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By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Planning forum looks at gaming near the South Side

 

November 15, 2005



Parking at the SouthSide Works, and the granting of a casino license in the city, were the main focus of discussion at last week's meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

In his LTV report, Rick Belloli, executive director of the South Side Local Development Co ., said the steering committee met the previous week to discuss parking at the SouthSide Works.

Summarizing last month's forum presentation by David W. Thomas, manager at the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, Belloli said the URA and the Soffer Organization were recommending increasing meter rates and extending enforcement hours.

The goal was to encourage greater turnover at the on-street parking meters, and more use of the parking garages.

The current problem is that retail establishment employees are parking across from East Carson St. or at nearby on-street meters.

With the latter, they are tying up spaces meant for customers. By parking on side streets they are not only not paying to park in a garage, but are taking spaces away from residents.

Belloli said the SSLDC board is not supportive of the proposal. He also informed the URA there is not support in the community for raising rates as it will send motorists onto side streets, and not garages, for parking spaces.

There was also a concern about having different rate amounts at different sites, as was also proposed.

Forum chair Hugh Brannan said Thomas will return with a new proposal. “They're going back to the drawing board,” he said.

On a related note, Belloli said the arrival of American Eagle Outfitters, Inc ., in late 2006 or early 2007 will have a big impact on the SouthSide Works as the retailer will provide free parking for its employees.

The company signed a long-term lease for parking garage No. 3, adjacent to Quantum II, for its initial staff of 500 to 600 employees. The garage has been closed until demand justifies its opening.

On the topic of gaming, Belloli said he will try to have a representative of Forest City Enterprises, operators of Station Square, speak at the forum's December 13 meeting. Station Square is a potential casino site.

Brannan said the South Side, as a community, has not spoken to the gambling issue. If Station Square is chosen for the casino, it will have a big impact on the neighborhood. If there are issues to be addressed, the community must do so before a license is awarded.

Janice Serra said since undesirable businesses, such as adult entertainment, check cashing and pawn shops, and gun retailers cannot be located within 1,000 ft. of the casino, those businesses will be pushed onto the South Side.

Christine Gaus said some are not allowed by zoning, while others will be evaluated on a business-by-business basis.

Belloli said check cashing, adult entertainment, and gun retailers are not allowed in local neighborhood commercial (LNC) zoning. Those there now are grandfathered. He is uncertain of pawn shops.

But a portion of 1st through 10th streets is zoned light industrial, a more permissive zoning class which might allow those businesses.

Gaus said the best weapon against those businesses is zoning. The South Side neighborhood plan is not enough as it is “an aid to decision making; a guide.” But zoning is not a quick process.

To a question from Brannan on whether the state Gaming Control Board will hold local public hearings prior to awarding a license, Belloli said he would check into the matter.

To Brannan's query of who has applied, Belloli said no one yet as the Gaming Control Board has not yet said “you can apply.” The issue of the number of distributors is still tied up in Harrisburg.

But there are six known interested parties: Pittsburgh Palisades Park proposal for Hays (the so-called Charles Betters proposal); Forest City Enterprises for Station Square; Mario Lemieux for Mellon Arena; Merrill Stabile for the North Shore; John Connelly for the North Shore; and the Buncher Co. for the Strip District.

Stabile wants to build a casino between the two stadiums, while Connelly wants to erect one at the foot of the West End Bridge.

Gaus said the Pirates and Steelers oppose Stabile's plan more strongly than they do Connelly's.

Brannan said a possible course of action is to oppose the Station Square site as others do the North Shore sites. Representatives of the Pirates, Steelers, Equitable Resources, and Continental Real Estate have spoken publicly in opposition to a casino on the North Shore.

Belloli said a task force convened two years ago by the SSLDC to look into the proposed racetrack/casino in Hays raised two primary issues: business competition to Carson St ., and traffic impact.

The biggest issue to Carson St. is the latter. The zoning ordinance requires any gaming proposal to have a detailed parking and traffic study.

The SSLDC has not taken a position on gaming or the Hays site.

Belloli said he heard the deadline for filing a casino application is December 28, but has doubts as the matter of machines' distributors has not been resolved.

A $50 million application fee is required. Rejected proposals will have the fee refunded.

As for studies showing the societal impact of gaming on a community, Belloli said that's hard to discern as there's “almost nothing that is unbiased.”

But in economic terms, the three casinos in Detroit, for example, employ 8,000 workers, and contribute $400 million a year in taxes and fees to the city and state.

The next forum meeting will be on December 13. Brannan asked forum members to come with issues and concerns on gaming as there should be community dialogue on the matter.

For more information on gaming in Pittsburgh, see: http://www.pittsburghgaming taskforce.org.

 

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