Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor's administration gave a boost yesterday to a proposal for a slot machine casino at Station Square, releasing a 135-page report to state regulators that gave the site and its backers high marks.
The report brought hot retorts from City Council members and a competing casino applicant.
City Planning Director Pat Ford's report concluded that Harrah's Entertainment and Forest City Enterprises had a better track record, location, site and building plan, and likely a stronger socioeconomic impact, than two competitors.
They lagged in just one area. A proposed Hill District casino, sought by Isle of Capri Casinos Inc., would be easier to get to than Station Square, the report found.
Mr. O'Connor isn't endorsing any casino proposal, said B.J. Leber, the mayor's chief of staff. The report "is in no way to be a recommendation" to the state board, she said.
Mr. Ford presented the report to City Council, in advance of submission to the state Gaming Control Board within two weeks.
The report "isn't worth the paper it's written on," said Councilman Jim Motznik. "Personally, I think [the Station Square] location is the worst location, and you guys rated it the best."
He and other council members said they might send their own letters, singly or jointly, to the state board. The board's seven members are set to decide in December who gets to own Pittsburgh's lone slots casino.
Slots contestants agreed that the report could have an impact with the board.
"At the end of the day, the local government is one of the key sources of information the Gaming Control Board will use," said Forest City spokesman Abe Naparstek. "We're really happy with the report."
"It paves the way to provide cover if some mischief is afoot and the people in support of the Forest City proposal want to say that they have some momentum with local government," said James Simms, chairman of Pittsburgh First, a development group that includes Isle of Capri.
Gaming Control Board spokesman Nick Hays wouldn't say how important the report would be in the decision-making process, promising only that it would be "taken seriously." He said the experience and fiscal wherewithal of the applicants are the key criteria.
Mr. Ford said he produced the report because state law required it.
The section of the slots law on municipalities' powers and duties, though, stopped short of requiring any such report, saying only that they "may make recommendations" to the board. That section of the law was struck down by the courts, Mr. Hays said.
Mayoral spokesman Dick Skrinjar said that even if the report wasn't required, it "provides a clinical, professional analysis on behalf of the citizens of Pittsburgh on ... issues that have tremendous impact on the quality of life of the city. ... If we don't do that, who would do it?"
Supporters of the Isle of Capri plan hissed when Mr. Ford told council that he did not consider that applicant's pledge to pay $290 million toward a new arena to be "guaranteed."
"That's just a plain inaccurate assessment that taints the rest of their analysis," Mr. Simms said.
He also criticized the report's reliance on claims by the applicants, and its lack of "objective analysis" of the data. Isle of Capri has said that Harrah's has overstated the revenue from its proposed casino and understated traffic.
Mr. Ford said he did not second-guess the traffic projections, financial data, employment projections and building plans the three bidders provided.
The most hotly contested estimate was the contention by Harrah's and Forest City that their casino would not cause a dramatic worsening of traffic on Carson Street. Councilman William Peduto said the companies must be assuming that slots players will come in kayaks.
Mr. Naparstek said Forest City plans to add new entrances to Station Square, build a pedestrian bridge from the Mon Incline, and better coordinate traffic lights.
Mr. Ford said the Station Square site was in a "self-contained" entertainment district, and a casino wouldn't have dramatic effects on residential neighborhoods, in contrast to the proposed Isle of Capri site in the Lower Hill District.
Councilwoman Tonya Payne said the neighborhoods around the Isle of Capri site need something to spur their revitalization.
"We found no evidence that a casino has ever been a stimulant or a catalyst for the revitalization of any neighborhood," Mr. Ford said.
Detroit businessman Don Barden's proposed Majestic Star Casino on the North Shore did not rate best in any category analyzed. Mr. Barden could not be reached for comment.
Rich Lord can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1542.