South Philadelphia's long-delayed Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia will be up and operating in two years, just a few hundred feet from the outfield wall of Citizens Bank Park, according to its developer.
Joseph Weinberg, managing director of Stadium Casino LLC, told state regulators Wednesday that demolition of a former Holiday Inn at 900 Packer Ave. will begin in December, and construction of the $700 million casino and hotel would begin early next year.
"We really look at this as a world-class integrated development," Weinberg told the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in a presentation before the board agreed to a two-year extension of the project's deadline, to December 2020, to begin slot-machine operations.
The Packer Avenue site is on the edge of the city's stadium complex, which Weinberg said is the only place in the nation where four major-league teams play their home games: the Phillies, the Eagles, the Sixers, and the Flyers.
"Our vision for this project is that it becomes part of what really would be one of the most unique sports/gaming/hospitality destinations in the country," said Weinberg, an executive with the Cordish Cos. of Baltimore, a developer of casino and entertainment facilities, including the Xfinity Live! center on Pattison Avenue in the Stadium District.
Cordish announced last week that it had acquired sole control of Stadium Casino LLC, buying out its partner, Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment Inc., the operator of Parx Casino in Bucks County.
The stadium casino complex would be the most expensive construction project in the city, Weinberg said, now that the $1.5 billion Comcast Technology Center is completed.
"This is a very important project to the city," Weinberg said, saying that city officials are almost as eager to see construction underway as Cordish. "If anything, they're pushing us as much as we're pushing ourselves."
Stadium Casino acquired the property for $37 million in January and received demolition permits in April. Building permits are expected to be issued in December.
Construction of the complex would represent a major milestone in the tortured history of Philadelphia's casinos.
The gaming board licensed two gaming facilities in 2006, including SugarHouse Casino, which opened in 2010. But the second license, awarded to Foxwoods Casino Philadelphia, was surrendered in 2010 after Foxwoods failed to get financing.
Stadium Casino was awarded the license in 2014 after a new competition, but the casino's launch was delayed until 2017 by legal challenges by its competitors, including SugarHouse. SugarHouse dropped its objections a year ago.
Weinberg did not mention the ongoing ownership restructuring of Stadium Casino, which is awaiting approval from the gaming board in a separate matter. But industry insiders said that the project was slowed partly by disagreements between Cordish and Greenwood Gaming, which have different corporate cultures.
Kathy M. Manderino, a gaming board member and former state representative from Philadelphia, expressed some concerns that roadblocks unforeseen could potentially trip up the project.
"Maybe you're far enough along to assure me that this is a foolish thought, but having been a former Philadelphian I've seen this project and other ones, even at late stages, kind of fall apart," she said. "I guess when you get that building permit in hand I can breathe a sigh of relief that we're not going to fall apart again?"
"We're at the final stage," Weinberg assured her. "We've been working at it hard."
The project was initially projected to cost $450 million when Cordish and Greenwood announced their partnership in 2012, but Weinberg said costs have increased as plans progressed.
The partnership initially envisioned renovating the 240-room Holiday Inn tower into a hotel, but the building's footprint is squarely in the center of the site, which conflicted with Cordish's plans for an expansive casino gaming floor.
"As we got into detailed plans for the project, we were just not happy with that building sitting in the middle of the site," he said. "It didn't allow us to have an ideal gaming floor layout for amenities. It was really more of a hindrance to the project than an asset."
The tower will now be demolished after cell-phone antennas that festoon its rooftop are relocated. Plans now call for the Live! hotel tower to rise on the north side of the casino property. The upper floors could potentially have a view over the left-field wall inside Citizens Bank Park.