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South Philly casino project runs into labor pains

City Council zoning bills for casino were expected to be voted on Thursday, but were not.

THE $450 MILLION South Philadelphia casino project which has been battered by allegations that one of its developers discriminates against African-Americans, has run into another roadblock: labor pains.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson - just prior to yesterday's weekly Council meeting - held two zoning bills needed for the casino and hotel project to proceed.

"I am still reviewing the legislation and performing my due diligence on what will be a massive development project," he said when asked about the unexpected move.

Last month, Johnson guided the bills to unanimous passage in the Rules Committee with the expectation that Council would approve the legislation at yesterday's meeting.

During the Nov. 16 committee meeting, the bills were approved after five hours of public testimony that was mostly consumed by critics of one of the developers, Cordish Cos. The critics accused the Baltimore company of discriminating against black patrons in Louisville, Ky., and Kansas City, Mo.

Cordish officials sternly denied the allegations, and the committee members asked few questions of the critics, a handful of whom had traveled from Louisville to testify.

Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc., which owns Parx Casino in Bensalem, is Cordish's partner in the casino deal.

Johnson held the zoning bills over labor issues not discrimination allegations, sources said.

"I know there were issues having to do with labor, and those were the primary issues. I don't know the specifics of it, but hopefully it will be resolved in time for the 10th," said A. Bruce Crawley, Cordish's spokesman.

Dec. 10 is Council's last meeting of the year. If the bills are not approved by then, the legislation will have to be reintroduced.

Zed Smith, Cordish's chief operating officer, declined to comment as he exited a City Hall elevator on the fifth floor, where Johnson's office is located.

"The economic development aspect is one thing, the neighborhood benefit is another, and they're working out the details," Councilman Curtis Jones said in explaining why the brakes were put on the bills.

"There are clarifications needed," he added, declining to be more specific.

Council President Darrell Clarke said he "has no idea" why the bills were held.

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