Casino panel created

39-member task force to study design, traffic, jobs, potential social problems relating to $435 million North Shore project

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The Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force is gone, but another one will be taking its place to help ensure that the proposed Majestic Star casino in Chateau will be a quality development and a good neighbor.

Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, left, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announce the formation of a new task force yesterday to oversee the design, construction and community impact of the slots casino planned for the North Shore.
Click photo for larger image.

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato yesterday announced the formation of the Gaming Implementation Task Force. They will serve as its co-chairs.

In all, the task force will boast some 39 members, including state, county and city politicians, adjacent property owners, and representatives of North Side community organizations, county and city law enforcement agencies, and civic and business groups. PITG Gaming LLC, the winner of the state-issued license for the Pittsburgh casino, also will be represented.

Among the adjacent property owners serving on the advisory panel will be the Steelers, the Pirates, Del Monte Foods, and Equitable Resources, all of which fought against a North Shore casino.

The Allegheny West Civic Council, the Manchester Citizens Corp., and the Northside Leadership Conference, representing North Side neighborhoods that conceivably could be impacted by the casino, also will have seats.

Task force members will look at issues like design, traffic, community impact, jobs and potential social problems relating to the $435 million casino, which will be built along the Ohio River between the West End Bridge and Carnegie Science Center.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the formation of the task force coincides with a public hearing scheduled Tuesday before the city planning commission on PITG Gaming's master plan for the casino development.

"PITG Gaming will be in front of the city of Pittsburgh Planning Commission for the first time next week, and we thought it was appropriate to convene this task force now so they can be participants throughout the community process," he said.

Mr. Onorato said he and the mayor tried to make the task force as comprehensive as possible because of the casino's magnitude and potential impact, which he saw as regional in nature.

"You only get one chance to do it right. Now that we know what's going here, we want to make sure we do get it right and we do deal with all of the issues, both positives and negatives that might arise out of this particular facility, so that it becomes a huge positive for the region," he said.

PITG Gaming spokesman Bob Oltmanns said the company, headed by Detroit businessman Don Barden, welcomes the chance to work with the task force. Mr. Barden has pledged to make the Pittsburgh Majestic Star the flagship of his gambling operations, which include casinos in Indiana, Las Vegas and Colorado.

"We've said all along that we're coming here to be an integral part and participant" in the community," he said. "This is just the next step in carrying out that commitment."

Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Onorato are moving ahead with the task force even though the award of the slots license to PITG Gaming is being contested by the two losing bidders, Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. and Station Square Gaming, led by developer Forest City Enterprises.

Both said they were confident that the award would be upheld.

The new group follows the Pittsburgh Gaming Task Force, which was formed by former Mayor Tom Murphy to study issues relating to the casino. The task force spent more than a year researching issues, meeting with the three bidders and drafting design guidelines and recommendations.

Asked if the new group would avail itself of that work and expertise, Mr. Onorato replied, "If there's something valuable they want to add, but this is a different issue, a different mission."

Anne Swager, one of the co-chairs of the Murphy task force, said she was "thrilled" that another group was being formed to study the casino's impact.

"I think this is really a good thing that Ravenstahl and Onorato find that this development is so important to the region that they are focusing all of this attention on the casino," she said.

While much of the casino's impact will be in the city, Mr. Ravenstahl said the task force needs to have a county presence because of issues relating to transportation and human services, such as homelessness and problem gambling.


Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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