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Hill Ups Ante For Casino Bid

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A Hill District community group wants a bigger ante from the company hoping to plant a slots parlor in its midst: at least $28 million more, to be exact.

 

In recent months, two of the three potential developers seeking Pittsburgh's lone slots license have offered various incentives to drum up local support. Besides building a new Penguins arena for $290 million, the Mississippi-based Isle of Capri has promised around $1 million annually to the Hill and surrounding neighborhoods. Harrah's Gaming and its partner Forest City Enterprises pledges the same amount to the South Side, since the companies hope to add a casino to Station Square. Their proposal also promises a $25 million endowment to the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation for neighborhood development.

 

Don Barden and his PITG Gaming, proposing a North Shore casino, released his community-contribution plan late on April 17. As widely reported, it proposes a $7.5 annual contribution for a new Penguins arena, and a $350 million redevelopment of the Hill District, overseen by a business and community group headed by former Steelers star Jerome Bettis.

Isle of Capri's own Hill redevelopment proposal is worth about $400 million.

 

So far, the casinos have set the amounts of community incentives. But given the social impact a casino will make on its neighborhood, says the Hill District Consensus Group, $1 million annually is not enough. It's not even close.

 

The group, a collection of 63 community organizations brought together to improve the prosperity of the Hill, in recent weeks sent Isle of Capri its own proposal: If the company wants the support of one of the neighborhood's largest community groups, it's going to cost a donation equal to 10 percent of any amount spent on building an arena. That's $29 million for starters. The money would be given to a community improvement fund over which the consensus group would have some undefined sway.

 

"It's a very simple proposal," said group president Carl Redwood Jr. at an April 14 meeting. The Hill has lived with a history of broken promises for 40 years, he notes, ever since construction of the old Civic Arena decimated the Hill and broke it off from the rest of the city. This time, the consensus group wants to make sure the Hill and its people are taken care of.

Isle of Capri representatives could not be reached for reaction by press time.

 

The state's gaming-control board may not select a casino company for Pittsburgh until early next year. It's unclear how much sway the consensus group's proposal could have. But with local hearings on gaming set for this week, and a third hearing scheduled for May 10, the consensus group is pressing ahead.

 

Redwood says the money would also help handle the social impact of gambling. He foresees setting up storefront help centers, so residents who develop gambling problems can be directed to the necessary agency or counselor.

 

Concludes Redwood: "This is a chance for us to develop a fund to buy vacant properties and develop them and finally regain some control in our neighborhood."

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