Losing casino bidder renews option on arena site

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A losing casino bidder has renewed its option to purchase the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob synagogue in the Hill District, complicating an authority's plans to buy the property as part of arena construction.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. recently extended the option for a year, as insurance in the event the state Supreme Court overturns the December award of the city's lone casino license to PITG Gaming LLC.

"As we work through the appeals process, we are leaving our options open," Isle spokeswoman Jill Haynes said.

However, the decision creates problems for the city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, which wants to relocate the synagogue to clear the way for the $290 million arena.

"It's one more thing to deal with," SEA Executive Director Mary Conturo said yesterday.

If Isle of Capri were to be awarded the Pittsburgh license through the appeal process, it would need the synagogue property on Colwell Street for the casino, which would be built adjacent to the new arena.

Ms. Conturo has said in the past that it is possible to build the arena around the synagogue but that's not preferable. She said yesterday she isn't sure how quickly the SEA will need the property or whether crews could work the construction around it, at least temporarily.

"We're just beginning to work out scheduling details now," she said. "At this point, I don't have good information about what the progression of construction would be or what the overall design time would be."

The Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob synagogue, with 50 to 60 members, is the last one remaining in the Hill District. It was once one of more than 23 synagogues in the Hill.

SEA board members have authorized a contract of up to $10,000 with IMM Properties to help identify a new location Downtown for the synagogue. If an agreement can be reached, the authority would pay to acquire the property and relocate the synagogue.

Ms. Conturo said the SEA would not be able to close on any deal until the Isle of Capri option is resolved.

Harvey Robins, attorney for the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob synagogue, declined comment yesterday, citing a confidentiality agreement with Isle of Capri.

The Isle ended up losing its bid for the Pittsburgh casino license to PITG Gaming, headed by Detroit businessman Don Barden, which is proposing to build a $435 million slots palace in Chateau near Carnegie Science Center.

Isle of Capri and Station Square Gaming, the other losing bidder, appealed the award to the Supreme Court, which heard arguments this week. It is expected to rule within four weeks.


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


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