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SugarHouse wants riverfront site for temporary parking

SugarHouse Casino is in talks with the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. (DRWC) to lease six acres of prime riverside property for a temporary parking lot.

SugarHouse Casino is in talks with the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. (DRWC) to lease six acres of prime riverside property for a temporary parking lot.

The six-acre parcel, former site of a city-owned trash incinerator, is on Columbus Boulevard at Spring Garden Street next to Festival Pier, a venue for concerts and other events.

SugarHouse will need space for temporary parking during construction of a 10-story parking garage, which could take 12 to 16 months.

Leigh Whitaker, a SugarHouse spokeswoman, confirmed that "we are currently in negotiations for a lease of that parcel."

SugarHouse plans to open an interim casino with 1,700 slot machines by next spring. After that is built, the floor space will be expanded for 1,300 additional slots and the garage constructed.

Advocates of a new civic vision for the Delaware waterfront - greener and more pedestrian-friendly - were dismayed by the decision to turn such valuable land into more parking.

But Andrew Altman, a member of the DRWC and the city's outgoing deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said the lease would generate revenue and help fund public improvements on the waterfront. The DRWC, which replaced the Penn's Landing Corp., manages waterfront assets for the benefit of the city.

Altman said the DRWC would be able to set the length of a lease on the land, which already is primarily blacktop.

"You don't want to use the incinerator site for permanent parking," he said. "But in the interim, the site is not being used. They're going to have to have parking somewhere. The waterfront corporation should at least benefit and derive some revenue."

Jethro Heiko, an organizer of Casino-Free Philadelphia, said that using the site for parking was inconsistent with Mayor Nutter's goal to open up the central Delaware waterfront to the public.

"This adds more credence to what we already know: When it comes to the waterfront, the casinos get what they want," Heiko said.

Harris Steinberg, an urban planner for PennPraxis, a design group affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, said the city's vision for the waterfront includes development that is less "auto-centric."

More parking produces an opposite effect and makes the area less accessible to pedestrians, he said.

"I would hope the city would encourage more creative transit and transportation options to serve the development," Steinberg said.

This fall, the city will start work on a new master plan for the waterfront, a process that could take more than a year. The lease with SugarHouse would be an opportunity to use the property in the interim, Altman said.

He noted that, as a first step in transforming the waterfront, the city will start work on improving Pier 11, a derelict public pier near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Tomorrow,the DRWC will present the plans of the design finalists.