PHILADELPHIA A coalition of neighborhood groups operating near the proposed Provence casino project on North Broad Street has signed a pact with developer Bart Blatstein that spells out his commitments, improvement plans, and financial contributions to the community.
The North Broad Community Coalition, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, West Poplar Community Development Corp., and Callowhill Neighborhood Association, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints signed the agreement Thursday. It calls for them to not oppose Blatstein's application for the city's remaining casino license. The document also states that the community groups would have preferred that the property be developed differently.
The contract calls for Blatstein to contribute $300,000 a year, rising to $450,000 after five years, to a nonprofit controlled by a five-member board if he wins approval for the Provence.
Casino applicants are not required to negotiate agreements with surrounding communities.
But with the final round of hearings next week, many are trying to line up support. On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will begin three days of testimony to review all five applicants for the city's second casino license.
Thursday's agreement has not blunted criticism of Blatstein's plans for a $700 million casino, hotel, and entertainment complex anchored by the former headquarters of The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News at Broad and Callowhill Street.
Two nearby schools and Congregation Rodeph Shalom have intervened in the licensing process as opponents of the project.
And Paul Boni, a board member of the national advocacy group Stop Predatory Gambling, said he was against such agreements.
"It's disappointing that some community group leaders have decided to essentially partner with such a harmful enterprise," Boni said. "Our experience is that the rank and file rarely feel the same way."
In separate news, Market8, a proposed $500 million casino development at Eighth and Market Streets in Center City, has received the endorsement of the Washington Square West Civic Association.
Jonathan Broh, the zoning chair for Washington Square West, said in a statement that Market8 had made a commitment to invest $1 million a year to maintain and upgrade services, make physical improvements, and promote businesses along Market Street East.
Market8 developer Ken Goldenberg, however, has said he would not negotiate a separate community benefits agreement.
Meanwhile, Blatstein said he was "gratified" to have an agreement with the North Broad coalition.
"There are some issues yet to be resolved, but the signing of a community development agreement today is affirmation that we are honoring our pledge to our neighbors," Blatstein said in a statement.
Kevin Greenberg, a lawyer for the coalition, said the agreement includes provisions for security, cleaning, greening, design, traffic, community engagement, and parking.
The nonprofit that would be funded by the Provence would invest in youth programs; projects to improve safety, security, and traffic; commercial corridor revitalization; beautification efforts; and programs addressing problem gambling and financial literacy.
At one point, the J.R. Masterman Home & School Association was intending to be one of the main signatories of the agreement, but the association decided to opt out of that role. Instead, it will participate through the Broad Street coalition, said Kim Seibert, president of the association.
Blatstein is negotiating a separate agreement with the Spring Garden Civic Association. The sides "are on the same page," said a person close to the talks.