Menu Contact/Location

Neighborhood groups begin to collect information on proposed casinos

By Bill Toland,
Monday, February 06, 2006
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Of the three proposed Pittsburgh casinos, the Station Square venue so far has engendered the least neighborhood opposition — mainly because it would have the fewest neighbors, isolated as it is along the Monongahela River.

Community groups and local institutions in the North Side, Uptown and elsewhere are more skeptical of plopping casinos down on the North Shore or near Mellon Arena. Both of those plans already have prominent opponents.

That said, many neighbors of the three would-be casinos are just now beginning to focus on the pros and cons for their communities, and it’s far too early to tell how much local support or opposition each of the proposals will generate.

On the South Side, where Harrah’s and Forest City Enterprises want to build a Station Square casino, the South Side Planning Forum has scheduled a Feb. 14 meeting to discuss the impact of a casino, which would lie about a mile to the west of the South Side’s main business district. Officials from Forest City have been invited to the meeting.

“That’s sort of the first step in organizing a community discussion about this,” said Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side Local Development Co.

Mr. Belloli also sits on the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, the organization charged with studying the various casino plans and gauging their potential social and economic effects.

The development group has worked with Forest City previously — last summer, Forest City, which owns Station Square, ran a shuttle from Station Square through the South Side, at the behest of the organization. Mr. Belloli hopes the two groups can work together again if Forest City is awarded a casino license.

The South Side development group, like their counterparts from Uptown and the Hill District, won’t actively lobby for or against the construction of a casino, but will approach the development with the Boy Scout motto in mind — be prepared.

“Gaming is going to happen in Pittsburgh,” Mr. Belloli said. The 2004 gambling law permits one, and only one, stand-alone casino to be located within the city’s limits.

“Let’s look at — if it’s going to be here — what are the issues we’ll have to deal with?”

Transportation is a big one. Carson Street isn’t exactly a superhighway, and if Harrah’s, which would operate the casino, plans to attract thousands of visitors on the weekend, Carson Street might resemble a parking lot after a Steelers game. Also, the traditional casino practice of giving free drinks to gamblers is something that restaurateurs and tavern owners in the South Side would like to see barred.

Zoning also is a concern — nobody wants the largely non-commercial stretch of East Carson, between Station Square and Sixth Street, to become a strip of pawnshops and adult entertainment venues. Changing the area’s zoning designation to “neighborhood commercial” might enable community groups to monitor those types of business, or prevent them from opening in the first place.

The South Side Planning Forum — which includes business interests, residential groups and service organizations — will often endorse a project, after determining whether it adheres to the forum’s neighborhood plan, said Hugh Brannan, who heads the forum.

But an endorsement for the proposed Station Square casino isn’t a slam dunk — a decade ago, the planning forum’s consensus was that the neighborhood should oppose floating casinos at the riverside site now known as South Side Works. “The community, 10 years ago, was pretty clear in not wanting riverboat gambling,” Mr. Brannan said.

The Lower Hill District and Uptown would be the two neighborhoods most affected by the Isle of Capri proposal to build a casino and put some of the proceeds toward a new arena, primarily for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Duquesne University, which sits atop the Bluff, announced its opposition to the casino last week, while stressing that the rest of the proposal — the new arena, the housing and the retail — looked pretty good.

“We’re good friends of the Penguins,” said Duquesne President Charles J. Dougherty. But “the casino is being put virtually two blocks from 10,000 students.”

The school, he said, had “an obligation to our students to stake out a position on this matter.”

Less certain of their position on the casino are various neighborhood groups in the area, as they pursue vague plans to “explore the pulse of the community.”

“Uptown is in the early stages of what we hope will be a big revitalization effort,” said Jeanne McNutt, chair of the Uptown Community Action group’s housing and economic development committee. “If [a casino] would jump-start traffic, that might be a good thing.”

A bad thing, she said, is that the slot machines might draw most of their winnings from people least able to provide them, including nearby students and residents of the Hill.

“If [the casinos are] intended to supplement our economy, I don’t like the idea of it being on the backs of people who probably can’t afford it,” Ms. McNutt said, stressing that she was giving a personal opinion and not speaking for the Uptown group. In informal discussions, she said, “the sense I’m getting is no. There’s just no space for it.”

Evan Frazier, head of the Hill House Association, said the casino may present opportunities for the area, but added that his social service organization also would have to evaluate the “social issues that arise as a result of having gaming abutting a residential neighborhood.”

On the North Shore, where Detroit businessman Don Barden hopes to build a casino near the Carnegie Science Center, community groups have yet to weigh in. The North Side Chamber of Commerce plans to poll board members, said board president Debbie Caplan, while the North Side Leadership Conference is searching for a new executive director and in the midst of revamping its business plan, said interim director Dana Jaros.

After that happens, “we’ll probably talk with business owners small and large,” she said.

But the most influential members of the North Side community — the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Pirates — already oppose Mr. Barden’s casino. Continental Real Estate Cos., Equitable Resources and Del Monte Food also have lined up against a North Shore casino, saying it would be a “deterrent” to North Side business growth.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Feb. 8, 2006) Jeanne McNutt is the chair of the Uptown Community Action group’s housing and economic development committee. This story in the Feb. 6, 2006 editions of the Post-Gazette said incorrectly she was the head of the entire group.

(Bill Toland can be reached at or 1-412-263-1889.)

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. © Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633