Wynn casino project manager: Here's why we're Philly's best bet
The differences between Wynn Philadelphia and the five other groups jousting for Philadelphia's remaining casino license boils down to where their customers would come from, how they would get to the casino, and what they would do when they arrive, said Dan Keating, head of the company that is Wynn's project manager.
Keating's company has built 26 casinos around the country in the past 20 years, including SugarHouse Casino on Delaware Avenue. The market has changed since he was helping the SugarHouse team pick a location, he said.
Back then, New Jersey was really the only competition. Today, there are not only several casinos operating within the region in Pennsylvania, but the states surrounding the commonwealth also have casinos.
"It's a mature market," Keating said. He characterizes the competition as "local or regional casinos" that will compete with others within driving distance for most of their customers. Wynn's casinos in Las Vegas and abroad are destinations, he said, with customers who stay multiple days in the five-star hotels affiliated with the casinos. In fact, Keating said, Wynn properties generate more money from non-gaming activities than from gaming. And Philadelphia would be no different. "Wynn is the big dog," Keating said. "He is not going to be a local or regional casino, but will bring people from afar. He doesn't do Wynn Lite."
Wynn is competing against:
The Provence, Tower Entertainment, LLC, 400 North Broad Street.
Market8, Market East Associates, 8th and Market streets.
Casino Revolution, PHL Local Gaming, LLC, 3333 South Front Street.
Hollywood Casino Philadelphia, PA Gaming Ventures, 700 Packer Avenue.
Live! Hotel and Casino, Stadium Casino LLC, 900 Packer Avenue.
Wynn plans a hotel, spa, music venue, restaurants and other amenities.
But his competitors offer their own mix of not-just-a-casino. Bart Blatstein, for example, has described an entire "walkable community" with a rooftop Main Street of shops, swim clubs, a botanical garden a jazz club and a theater.
In reference to both Blatstein's plans and that of Market8, which also includes considerable ground-level retail that helped it get high design marks from the Design Advocacy Group, Keating said that no one should "plan on a casino to bring about urban renewal," as it's not the way they work.
When asked why the additional amenities were good for the Wynn project, but wouldn't help the others succeed, Keating touted Steve Wynn's experience. "Wynn is proven provider of a destination resort," he said.
Keating also touted Wynn's experience when he pointed out that three of the proposing teams have not developed casinos. One of the big posters in the media center carries a quote attributed to PHL Local Gaming's Joseph Procacci, in which the produce distribution magnate says he figured if everyone else was so interested in building a casino in South Philadelphia, perhaps he should do it himself. "That's a tough way to get into the business," Keating said.
PHL Local Gaming recently had its own media presentation about why it was the best choice for the remaining license. (They touted their ability to open quickest using an existing Procacci building, space for parking and highway access without requiring drivers to pass through neighborhoods.) When PlanPhilly asked Procacci if his produce experience translated into the casino business, he said "business is business," but noted that he'd be bringing in people with plenty of casino experience to run the proposed Casino Revolution, should it receive the license.
A Wynn spokeswoman said the team is working on a breakdown of how projected revenues would be generated here, but it wasn't available yet.
Keating spoke in a fancy room at 1600 Arch Street – The Phoenix building - surrounded by gargantuan posters highlighting what the Wynn team sees as its projects strengths and the others' weaknesses. Keating Consulting Vice President Terry McKenna said the graphs, charts and photographs were first put together to help the Wynn team better understand the competition. Then they decided the information would be helpful to the media and the public. The room is called the media center, but it is open to anyone, with an appointment. Keating provides the tour. (To arrange one, email Sarah Lindsay at Philadelphia@WynnResorts.com)
Keating said the majority of customers would use the same transportation mode to get to any Philly casino: Their cars. But with Wynn's proposal, he said, a newly improved I-95 ramp would funnel those cars to and from the the 2001 Beach Street and 2001 through 2005 Richmond Street parcel on the Delaware River without routing them through neighborhood streets. And a 2,250-car garage means no one would have to park in the neighborhoods, he said.
That garage has been the subject of much discussion among neighborhood groups and riverfront advocates. It has an enormous green roof, which they like. But some critics are not a fan of the single-story design, saying it dedicates too much ground to automobiles.
Keating said when he was scouting sites for SugarHouse, he evaluated what is now the Wynn parcel, although it was smaller then. The road access was appealing even then, before the ramp improvements, but the city didn't seem interested in putting a casino there, he said, so SugarHouse settled down river.
Many sites were evaluated back then, he said, and his team ruled out all within the urban core of Center City based on vehicular access. Keating said drivers would have a harder time getting to and from The Provence or Market8.
When asked if those sites' easy access by public transportation didn't change overall accessibility, Keating said most people aren't going to use public transit to get to or leave a casino, particularly at night.
Speaking of SugarHouse, should Wynn get the license, the city's two casinos would be less than a mile apart. Both the city, in its analysis of the prospective projects, and the state will consider which second casino would likely have the least impact on the revenues of the existing casinos. The way Keating sees it, the proximity could help both. When gamblers aren't having much luck at one casino, they often try to find it by heading to another nearby, he said, so the creation of a "casino row" in Philadelphia could be a good thing.
Keating's knowledge of gamblers isn't first hand. "I'm not a gamer," he said. He plays neither the tables nor the slots.
He owns some property on Delaware Avenue himself - the Hyatt at Penn's Landing. People have been asking him if he's concerned a Wynn hotel will hurt his business. He's not.
Philadelphia has very high occupancy rates, but relatively low room rates, he said, especially when compared to New York or Washington, D.C. A five-star hotel up the road might lower his occupancy rates, but it would raise the room rates at his and other hotels, he said.
Keating stressed that Wynn has been meeting regularly with the city (so have the other applicants), in part to be certain its project fits in with the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, the city's long-range redevelopment guide for that part of the waterfront.
Zoning rules for the Central Delaware set a 100-foot height limit, but allow developers to reach up to 244 feet by providing public benefits, such as public open space, transit improvements, or construction of a segment of a multi-purpose riverfront trail. Keating said the Wynn tower would be approximately 220 to 230 feet. Wynn would build a segment of trail, and would set aside 20 acres as a public park, Keating said. Truth is, Wynn wouldn't really have to follow the rules of the overlay, but the rules under special entertainment district zoning that the city would apply to the property if Wynn gets the license.
Keating said Wynn is interested in the river, and sees it as an amazing asset. "Water is always featured in all of his projects, even in Las Vegas," he said, noting that he's built artificial bodies of water out there. Wynn spoke to PlanPhilly about how his project would relate to the river when he was in town to present to the state gaming board earlier this year.
The PGCB will hold a public meeting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Sept. 24 to hear the city's views on which applicant or applicants would work best for Philadelphia. The board hopes to hold a suitability hearing where it will ask each applicant questions by the end of the year. A decision on the new licensee is expected in early 2014.
PlanPhilly.com is media news website dedicated to covering design, planning and development issues in Philadelphia. It is a project of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the William Penn Foundation.