The picnic was billed as a "Sweet Beginnings" for the SugarHouse casino.
But it ended with a bitter brawl between pro-casino neighbors and one anti-casino activist.
Last Saturday, a member of Casino-Free Philadelphia filed a police complaint that he was punched in the nose and injured after words were exchanged with neighbors supporting development of the SugarHouse casino in the Fishtown-Northern Liberties area.
The report underscores how divisive the casino issue is in Fishtown. Many riverfront communities have maintained a united front against the city's two proposed casinos. Fishtown, however, is the only neighborhood with a group that actively supports a casino project. That support was evident last night at Delaware and Frankford Avenues, where about 50 pro-casino activists, some carrying signs reading "Don't delay, build today," countered about 100 anti-casino protesters.
The Saturday incident came as Fishtown neighbors - members of Fishtown Action - were co-hosting an afternoon picnic with SugarHouse at Penn Treaty Park on the waterfront. The organizers said hundreds attended the event, which featured food, music and games supplied by SugarHouse.
Ed Verrall, 52, a retired truck driver who lives across the street from the proposed SugarHouse casino, said he arrived late on the scene and started taking pictures of the event. He said he was disturbed to see six city trucks on the scene and city workers taking down the stage.
A SugarHouse spokeswoman, Leigh Whitaker, said the company rented the stage from the city, which explained the presence of city workers and trucks.
Verrall said a casino supporter, Donna Tomlinson, asked him what he was doing.
"It led to her yelling to everyone in the park, 'Hey, here's one of these anti-casino people,' " Verrall said.
"I had three guys right in my face, yelling at me," he said. "My language wasn't appropriate, but I'll tell you, I expected to get messed up. I was scared."
Tomlinson said Verrall was "ranting and raving" and lunged at another woman. "At that point, a couple of guys grabbed him," she said. "I have no idea who punched him."
Verrall denied lunging at anyone.
Police were called to the scene, but took no action other than dispersing the crowd and telling Verrall to leave. Verrall later filed a complaint with the Police Department's East Detectives unit.
Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, said, "One witness was interviewed and we're in the process of locating others."
In his complaint, Verrall said he was assaulted by a male who was 325 pounds, 5-foot-11 and about 45.