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Casino challenge

Two schools and a synagogue oppose Broad Street Provence project

CALLING THE "growth of the reviving neighborhoods" of Spring Garden and Center City "incompatible with the culture of a nearby casino," three institutions yesterday came out against Bart Blatstein's Tower Investments casino project at Broad and Callowhill streets.

Congregation Rodeph Shalom and the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, both on Broad Street, and Friends Select School, three blocks away, filed the formal "Petition to Intervene" with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said lawyer Larry Spector.

"The Tower site will create traffic, parking and security problems that will jeopardize efficient and safe access to Petitioners' schools and places of worship for their thousands of students and congregants," the petition says.

Blatstein has proposed creating The Provence Casino at the Tower site, which is the former home for the Daily News and Inquirer.

On the first page of a written statement, filed along with the petition, the intervenors asked:

"If Tower Entertainment receives a casino license, will the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania be embarrassed when people realize that it has licensed a casino to operate across the street from an exemplary charter school, down the street from a synagogue - within blocks of a Quaker private school - and right next door to the headquarters of the Philadelphia School District.

"It should be. No casino in the country operates in such surroundings."

In a statement, Frank Keel, a spokesman for Tower Entertainment, said last night:

"Tower Entertainment CEO Bart Blatstein has met with more civic leaders and community organizations than all of the other casino applicants combined.

"The Provence Resort & Casino project has been extremely well-received. We continue to engage all of the groups on a regular basis, individually and collectively as a coalition."

Spector said Act 71, the law creating casinos, provided that only certain organizations were granted the right to intervene and thus have legal recourse in the courts.

He said it was important to file the petition before the suitability hearings for each of the now five casino applicants begin in late January.

To intervene, a group has to make it clear why it has legal standing to oppose a casino above and beyond someone who may oppose casinos because he is against gambling.

For example, the petition notes that Rodeph Shalom recently broke ground on a $15 million expansion, in addition to the $10 million already spent to renovate its main building for a rapidly growing congregation.

"Arrival and departure for the Friday night services take place during what the Tower's traffic study says are the peak hours of customer volume and trips generated to and from the proposed casino. Congregants arrive by the 6 p.m. start of the Friday night service."

The petition also points out Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, at Broad and Spring Garden streets, is planning to renovate its existing building and is wants to build a new building for a gymnasium and meeting space on Buttonwood Street.

"MCSCS would never have occupied the existing building if a casino had been situated or planned at 400 North Broad Street," the document says.

And the petition says that traffic would be a huge problem for the Friends Select School, on the Ben Franklin Parkway at 16th Street, because of the cars using the eastbound off ramp of the Vine Street Expressway to go to the casino.

In addition, because high school students at Friends Select may leave during class hours to attend museums and other cultural institutions, " . . . [A] nearby casino would be an attractive nuisance to its students and put them in potentially dangerous confrontations with disorderly casino patrons and others walking to and from the casino and its nearby parking lots and transit stops."