Bart Blatstein, the CEO of Tower Investments and force behind Northern Liberties' Piazza at Schmidt's, announced last week that he will bid for the city's second casino license after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the Foxwoods investor group on the revocation of their license.
Blatstein promises to "build an entertainment complex in a major urban setting like none other in the country" on Callowhill Street between North Broad and 17th streets and is also planning a 200-room hotel on the site of the Inquirer office tower.
Blatstein -- who tells us he plays a little poker with his friends but rarely gambles -- stressed that the casino will be a small part of the complex. There will be high-end restaurants, spa facilities, retail stores and concert halls, and he plans to sponsor boxing events and bring Broadway shows to the facility. "Unfortunately, Philadelphians think my new casino will be like SugarHouse," said Blatstein of Fishtown's casino. "Only 15 percent of the space will be devoted to the casino. Families will not have to walk through the casino to get to the restaurants and theater. I am building a place where I want to go."
Blatstein has been developing property on North Broad Street for 10 years now. The first tower of Avenue North at 1600 North Broad was completed at a cost of $100 million; it includes housing for 1,200 students, the Pearl movie theater and a shopping center. The second tower, which should be completed by the end of the year, will have an additional 1,200 housing units. He is also in the process of renovating the old State Office Building to create Tower Place, a development with more than 200 high-end rental apartments. "It was hard to believe that so close to everything this massive amount of real estate was available," he said. "How was it overlooked? North Broad Street was an underserved, undeveloped and underappreciated part of the city."
Not digging in just yet
Blatstein is not the only person vying for Philadelphia's second casino license.
The Daily News reported that Robert Zuritzsky, of Parkway Corp., and Ken Goldenberg, of The Goldenberg Group, have expressed interest in bidding for the license that was revoked from Foxwoods. State lawmakers are expected to decide next month whether to leave the license in Philly or open it to bidding from the rest of the state.
In addition to competition, Blatstein's proposal could face opposition from anti-casino activists. Dan Hajdo, of Casino-Free Philly, argued that the proposed "entertainment center" would prey on gambling addiction.
"All casinos either way are preying on people. They profit off gambling addiction and their business model includes that in everything they do," Hajdo said. "But the same point is he's locating it in a place that makes it a convenience casino."
Solomon D. Leach/Metro