Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

January 19-25, 2006

cityspace


FUTURE SHOCK: Donald Trump envisions the floundering Budd site between East Falls and Nicetown as a perfect place to bring slots to Philadelphia. The neighbors disagree.
: Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc. michael t. regan
They're Fired Up

Diverse civic groups fight Trump's proposed slot parlor.

Even when Philadelphia was a pre-eminent manufacturing hotbed, few local industrialists were as pioneering as Ed Budd. From a 75-acre swath of North Philadelphia—loosely bounded by Henry, Roberts, Wissahickon and Hunting Park avenues between East Falls and Nicetown—the Edward J. Budd Manufacturing Company changed the way Americans traveled.

Its innovations enabled automobile makers to upgrade from wooden to steel frames in the early 20th century. Budd's workers also built the Pennsylvania Railroad's first stainless-steel passenger cars in the 1930s and later, the original Market-Frankford Line trains. But the times changed for Budd's company.

Having once employed more than 20,000 workers, the company saw its Hunting Park site staff dwindle to the hundreds by the time it merged with a German firm in the 1990s. (Though much of its production operation was moved to the Northeast after World War II, the company kept a solid Hunting Park presence.) The plant ultimately went silent in 2002 and the ThyssenKrupp Budd Web site currently boasts that the company recently got "a big bienvenido at the new Tijuana Plant."

Today, the Budd site stands as a sprawling testament to industry lost.


: Michael T. Regan

Though the A. Philip Randolph Career Academy still educates high schoolers at the corner of Roberts and Henry avenues, and the Salvation Army last week broke ground for a community center at the property's other end, there's little more than vacant land, dirt piles, abandoned buildings and railroad tracks that seemingly lead to nowhere. Off in the distance stands the TastyKake plant, but turn around and you'll see the fenced-off Abbotsford Homes housing project and, a block away, the recently closed MCP Hospital. But that desolate feeling could soon change.

With the property located near the high-volume intersection of Routes 1 and 76, state officials remembered the Real Estate 101 lesson regarding how location sells. As such, they saw enough potential to deem the site a Keystone Opportunity Zone, figuring convenience would spur development. Turns out, they were right. Some big-name investors have some big-time plans for an 18-acre portion of the land, with a future expansion should things work out.

The problem is, many nearby residents are making it known that they don't want their neighborhood to become a pioneer in Pennsylvania's gaming industry.

Already, the foes have sprinkled lawns and telephone poles in the surrounding neighborhoods with orange "No Casino Here" signs and have plans to spread that message all the way to Harrisburg. Worried that a slot parlor backed by Donald Trump and Pat Croce would drag down property values and bring too much traffic, crime and family-decimating temptation, they plan to gather at the site at 4 p.m. tomorrow for a protest, with anti-slots placards in hand.

They know that casinos coming to Philadelphia is an inevitability, but want Donald—and local politicians—to hear that they won't warmly welcome the TrumpStreet Casino & Entertainment Complex. This, regardless of how appealing the preliminary sketches look and how lucrative the company's concessions (jobs, movie theaters, etc.) to the neighborhood would likely be.

"We're not crusading against gaming as an issue," declares Ralph Wynder, a Democratic ward leader who heads the Multi-Community Alliance, a coalition of more than 25 neighborhood groups that united on the issue. "All [the state and casino officials] are looking at are the economic issues. We're worried about the social issues that nobody wants to address. We need development here, a supermarket, a Home Depot, not this."

In July 2004, the state legislature green-lighted more than a dozen slot parlors to open across the commonwealth to bring tax relief to residents. The law stipulated that two be set up in Philadelphia. Last month, five groups applied for a license to run a Philadelphia establishment, leaving the state Gaming Control Board to approve the local pair by the end of the year. Four of them have targeted locations along the Delaware River.

That Trump honed in on the Budd site for a 90,000-square-foot facility came as no surprise to locals who'd already been talking with the gaming magnate's company for months.

Though they hadn't been privy to Trump's finalized plans, Wynder's group had also been corralling local support and distributing surveys to gauge neighborhood opinion. They polled community members (Wynder says more than two-thirds of locals oppose the plans and worry that private properties could be taken through eminent domain), held public meetings (at which opponents have voiced a litany of concerns, from increased traffic to criminals roaming the neighborhood) and continued talking with Trump's people (namely executive vice president Robert Pickus, who has met with alliance members and agreed to work together to ensure they see tangible benefits).

Though these foes have suspicions that it's a done deal—they also think the MCP land will ultimately be tied into the casino project—they remain willing to hear them out, provided Trump makes concessions and investments that will help the surrounding neighborhoods. Pickus says the company is committed to giving jobs to locals, both during construction and after the casino and complex, which would bring restaurants and entertainment outlets, is built. He hopes residents will feel differently once they consider the full plan.

"We are at the beginning of a very lengthy community education process," says Pickus. "We'll continue to meet with them, give them information and take the dialogue from there. At least for folks with an open mind, many concerns will be allayed."

Pickus adds that, should the company get a gaming license for the site, "promises we made will be upheld. In addition to the reputational concerns we'd have [if we didn't fulfill our promises, both the gaming board and residents] will hold us to them."

Meanwhile, both Gov. Ed Rendell, who has a home in nearby East Falls, and district Councilman Michael Nutter remain publicly noncommittal.

"It could either be a plus for the community or detriment; all depends on the specific plans," says Rendell. "If they give hiring preferences [to locals], and look out for the neighborhood, it could actually end up enhancing property values."

Nutter, who says he's taken neighborhood concerns directly to Trump, adds that "the entire neighborhood needs uplift."

"As best I can tell, [the gaming board] is going to take [community feelings] into account, but I don't know how much weight it will have," says Nutter. "From their standpoint, it has to be a site that works, that will raise the [tax] dollars they're expecting. It doesn't make sense to pick a site where it would take forever to get built because of massive community opposition."

For his part, Wynder says he hasn't closed the door completely on the slots proposal. He'd like to see the state give residents tax breaks should the casino come to fruition, but quickly adds that opponents won't easily get behind it since they think they're being targeted as both hosts and customers.

"We've heard the song and dance about how they think people will be coming here from the suburbs," says the Rev. Jesse Brown of the North Philadelphia Community and Business Initiative. "Well, let's be serious: Nobody from the suburbs is going to come to North Philadelphia to gamble."

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