The partners behind the Foxwoods slots parlor could shift their plan for a downtown Philadelphia casino from one end of the Gallery at Market East to the other.
The investors' group is eyeing empty floors at the former Strawbridge & Clothier store at Eighth and Market Streets, Foxwoods spokeswoman Maureen Garrity confirmed last night.
The partners' current plan is to convert two floors of the Burlington Coat Factory store at 11th and Market Streets into a 3,000-machine slots parlor.
It is unclear why they now are looking at alternative space. One observer said it might be easier for Foxwoods to move into the Strawbridge building, the lower three floors of which are empty. Putting the casino there would not require relocating a major tenant such as Burlington.
In addition, the ownership of the Strawbridge property is less complicated.
The former department store was purchased by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) in 2006, when the chain went out of business. PREIT, a publicly traded company, is run by Ron Rubin, whose family has invested in Foxwoods through a charitable trust.
By contrast, the Gallery is owned by the city, through the Redevelopment Authority. PREIT owns a long-term lease and acts as a landlord, renting out space to tenants.
"Foxwoods has always had an interest in the Gallery complex, and Strawbridge's is part of that complex," Garrity said. "We're having constructive discussions and meetings with PREIT about various locations within the complex, including Strawbridge's."
The store is one block from the Declaration House, where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.
PREIT is converting three floors of the 13-story Strawbridge building for Pennsylvania state offices.
The Foxwoods project, one of two selected in 2006 for slots licenses in Philadelphia, originally was planned for the Delaware River waterfront in South Philadelphia. Other investors include Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, a family trust for entrepreneur Lewis Katz, and the Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribe, which would run the casino.
When the casino was planned for South Philadelphia, Foxwoods faced intense opposition from neighbors and from Mayor Nutter, who took office in 2007 pledging to open up the waterfront.
In September, the partners agreed to move the project off the waterfront to the Gallery in Center City. Both Nutter and Gov. Rendell endorsed the idea.
City Councilman Frank DiCicco has been on the front lines of neighborhood anger: Each proposed casino site has been in his district.
He said yesterday he had not been told of the Strawbridge idea - which he described as only a "discussion" - until he met with PREIT officials Tuesday.
DiCicco said there might be arguments in favor of the project, including proximity to I-95 and greater distance from Chinatown. But, he said, it would be hard for him to make those points when his constituents found out about new ideas through the media.
"My concern," he said, "is that people will think . . . there's some hidden agenda."
Nutter said last night, "I'm going to wait until the principal or principals . . . says we have a signed, sealed and delivered deal to do something different than what was proposed to do with the Gallery."
Foxwoods has said it will have a slots parlor open by the end of the year. But the economic downturn has slowed its efforts. One of the partners - the Mashantucket Pequot tribe - is confronting financial problems from plummeting revenue at its main casino in Connecticut.
Andrew Altman, a deputy mayor of planning and economic development, said the city was proceeding with plans to redevelop Market Street East, though Foxwoods had yet to come forward with its plans. "We're waiting to hear back from them on their next step," he said.
He said the city had hired consultants from the real estate management firm Jones Lang LaSalle to examine its lease with PREIT in the event that a casino moved to the Gallery. He said the city might "potentially" have to raise the rent if it needed to make adjustments or improvements to the mall space.