City Council yesterday approved the critical zoning clearance required by Foxwoods Casino to fill the old Strawbridge & Clothier building with slot machines, but the long-delayed casino plan has more obstacles to overcome before it approaches reality.
Council voted unanimously to approve Councilman Frank DiCicco's proposed zoning change, which he put forward for a vote even though Foxwoods has yet to sign a lease for the Strawbridge site at Eighth and Market Streets.
DiCicco said last month that he would not offer the bill until a lease was signed between the Foxwoods partners and Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns the first seven floors of the 13-story building. Foxwoods requires renovation of the first two floors.
A major obstacle to a lease deal is the objection of Gramercy Capital Corp., which owns the top six floors of the building. DiCicco said Gramercy and PREIT, and PREIT and the Foxwoods partners, were working on a deal.
DiCicco said he had since been "educated" - the negotiations were a private matter, and Foxwoods would have to have a lease in place to gain approval from the state Gaming Control Board for the move.
"We're confident that PREIT, Foxwoods, and Gramercy will resolve what issues exist," DiCicco said.
Foxwoods still must go before the Gaming Control Board for permission to transfer its license to the Strawbridge site from the Delaware waterfront in South Philadelphia. It was awarded that license in December 2006 in a competition among five applicants for two licenses. SugarHouse Casino, planned for the waterfront in Fishtown/Northern Liberties, has the second license.
Foxwoods must then submit a plan of development for approval by the city Planning Commission, and complete a development agreement with the city.
The planning commission has to approve plans that will address traffic, parking, and design.
The gaming company yesterday released a statement, saying: "Foxwoods is incredibly pleased for the support we have received from City Council and we thank Councilman DiCicco, in particular, for his courageous leadership on this issue. We now look forward to the Mayor's signature."
DiCicco said the vote was a signal to potential creditors, the legislature, and the Gaming Board that he and the administration support Pennsylvania Entertainment and Development Partners, the group partnered with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, owner of the original Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Conn.
He also said he would fight any attempt by Foxwoods to return to its South Philadelphia site, which is also in his district.
"You represent part of your district!" shouted a protester from Chinatown, which neighbors the Strawbridge site.
A half-dozen protesters in the audience, including Casino Free Philadelphia founder Jethro Heiko and Chinatown activist Helen Gym, shouted "Shame on you!" as DiCicco spoke, and were asked to leave by the sergeant-at-arms staff.