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Blatstein unveils plan for casino on North Broad

Developer Bart Blatstein, who turned to Italy for inspiration when he built the Piazza at Schmidts in Northern Liberties, now is channeling France for a $700 million casino and entertainment complex, proposed for North Broad Street.

Developer Bart Blatstein, who turned to Italy for inspiration when he built the Piazza at Schmidts in Northern Liberties, now is channeling France for a $700 million casino and entertainment complex, proposed for North Broad Street.

Blatstein, founder of Tower Investments, wants to convert the former headquarters of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and into the city's second casino: the Provence.

The casino would be managed by Hard Rock International, which has 16 hotels and casinos in the United States and abroad.

At a launch party Wednesday, Blatstein said the project was "no casino-in-a-box" and would be "a game-changing development for Philadelphia."

"It's not just a casino," he said. "It's an entertainment resort."

The casino, which would front Callowhill between 15th and 16th Streets, would cover 120,000 square feet, with table games in the former newsroom of The Inquirer. The newspaper's iconic tower would become a 125-room hotel.

On the rooftop, the Provence would feature two blocks of shops and restaurants, fashioned to look like a French streetscape.

Why the nod to France? "We share a lot of history with France," Blatstein said. Buildings like City Hall and the Free Library, he said, are inspired by French architecture. "And after all, the French helped us to finance the [American] Revolution."

Other features of the development would be an indoor garden, jazz club, theater, comedy club, spa, and swim club.

Blatstein must submit an application for a casino license to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board by Nov. 15.

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke attended the launch and supports a second casino for the city.

"Jobs, jobs, jobs," Clarke said. "This is what it's all about." A second casino, he added, "is the most significant economic opportunity for the city of Philadelphia."

So far, Blatstein is the only developer to come forward with a firm plan for a casino, but he is not the only one trying to put together a proposal.

According to sources, Penn National Gaming Inc. has expressed an interest in a vast parcel on the Delaware River waterfront, just north of the SugarHouse Casino. Owned by builder James Anderson of New Hope, the 27-acre parcel was considered for a casino in 2006, when Pinnacle Entertainment made a failed bid for a gaming license.

In addition, the Cordish Cos. of Baltimore is said to be looking at properties in South Philadelphia, possibly utilizing the current South Philadelphia Turf Club on Packer Avenue and a next-door Holiday Inn, sources say.

Once the bids are submitted, the gaming board will hold public hearings as regulators assess the suitability of offers. Board members will examine financing, casino operators, sites, and the ability of sponsors to complete a project.

Licenses for slots as well as table games would cost $75 million.

Whether Philadelphia needs another casino has been a topic of intense debate. Some argue that the region is saturated with casinos.

On Nov. 12, Casino-Free Philadelphia will host a meeting, along with the national organization Stop Predatory Gambling, to discuss casino development in Philadelphia.

"Casinos profit from gambling addiction," Dan Hajdo of Casino-Free Philadelphia said. "That's why casinos are completely unacceptable, but it is also why casinos are never the road to economic development."

Philadelphia's first casino was the SugarHouse project, which opened in 2010. It joined Parx in Bensalem and what is now Harrah's Philadelphia in Chester. The Valley Forge Casino Resort opened this spring.

James Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said there is room for the Provence because it would not be "just a gaming destination."

"There is something for everyone and not just putting $10 in the slots," Allen said. "That's the formula for success."

Tower Investments is best known for revitalizing Northern Liberties and recently has turned its attention to North Broad Street, having purchased the newspaper offices in 2011. Next month, it will start renting apartments in the converted State Office Building at Broad and Spring Garden Streets.

Blatstein said financing the $700 million project would not be a problem. "I could build four of these projects with the money that is being offered to me," he said.

Asked what he would do if he does not win the license, Blatstein said: "There is no Plan B, because we're going to win."