Category Archives: Casino

Tuesday Bullet Points

Anita Srikameswaran of the P-G gets to announce that yes, Virginia, there is a smoking ban. James G. Mitchell of Mitchell’s Restaurant goes into history-onics:

“We faced the Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Great Flood and now we’re facing another possible threat to the survival of the oldest restaurant in Pittsburgh.”

The new most popular resource on the blurghsophere can be found HERE.


The P-G’s Mark Belko previews the showdown at the Planning Commission today, and reveals what the Steelers may be getting at:

He added that if some accommodation can’t be reached, one solution could be to close the casino during major events while a more in-depth traffic study is done. The science center now closes during Steelers game days.


The P-G editorial board endorses Ricky Burgess in District 9, calling him “head and shoulders above the rest of the field” because of his attention to our “massive debt and pension obligations.”

Meanwhile, the TRIB editorial board mercilessly cheers on the Port Authortity cutbacks.

P-G to Planning Commission: Do Something

Oh, inscrutable P-G editorial board. What are you getting at, exactly?

The citizens of Pittsburgh are in no position to judge the validity of a traffic study on the impact of the Majestic Star casino. But the sharp minds on the city planning commission are.

The Steelers are forecasting nightmare traffic scenarios. PITG and some of its allies disagree.

The editorial urges the planning commission to “take the time they need” — but what does that mean? Ordering Don Barden & Co. back to the drawing board, for a more comprehensive traffic study?

Say they do that. And let’s say, instead of another measured conclusion that’s easy to interpret either way, the answer actually comes back, “Yeah, it’s going to suck, bad!” What next?

The state awarded this casino the license, in significant measure, because it was deemed the least problematic in terms of traffic. This assesment was close to indisputable.

Are we going to tell Mr. Barden that unless his outfit arranges for massive new roads and bridges, he can hit the road? Are we going to tell Pittsburghers that we can’t give them a casino after all?

Of course not. But the real danger is, if we coerce Mr. Barden through more delays and studies, he will be less inclined to cooperate on other serious issues: not just the Science Center, but redevelopment strategies throughout the western North Side, and the Hill District.

And for what? The Steelers Nation will find a way to pack Heinz Field, even if it has to privateer teams of horses. And on the return trip, there is every reason to suspect a casino will ease traffic concerns; more football fans will elect to stick around the North Side for another hour or three.

We suspect the Steelers are really worried about the impact on certain “luminaries” who will have just touched down at Pittsburgh International Airport. A 90-minute limo ride, and missing the first quarter, would spoil their buzz, and perhaps ruin their perceptions of our most livable city.

We sympathize. We promise to meditate on it. Maybe a Black n’ Gold HeliTaxi of some kind?

But at any rate; let’s not irritate a great new civic partner for no good reason. Like the P-G, we also trust the Planning Commission; in this case, we trust it will focus on issues that truly merit attention, and are a bit less high-profile.

Wednesday Roundup

The TRIB’s Eric Heyl, donning his consultant-to-the-mayor hat, is entertaining as always.

Editorial Aside: But this time he’s way off base. The Comet sees no need for holding up the Planning Commission any further, on account of traffic studies. We would, however, strongly urge Don Barden to mitigate the Carnegie Science Center’s legitimate lighting concerns.


Meanwhile, the P-G editorial board strongly endorses Mike Dawida for city controller. We know this because they used the word, “strongly.”

Editorial Deconstruction: Some members of the ed-board were no doubt taken in by Dawida’s rowdy maverick shtick, of which we are also a fan. However, we wager that other members calculated that endorsing Dawida would not hurt Michael Lamb — but would rather hurt his rival Doug Shields — all while putting some daylight between themselves and the froofroo progressives.


The P-G’s Rich Lord submits a tiny little article about city automobile repair, with huge implications — not just for the race for controller, but for city-county consolidation.

On the same pages, Joe Smydo reports that Pittsburgh Public Schools are “re-thinking special ed logistics,” all without mentioning the words “Roosevelt,” “Tezca,” or “Cave-in.”

Planning Commission Shelves Casino until May

A heated procedural discussion broke out among members of the city planning commission, just prior to its adjournment on Tuesday evening.

The commission had heard PITG Gaming’s presentation of its master plan for approximately four hours, and had heard public comments from the Steelers, the Science Center and many others for another two.

During the final few comments, there was already a lot of shifting and whispering in the room, like when the class knows the bell’s going to ring soon, and teacher is wrapping things up. The last few public speakers all joked about everyone’s exhaustion.

Finally the Commission chairwoman made it solemn again, underscoring the massive importance, and massive complexity, of this development. She said six hour meetings aren’t common — asked the other members if they remember any — and said it indicated the profundity of the whole undertaking.

The Chairwoman pretty much begged and pleaded with the parties — Barden, the Steelers, the Pirates, the Science Center, the Riverlife Task Force, the University of Pittsburgh, the North Side / North Shore Leadership Conference, the Pittsburgh Design Coalition, and Mr. DeSantis of West Allegheny — to work out their own differences, at least as much as possible, before the next meeting in May. Because then, time really becomes a factor.

Another lady on the planning commission, named Mistick (any relation?), offered a stirring speech about the possibilities and opportunities that good compromise will achieve. She also echoed the Chairwoman’s urgings that the parties to reach out to one another, take initiative in solving these problems.

Shortly thereafter, another woman on the planning commission moved to speak. One could just tell it was going to get dark, and it did.

She suggested that with the special awesomeness of the undertaking before them, and with the undeniable time pressure, and with the major parties so very far apart — maybe this Planning Commission should hold an extra meeting or two.

The Chairwoman started to speak dubiously of this idea, and as she spoke she scoped out the room, and saw everyone scowling a bit. Mistick was like, no thanks. This was a heavy six hour meeting, and these lawyers are costing people money, and you can’t just keep jerking the multimillionaire around. (Actually, Mr. Barden and his people did not seem to fidget or mutter at the suggestion).

Anyway, the Chairwoman politely and firmly shot down this other woman’s suggestion about amping up the Commission in light of this once-in-a-decade city planning conundrum. The moment the meeting adjourned, the woman, clearly showing frustration, reservedly stalked out of the room.

Editorial comment: We obviously don’t know the players involved, but we found ourselves identifying with this last woman. After a six hour (very good!) meeting, the idea of scheduling a whole new meeting is always a tough sell. We acknowlege that the Planning Commission is busy with other things.

Yet we hope, as the dust settles, that all members of the City Planning Commission, including its chair, reconsider the wisdom of making this kind of extra push, during this most especially critical period in the history of city planning. Although Mayor Ravenstahl, and the task force that he chairs, are charged with forging these compromises over the next month, perhaps the attentions of the Planning Commission would help focus everybody’s minds on a superlative outcome.

Steelers Slam Barden’s Traffic Studies…

while some in the community bite the Steelers right back.

We attended PITG Gaming’s presentation of its master development plan to the city planning commission. We arrived just as PITG was wrapping up its end, and just before the public comment period.

Two attorneys spoke for the Steelers: classic good cop and bad cop. They questioned the very seriousness of PITG’s traffic and parking data, and presented their own forecasts, based on 30 years of experience and deep study in the area. They conclude that additional volume will create nightmare scenarios for events patrons — think eight mile traffic jams.

However, both Mark Fatla of the North Side / North Shore Leadership Conference, and John De Santis, resident of West Allegheny and Home & Garden Show director, testified to PITG’s great demonstrations of cooperation. Both the Steelers and the Penguins were chided for failing to be so open and collaborative during their own developments, and it was suggested that PITG can not be held responsible for the Steeler’s own problems.

Don Barden himself briefly took the mic to point out that while looking forward to working with stakeholders, he at least is building a massive parking garage, and he is already getting “taxed” for the new hockey facility. On this point, several of his entourage were heard to mutter, “Mmmhmm!”

The Carnegie Science Center added some concerns about foot traffic and bus access; a surprising number of school buses cycle through every day. They also raised lighting concerns: the Heinz Field lights themselves, when lit, already ruin the Observatory.

Another meeting is scheduled in about a month. The commission strongly urged all parties to collaborate over that interval, and work out as much as possible in advance. Responsibility for facilitating this negotiation appears to reside with the Mayor, and with the new city task force.

Feng-Shui, Race, Personality

Those seem to have been the dominant factors in the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s decision to award the lone Pittburgh casino license to Don Barden and PITG Gaming, on the North Side.

Much to the credit of the Category 2 Pittsburgh applicants, the Board has been presented with three very competent proposals, all of which are eligible and suitable for licensure under the terms of the Act. Unfortunately, the Board is constrained by the Act only to issue one license in Pittsburgh.

This sounds like my highschool science fair.

On December 20, 2006, during a public meeting, the Board voted unanimously to award PITG Gaming, LLC

Unanimity! Take that, holdouts for the appeals process.

Don H. Barden, an African American, is the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Barden Development

This was the first mention of Mr. Barden in the document. It was also the most forthright implication of the Gaming Board’s approval of this fact. The heritage of the other potential owners were not mentioned. You thought Pittsburgh’s reaction to Coach Tomlin was bound to be interesting!

By the June 2, 2006 deadline established by the PGCB for the receipt of written public comment, the Board received four-hundred thirty eight (438) written comments specific to the IOC project. Two-hundred fifty eight (258) were opposed to the project, while one-hundred eighty (180) supported the project.

We think this was fairly damning for the Hill District / Isle of Capri. Neither of the other plans garnered this much negativity. We think Dr. Goddess had an impact.

McCormick and Taylor also expressed concerns about how access to the gaming facility would be integrated with the remainder of the Master Plan. Trans Associates, Inc. indicated that they would look into the issue as the project moved forward. As of November 8, 2006, McCormick Taylor indicated that with some exceptions, specifically including seven surrounding intersections, it appeared that IOC’s proposed improvements adequately mitigated the project impacts and concluded that there were still issues that had not been addressed

So, traffic was also a factor with the Isle of Capri. But Harrah’s scored even worse:

McCormick Taylor opined that the site itself had limited access routes primarily because of the proximity of Carson Street on one side of the site and the Monongahela River on the other and also determined that the traffic improvements proposed by Station Square Gaming were also going to be difficult to complete based on the project’s close proximity to a bridge and existing buildings. Station Square Gaming’s initial study also did not take into account the traffic impact of Pittsburgh Steelers Games and other events in the area.

So you had one casino with iffy traffic and lots of opposition, another whose traffic issues were just horrendous … and a third in the relative clear. Finally we find this:

In addition, the Board notes that the personal commitment of Mr. Barden to the PITG – Majestic Star project was evident at every step of the licensing proceedings. The Board notes Mr. Barden’s personal presence at all proceedings and his unwavering commitment to PITG Gaming’s project as his “flagship” property. The calm intensity which Mr. Barden brought to this project and his undeniable dedication to make this project a success for all of Pennsylvania speaks volumes of his character and suitability for this license.

This is the entirety of the section “Other Matters,” the final section before the report’s conclusion. It is clear that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board liked Barden more than the others. Just how Pittsburghers will evaluate the Board’s criterion for likability, again, may get interesting.

COMET EDITORIAL: FengShui, as manifested by traffic flow, alone, should have made it obvious that the North Shore was our winner. We find it entirely appropriate that the owner’s race was viewed as a supplemental benefit, especially as it lends more credence to his community development commitments. Furthermore, we are heartened that personality seemed to play a role. Huzzah for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board!

Save the Penguins

“Our point has been all along that the Penguins ought to have some equity in this project, too,” Barden said. “We think we’re contributing more than our fair share.”

With this quote in Mark Belko’s P-G update, negotiations have officially spilled out into the public. There is no ellaboration of what a “fair share” might be for a casino entrepreneur who holds no interest in any NHL franchise, and whose own business karma is entwined with that of a totally separate struggling neighborhood that has not been the cause celebre of media concern.

Peduto discussed his Plan C on KDKA with Larry Reichart, and in bolstering the case for his own importance, reminded us of his dealmaking role in Heinz Field and PNC Park. The Comet wonders if this line on Peduto’s bio won’t be read as a net negative, and also wonders whether the composition of the Hill District (circa 2007) and the North Shore (circa 2000) invite similar strategies.

Finally, buried within Conte & Rossi’s Trib piece on Who Really Runs the Pens, there is news that “Internet media blog has written about Burkle more than 50 times since March.” We’ll save you some time: he has been accused of “modelizing” with Gisele Bundchen and others, of spying on his ex-wife, of attempting to purchase media outlets, and of harboring Bill Clinton.

Casino Countdown

“Members of the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force have said they would prefer a first-rate architectural product in perhaps 16 to 18 months rather than something of inferior quality put up in 14 months.”

Here we quote Dan Reynolds of the Pgh Business Times, taking the temperature of that same Task Force which well neigh endorsed PITG’s North Shore project in the months prior to its victory, drawing the ire of their underwriters at the Heinz Foundation. Reynolds’ article describes a mad dash to get those pesky permits out of the way, and get those slots cranking as fast as possible.