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Casino owner says he will keep pledge to Hill District

By Jeremy Boren
Monday, April 28, 2008 

Casino owner Don Barden said today he will make good on his promise to spend $3 million “to spur economic development” in the Hill District, but that the money won’t be used near a new $290 million hockey arena.”We want to extend the development opportunities outside of that area — further and deeper into the Hill District so that the people in that community can have the benefit, and we hope to do this within a five-year period,” Barden said. 

Once Barden’s Majestic Star Casino opens, he said he will spend the $3 million as seed money to hire engineers, designers and architects who will determine how best to develop the Hill District outside of the 28-acre zone that the Penguins have the right to develop around the arena.

Barden petitioned the state Gaming Control Board two weeks ago allow him to eliminate the $3 million commitment to the Hill District because the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority gave the Penguins the right to develop the 28 acres, not Barden. Barden told the commission that his $3 million commitment was contingent on getting the right to develop the 28 acres.

Barden asked in his petition to remove a ballroom and outdoor amphitheater from his plans for the casino.Barden said today that the outdoor amphitheater and ballroom will be built, after all, but not until the second or third year of the casino’s operation. The North Shore casino is projected to open in May 2009.

“Our casino will look the same, feel the same,” as the original plans, Barden said.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato met for about 90 minutes with Barden in Ravenstahl’s office before announcing Barden’s change of heart.

Barden downplayed financial concerns about how he will pay to build the casino, which has ballooned in price from $450 million to $770 million, including insurance, legal and financing fees.

Bond rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Thursday issued a B-minus credit rating with a negative outlook for the Majestic Star holding company, PITG Gaming HoldCo.

“I think at the end of the day, all the financial concerns, if there are any, will be resolved and will open on time,” Barden said.

Onorato praised Barden’s cooperation.

“He’s done nothing but adapt every time we’ve asked him,” Onorato said.


Jeremy Boren can be reached at jboren@tribweb.comor 412-765-2312. 

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