Live! Philadelphia Preview, Part 3: Community Is Everything for Philly’s First Destination Casino

Posted By Kevin Shelly on December 30, 2020 - Last Updated on January 6, 2021

Note: This is the final part of our three-part Live! preview series. Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Live! Casino Philadelphia isn’t even open, but the project has already influenced nearby neighborhoods and the rest of Philadelphia with jobs, economic impact, community involvement, traffic and roadways.

And there’s bound to be more once the facility at 900 Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia in a unique setting in the Stadium District opens at a time yet to be determined during the first quarter of 2021.

Think especially of competition in the crowded Philly gambling and tourism markets in both the city and the greater Philly region.

Much of that reach is baked into the DNA of the Live! project, suggested Senior Vice President of Marketing Mario Maesano:

“Cordish is a family-run business, and they have pounded into us that nothing comes before giving back to the community. Community, for a family-run business, is everything. We built it not just for the business and profitability, but to enrich the community we are in.”

The company’s aim as a destination, not just a casino, is set out in its fact sheet:

“The opening of the casino resort destination will transform the Philadelphia Stadium District into the only place in the country to experience big-league action from four major professional sports teams, best-in-class dining and entertainment, world-class gaming and luxury hotel accommodations.”

Community involvement and local impact from Live!

Live! Casino Philadelphia, owned and managed by Stadium Casino RE, LLC, an affiliate of The Cordish Companies, is looking to not only make an impact on the PA gaming scene but also in the community

It has already given $160,000 to the local youth athletic community. During Live! Casino Philadelphia’s test days with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, proceeds will go to selected local charities.

Live! Philadelphia’s website declares its intention to set “a new standard for development in the City bringing economic opportunity and inclusivity for local residents.”

Live! economic impact, by the numbers

Benefits for the City of Philadelphia and its residents include:

  • $2 billion in economic stimulus to the City.
  • $100 million in tax revenues for Philly in its first five years of operation, including $25 million to the city’s school district.
  • Contributions of over $15 million during the project’s first 10 years to support improvements and enhancements to the local community.
  • More than 5,000 new construction and permanent jobs, with 2,000 permanent positions.
  • Construction and vendor opportunities for local, minority, women-owned and veteran-owned businesses.
  • $145 million in estimated new wages and salaries (direct and indirect) during construction
  • Local and diverse workforce hiring.
  • A commitment to living wages, including a minimum wage of no less than $12.00 per hour for the 2,000 permanent jobs and all contractors during operation, currently 65.5% over the region’s minimum wage.
  • Apprenticeships and training programs.
  • Marketing partnerships with area sports teams, businesses and attractions to promote tourism in Philadelphia and surrounding communities.
  • Enhanced hotel, dining and entertainment amenities to attract new visitors to the area.

No word on the proposed esports arena nearby

Additionally, Cordish is planning a dedicated $50 million esports arena in conjunction with Comcast Spectacor. The two already partner on Xfinity Live!, a sports and food complex in the stadium district. But the pandemic has delayed the construction of Fusion Arena.

Comcast did not respond to a request for comment on arena plans. The last time news was posted on Fusion’s website was September of 2019.

The venue should seat up to 3,500 guests, according to the website. Its primary tenant is meant to be the Philadelphia Fusion esports franchise, one of 20 international teams competing in the Overwatch League. Fusion Arena should also host live entertainment programming.

Philadelphia’s only casino with a hotel

Live! Casino Philadelphia is the first casino in Philadelphia to have a hotel attached, with more than 200 rooms throughout 12 floors, adjacent to the stadiums, major highway access and public transit, and close to the airport.

Rob Norton, president of the Cordish Gaming Group, said Live! is a destination, not just a casino. “It is the only upscale luxury casino in the Philly market,” he said.

For the record, Valley Forge Casino Resort‘s hotel rooms earn between three and four stars. Parx, Harrah’s and Rivers Philadelphia casinos do not have attached hotels.

How having a luxury hotel plays out with the backdrop of a pandemic is unclear. Tourism and hotel occupancy rates have plummeted due to the coronavirus’s impact — but it certainly sets a different bar in the marketplace.

Tourism is part of the mix for Live!

The historic district — Old City, America’s most historic square mile, with attractions such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and more — is about four miles from Live!

The Old City neighborhood consists of quaint buildings, cobbled streets, quirky bars and restaurants, historic churches and other structures, plus unique shops. And it drew in about 2.5 million visitors a year pre-virus.

Likewise, Center City, as Philly’s central downtown business district is known, is equally close to Live! Casino. Center City includes most of the city’s cultural institutions. The district pulled in 18 million visitors in 2018.

Norton said Cordish hopes the quality of the Live! experience will appeal to the “discerning palates” of visitors to the historic district and Center City.

“We want to break down any distance gaps.”

Community reaction: Parking is a problem and getting worse

A South Philly resident headed for a pastry fix from Termini Brothers the morning we talked. That’s one of the local food outlets going into Live!

“Bob” grumped about worsening parking in his nearby neighborhood. He is especially peeved by having his driveway blocked more often now.

And the 50-year resident sees his tax bill increasing, though the musician’s upside is that his property values are also likely to increase. He’s considering selling his property at a nice profit.

He knows jobs are coming, too; his daughter works in an Atlantic City casino — and Live! is hiring up. So he’s happy about that.

But he’s still not the most welcoming when it comes to the arrival of Live! While he knows there is no stopping it at this stage, he recently signed a petition asking to block the casinos’ opening during a recent visit to a neighborhood barbershop.

Parking was always a problem, another neighbor believes

Long Lang, the owner of D’Arigo’s, a century-old South Philadelphia business and my favorite seafood monger in the 9th Street Italian Market, has a long view of what’s to come from Live!

He drives by the casino project every day on his way to and from his wholesale fish supplier. He saw the lanes widened near the project, a good change, but said that “the city already had its own parking problems.” He expects it to worsen.

“The worst is looking for parking,” he said of the South Philadelphia neighborhood near the casino.

A fan of all the sports played in the Stadium District, he knows there will be positives and negatives to Live!, “like anything else.” And while there’s been no outreach to him or his business, he knows the new casino will “make a ton of money,” some of which will flow to neighborhood businesses.

Norton said these are common neighborhood concerns the company has dealt with previously.

He believes Live! will successfully integrate itself into the neighborhood:

“We have their interest at heart.”

Editor’s note: PlayPA writer Katie Kohler contributed to this article.

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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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