Sands’ New Owner Trying To Save The Iconic Steel Mills

Posted on March 20, 2018 - Last Updated on May 30, 2019

New ownership may feel some pressure over the Sands Casino Bethlehem sale, but not for the reasons people might initially think.

Wind Creek Hospitality, an Alabama tribal casino group, purchased Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem for $1.3 billion March 8.

The point of contention to local leaders is the 120 acres of the Bethlehem Steel plant that surrounds the casino, a recent Morning Call article reported. This area extends from the casino to the blast furnaces.

Locals say that this piece of history remains a tourist attraction. They want to keep the historic integrity of the location.

At least so far, Wind Creek has not commented about its plans for the casino, except to say that it intends to create “important and lasting bonds between the communities that may be miles apart, but still share the same values and dreams for the future.”

Until Wind Creek meets with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, community leaders, and others, a representative said communication will be limited.

“The addition of this fantastic team and property to our portfolio furthers our desire to secure a long and prosperous future for our tribe,” said Stephanie Bryan, tribal chair and CEO of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. “We look forward to working with our new team members and the community to cement Wind Creek Bethlehem’s position as the premier entertainment destination in the northeast.”

Brian Carr, president of Sands Bethlehem, said this in a prepared statement:

“We’ve become an important regional entertainment destination because of our commitment to our customers. That’s not going to change regardless of what the sign on the top of the building might read.”

New development stays historically relevant

The site of the Pennsylvania casino integrates the industrial part of the city with casinos in particular and stands as a model for how cities can develop a cultural and historical interpretation around its past infrastructure.

The number of buildings still standing – the No. 2 Machine Shop, High House, the Iron Foundry, and Riggers Welfare buildings – make the location unique. While the city almost lost the space when the steel plant shut down and declared bankruptcy, Sands came onto the scene in 2007.

Instead of making waves, the establishment chose to reinvent the space as part of its effort to receive a gaming license. Sands did that by donating 9.5 acres to nonprofits and government agencies to establish the $98 million SteelStacks.

Locals aim to protect a cultural center

According to the Morning Call, SteelStacks, an arts and cultural campus surrounded by industrial buildings, draws in over 800,000 people a year for events. This includes a number of museums, plazas, centers, and a popular elevated walkway to showcase the furnaces.

The Urban Land Institute gave SteelStacks its Global Award for Excellence in 2015. Currently, no city ordinances protect the buildings, some of which are privately owned.

While Sands had previously developed a new master plan, a $90 million expansion, Sands backed out of its efforts when it began negotiating a sale with MGM International Resorts. The deal would sour before any action was taken.

More casinos changing hands

In Pennsylvania alone, four casinos changed ownership since December.

Even if this trend continues in PA, it’s too soon to tell if Wind Creek will do its best to blend into the community or make an issue by standing out.

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Katie Callahan

Katie Callahan is a freelance journalist, blogger and copywriter who covers everything from poker, business, education and politics to construction, startups and cybersecurity.

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