future hotel that could have 300 to 500 rooms.

Harrah’s Station Square Casino

Partners: Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises would have a 75 percent stake, while five local partners – Bill Lieberman, Charles Zappala, Yvonne Cook, Glenn Mahone and Franco Harris – would share a 25 percent stake. Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment would operate the casino for a management fee.

Projected cost: $1 billion-plus, including $512 million for the casino.

Location: West of the Sheraton Station Square Hotel.

Community givebacks: $25 million endowment for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation; a $1 million a year community development fund.

Number of slot machines: 3,000 to 5,000.

Special features: Four-season winter garden, 200-room Sheraton expansion and plans for a future hotel.

Andrew Conte can be reached at or (412) 765-2312.

Images and text copyright © 2006 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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