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Ronnie Polaneczky: SugarHouse & Fishtown: Love at first site?

I'M READING a new romance, and I can not put it down! Its title isn't sexy, but its content will quicken the pulse like a six-pack of Red Bull.

I'M READING a new romance, and I can not put it down! Its title isn't sexy, but its content will quicken the pulse like a six-pack of Red Bull.

Its 26 pages create a dazzling world in which a wealthy suitor uses his riches to help a spunky city gal realize her full potential.

For now, the story is a fairy tale. But if it ever evolves into a real-life love story, my, what a happily-ever-after it promises.

The suitor in this metaphorical tale? SugarHouse casino.

The wooed damsel? The neighborhoods surrounding the North Delaware Avenue site on which SugarHouse has been trying like mad to build its slots mecca.

The title of the tome proposing marriage between the two?

"Community Benefits Agreement Relating to the Sugarhouse Casino ... to be Administered on Behalf of the Community by a Special Services District to be Formed in Accordance With the Provisions Hereof."

Like I said, so not sexy.

But, oh, the world it promises Fishtown, Northern Liberties and other neighborhoods near the casino's proposed casino site.

Jobs for locals!

Public access to the waterfront!

Partnership arrangements with area businesses!

And - be still, fibrillating hearts - up to $1.5 million a year to fund stuff that the community decides could use the dough.

Like a library, maybe? Or a swimming pool? Fire services? All are Fishtown amenities slated for closure.

"With $1.5 million, we could buy the library and run it ourselves," says Maggie O'Brien, president of Fishtown Action (FACT), a pro-casino neighborhood group that has co-signed the CBA (along with the New Kensington CDC). "We could keep the pool and firehouse."

She exhales angrily.

"It didn't have to come to this. If the casino was up and running, we might not be losing anything right now."

As anyone who follows this stuff knows, SugarHouse received approval from the state two years ago to run a slots operation on the site of the old Jack Frost sugar refinery.

Construction was to begin in June of 2007, but opposition to the idea of city casinos has stalled both SugarHouse and Foxwoods, the other approved slots parlor (whose proposed re-location from South Philly to The Gallery has infuriated Chinatown residents).

A growing number of Fishtown residents, though, have thrown their support behind SugarHouse. FACT's ranks have ballooned to 600, many times the membership size of the Fishtown Neighbors Association, which opposes SugarHouse.

FACT's members swoon over the 1,000-plus construction jobs SugarHouse would create, plus the 1,000-plus permanent ones, adding millions to city coffers.

And then there's the juicy prospect of a Community Benefits Agreement, which would establish a Special Services District, funded by SugarHouse, to enhance the neighborhood it's encroaching upon.

Other community groups had refused even to discuss a CBA with SugarHouse, hoping that their opposition would render talks moot.

FACT, though, has negotiated every step of the way with SugarHouse, which just released the CBA they worked on together (go to

"Our feeling has been, if SugarHouse gets built, we don't want to be in the position of not having pushed for everything we can get from them," says O'Brien. "So far, they've been honorable and agreeable."

Not so Mayor Nutter, she says. Her group is furious that he's stalled SugarHouse construction over concerns about how the waterfront should be developed.

"It's immoral," says O'Brien, who planned to say so to the mayor during his scheduled meeting in Kensington last night to discuss his budget cuts.

"People are losing their jobs, and he's holding back thousands of jobs from a company that wants to be here! People are hurting."

In fairness, Nutter couldn't have predicted the economic meltdown that's causing us all to lose sleep at night.

Now that it's here, though, it's no wonder FACT is even more vociferous in its support of SugarHouse.

As O'Brien notes, what good is a nice waterfront if the people who'd use it have moved away to places that can still afford libraries?

It's a point to ponder, as we wait to see how this tale ends. *

E-mail or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns: Read Ronnie's blog at