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SugarHouse eyes pier for future parking

A casino was not in the cards for a pier at Penn's Landing, but temporary parking for a slots parlor just up the river might be on its way.

A casino was not in the cards for a pier at Penn's Landing, but temporary parking for a slots parlor just up the river might be on its way.

SugarHouse, one of two casinos approved for the city by the state Gaming Control Board in December 2006, is considering a lease offered by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., which manages Penn's Landing property.

The pier, at the foot of Spring Garden Street, was once home to the city's trash incinerator. A group of local investors partnered with Planet Hollywood for a casino there and on the adjacent Festival Pier, but the Gaming Control Board ruled against them.

SugarHouse hopes to open an interim casino with 1,700 slot machines at Delaware Avenue and Shackamaxon Street between April and June of next year, surrounded by surface parking lots, with overflow parking on two piers just to the north. The surface lots will be replaced in time by a larger casino and a 3,000-spot parking garage.

Leigh Whitaker, a SugarHouse spokeswoman, said the casino would use the incinerator pier for parking when it loses 400 on-site surface parking spaces for construction of the parking garage.

That garage is expected to take 14 months to build, financed by profits from the casino. Whitaker said that construction will start three to nine months after the casino opens.

SugarHouse and the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. declined to disclose the terms of the lease, which is still being negotiated.

Legislation passed by City Council last week allows SugarHouse to use parking up to one mile away for its casino customers while the garage is built.

The Delaware River Waterfront Corp. took over in January from the Penn's Landing Corp., which Mayor Nutter had promised to reform into a more transparent agency accountable to the public. The agency's minutes of board meetings this year make no mention of the SugarHouse lease, prompting complaints about a lack of public information.

Joe Forkin, the agency's vice president, said that the board will vote on the lease once his staff comes to terms with SugarHouse.

Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, said that he worried that the timeline for SugarHouse parking on the pier is not clear. That could tie up a significant plot of publicly owned riverfront, preventing development.

"That may be addressed in the terms of the lease," Ruben said. "I have no idea, because the terms aren't public."

Jethro Heiko, a founder of Casino-Free Philadelphia, accused Nutter and the new agency of "bending over backwards" to help SugarHouse.

"That's certainly a far cry from the transparency we were expecting," Heiko said. "This just seems to be more of the same rather than a smart approach to riverfront planning." *