The SugarHouse casino project will hold a second round of community talks next week - even though two neighborhood groups that oppose the development still refuse to participate.
In a letter to these two groups, the president of SugarHouse, Bob Sheldon, said the first meeting Monday of the casino and representatives from the city, state and neighborhood had been "very productive."
He said the group agreed "that we must move this process forward."
The casino has scheduled two community meetings for next week, Sheldon added.
Sheldon said participants expect to address "substantive issues" when they meet on Tuesday and Thursday.
SugarHouse, which is building a riverfront casino on land that straddles Fishtown and Northern Liberties, must negotiate a so-called community benefits agreement as part of its development plan with the city.
The CBA will create a "special services district" for the neighborhood, similar to the one created around the sports stadiums in South Philadelphia.
But SugarHouse is facing opposition from the Fishtown Neighbors Association and the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association.
Fishtown Neighbors has insisted that talks include the option of moving the casino to another site - an idea SugarHouse rejects.
The two groups that participated in Monday's talks were New Kensington Community Development Corp. and Fishtown Action.
Richard Levin, president of the New Kensington group, said the participants "talked about high-level things that are important to the community, such as jobs for local residents, using local vendors and quality-of-life issues, like the scheduling of casino deliveries."
"New Kensington CDC feels it's appropriate to negotiate with the casino to . . . minimize the negatives and maximize the benefits to the community," Levin said.
Also attending the Monday meeting were City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr., Planning Director Janice Woodcock, and representatives of the Managing Director's Office, the Police and Water Departments, and a traffic consultant for the city. Rina Cutler, the state's deputy secretary of transportation, attended on behalf of Gov. Rendell.
Diaz said yesterday that he would attend next week's meetings and ensure that city representatives were present at future sessions.
"That's a commitment I'm making on behalf of the mayor," he said.
In his letter to the hold-out groups, Sheldon repeated that SugarHouse would make money available to groups for attorney fees.
The company has agreed to pay $50,000 for legal fees to complete a community agreement. On top of that, it would credit another $175,000 to cover costs against a special fund being set up for the community's use during construction.
"We've made the money available. We want to move forward. We'll cover the fees," said Leigh Whitaker, a spokeswoman for SugarHouse.
But in negotiating a development agreement, the city intended those funds to go toward such neighborhood-improvement activities as tree plantings or litter cleanups.
"This is quite clearly an attempt to get the neighborhood to pay for its own attorney fees," Herb Shallcross, president of Fishtown Neighbors, said. He said his group was looking for a pro bono lawyer or outside funding before it enters into any negotiations.