In advance of Tuesday's state gaming board hearings, where the six operators vying for Philadelphia's remaining casino license will for the first time present their plans, architect Paul Steelman on Monday laid out his vision for the former Inquirer building on North Broad Street.
The sprawling site was purchased by developer Bart Blatstein for conversion into The Provence Casino and Resort. "Bart Blatstein doesn't have a vision to open a casino," Steelman said. "He wanted to make a big, big entertainment complex."
Plans include a hotel, restaurants, shops and a European-style village spanning across multiple rooftops with a pool club, sky bar and theater space.
Steelman was adamant that the proposed project is not a typical gaming spot. Unlike most resort casinos – in which the building is about three times the size of the gaming floor, The Provence will be about nine times as large.
"Many times as casino designers, we're designing the building to take advantage of the casino for financial reasons," Steelman said. He called the planned emphasis on non-gaming activities "our gift to the city of Philadelphia."
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"All the casinos you're going to see [at the hearings] are designed to keep people in," Steelman said. "Our building communicates with the exterior and allows people to go onto the streets and flow into the neighborhoods. And when people flow into neighborhoods, what happens? Commerce happens."
The gaming floor will be naturally lit by large windows and is on the third floor so visitors don't have to walk through the casino to patronize the complex's other offerings.
"Many times as casino designers, we're designing the building to take advantage of the casino for financial reasons," Steelman said. He called The Provence's planned emphasis on non-gaming activities "our gift to the city of Philadelphia."
The casino's main entrance will open onto Vine Street with an elaborate garden atrium. "This isn't stepping into a smoky, dark building," Steelman said. "This is stepping into something beautiful that makes you feel good."
Homage to history
Steelman said it's important to respect the building's storied history.
It was once owned by publishing giant Walter Annenberg, whose office is being turned into an executive hotel suite. "We hope this and some of the suites on [the 12th] floor will hearken back to the historic context of this great man," Steelman said.
Annenberg in the mid-30s purchased The Philadelphia Inquirer. Steelman said creators have been throwing around dining space names paying homage to the paper, as well.
Some of the possibilities are a coffee shop or restaurant named "Ink" or "Funnies" and a bar called "Scandals."
"I think it should be a fun play," he said. "People will remember they're in a historical building, yet it has a renewed use."
Rolling the dice
Steelman said that other features – such as the iconic tower and a globe light hanging in the lobby – will be untouched. "We are going to respect this city like you cannot believe," he said.
Steelman said that, if chosen for a license, Blatstein plans to have a series of public tours and in-depth conversations with neighbors so their input can play a part in the complex's development.
As far as the team's chances at today's hearings, Steelman was confident. "I think our application is very strong, very good for the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania and a very good reuse of a historical building."