Live! Philadelphia Preview, Part 1: Cordish Won’t Let Pandemic Derail New Casino Plans

Posted on December 16, 2020 - Last Updated on January 18, 2021

This is Part 1 of a three-part preview of Live! Philadelphia. Read Part 2 and Part 3 here.

The Cordish Companies is a unique casino developer, a generations-deep family company. So is the Live! gambling destination it plans to open early next year at 900 Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia.

“From the onset, Cordish is known for creating with class, diverse entertainment and providing a first-class experience,” said Rob Norton, president of the Cordish Gaming Group. He added:

“Our leadership is now of the fourth generation. We have a huge footprint. Fifty-five million people a year visit Cordish projects. It’s hard to argue we’re not an entertainment company. Entertainment drives our projects to higher levels.”

And Live! Casino Philadelphia has a setting like no other in Pennsylvania.

Live! will join a crowded Philadelphia market

When it opens, Live! Philly is likely to reshape the region’s crowded gambling market, which has Parx Casino, Valley Forge Casino Resort, Harrah’s Casino Philadelphia and Rivers Casino Philadelphia clustered nearby.

The Stadium District pulled in 8.5 million visitors a year to watch the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, 76ers and concerts pre-COVID 19.

Live! Philadelphia details and location

  • The coming Live! casino and entertainment complex adjoins the Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park and an existing Cordish/Comcast-Spectacor development, an entertainment and dining center known as Xfinity Live! 
  • Live!’s location is at the confluence of Interstate 95 and Interstate 76.
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHY) is six miles away.
  • Center City and Olde City, major tourist destinations, are less than four miles away.
  • Buses and a subway line run by SEPTA are nearby.
  • There’s an on-site garage.
  • An upscale hotel with more than 200 rooms adjoins the venue.
  • There’s a variety of dining options. Local faves such as Termini Bros., a bakery, and Lorenzo and Son Pizza are coming. And Guy Fieri restaurants and two Asian-based eateries are in the lineup.
  • More than 2,000 new jobs are coming at a time when the coronavirus has shrunk the job market.
Live Philadelphia aerial view
Image via https://fusionarenaphilly.com/

Live! casino details

  • The facility boasts a combined space of more than 1.5 million square feet.
  • More than 150 table games, including 29 poker tables, are planned.
  • There will be 2,200 slots and electronic table games.
  • An online casino already opened in August as PlayLive! Casino.
  • FanDuel will operate a retail sportsbook.
  • Its Live! Rewards Card is linked to other Live properties. The card’s sign-up top prize is a 2021 Lexus RC F Sport, a vehicle with a sticker price starting at about $66,000.

Building during the pandemic and opening in the aftermath

As opposed to rehabs, just two ground-up casinos, including Circa in downtown Las Vegas, have debuted nationally in 2020, a year wracked by uncertainty and delay due to COVID-19.

Just a handful of casinos are likely to open in 2021, among them Live! Philadelphia, which Cordish had hoped to have open for business by the close of 2020.

But all work on the project was shut down from April 7 to May 4 due to virus concerns, idling hundreds of workers.

As of Dec. 12, all PA casinos are once again closed by state orders to combat a rising tide of COVID-19 cases, and that makes precise opening plans and timing impossible for now.

Norton explained what it has taken to come this close to opening, with finishing touches going into place and many games already loaded in.

“It was definitely one of the more challenging times. We had to be flexible, nimble and work on concurrent paths, knowing that the rules and governance could change at any minute.”

Live! plans include ‘Play It Safe’ virus mitigation measures

The company has developed a “Play It Safe” plan to prepare for the Live! Philly opening, learning from its recent experience opening Live! Pittsburgh, a mini-casino in a rehabbed mall space in Western PA.

Norton said the company consulted with “foremost experts” to assure customer safety. “It was definitely challenging,” he said, and it required tenacity and “staying on top of things.”

Guarded, Norton had little to say about when Live! will go live, despite signs that the company had until recently hoped to open by the end of January. He said:

“We are pushing forward. By the end of Q1.”

Then he added:

“Hopefully.”

Live! Philadelphia casino & hotel history and timeline

The primary things that distinguish the Cordish Companies and its Live! brand are generational longevity and continuity, hands-on family ownership and entrepreneurial expansion.

Here’s a timeline of key events for the Cordish casino venture in Philadelphia.

  • 1910: Louis Cordish founds the company, which develops properties in the Baltimore and Washington area.
  • 1935: Son Paul Cordish joins the business. He remains with the company for 73 years.
  • 1968: Paul’s son, David, joins the company. More than 50 years later, he remains chairman and CEO.

Live site first a hotel in 1974; Jaws once an owner

  • 1974: A hotel opens at the site. The building faces bankruptcies, changes in owners and several brand affiliations.
  • 1981: Cordish creates gaming and hotel divisions.
  • 1993: Sons Jon, Blake and Reed join the firm led by their father.
  • 1993: The troubled hotel at the Live! site is sold to investors including former Eagles QB Ron Jaworski.
  • 1994: An entertainment division launches.

Cordish began Live! entertainment development two decades ago

  • 1999: The first Live! entertainment district opens.
  • 2004: Cordish develops two Hard Rock Casino sites in Florida.
  • 2005: The sports district division launches.
  • 2012: Cordish opens Xfinity Live!, a venue for watching sports, with entertainment and food, near the stadium in conjunction with Comcast Spectacor.

Cordish first made a play for the site in 2014

  • 2014: Cordish and Greenwood Gaming, the parent company of Parx Casino and Racecourse, successfully bid for a license to operate at the former Hilton Hotel site after Foxwoods had its 2010 license to operate in Philly yanked due to financial issues.
  • 2014-17: Community opposition over local and minority participation, traffic congestion, a legal challenge by Rivers Casino Philadelphia and regulatory concerns due to the partial Parx ownership stall the project, which is often referred to as Stadium Casino.
  • 2018: Cordish and Greenwood purchase the site for $37 million. Late in 2018, Cordish buys out Greenwood. Work begins on the project, beginning with the demolition of the existing hotel.

Gaming license approved in 2019

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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