After work stoppage and financial crisis, North Shore parlor back on track

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On the casino floor yesterday, there was no Wheel of Fortune, no Double Diamond, no Price Is Right, no Lucky 7 slot machines. Just a lot of construction equipment, piping, duct work and assorted other pieces of the jigsaw puzzle known as the Pittsburgh casino.

"It's in a real rough stage right now," said Ed Fasulo, the casino's general manager and senior vice president.

Rough as it is, the $800 million North Shore casino slowly is taking form, from the 90-foot-high drum atrium, the building's centerpiece, to the curve of the sleek two-story facade designed to follow the river, to the gigantic 3,872-space parking garage being built behind it.

During a tour yesterday, Mr. Fasulo said the casino, after weathering a work stoppage and financing crisis that cost Don Barden his majority ownership last summer, is on track to open in August.

Aided by a long streak of good weather, crews have erected 85 to 90 percent of the casino's structural steel and about 90 percent of the garage, which has been the subject of a lawsuit and criticism over its size.

Officials now are hoping to get the building "buttoned up," or sealed from the elements, by early December before winter hits, enabling work to start in earnest on the inside, Mr. Fasulo said.

To accelerate work on the skin, now 15 to 20 percent complete, contractors began double shifts last week, he said. They will stay in effect "for the near term. It will kind of depend on how things go between now and December," he said.

Inside, workers already have begun to install some of the duct work and plumbing. Framing also is going up in spots.

Just inside the main entrance, visitors will be greeted by a waterfall and a casino floor that looks to stretch more than 100 yards from east to west. The floor also will extend under the parking garage on the north side of the building.

Eight elevators will whisk visitors from the garage directly to the casino floor, making it easy to jump right into action.

Glass will dominate the two-story casino's facade facing the Ohio River, offering visitors striking views of the river, the Point and Mount Washington.

Mr. Fasulo said a steak house, an Italian restaurant and a VIP lounge will sit at the front of the casino, along the 24-foot-wide riverfront promenade that will double as part of the North Shore trail.

The "very classical, traditional" VIP lounge will be "unique to the area," Mr. Fasulo said.

The lounge, however, might not have the best views of the river and Downtown skyline. Those may be reserved for the second floor, in the 450-seat buffet turned slightly to face the Point and open to all casino patrons.

Before the casino is finished, about 2,500 workers will be involved in the project. Currently, about 380 people are working at the site, just west of the Carnegie Science Center.

A group headed by Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm took control of the project in August after Mr. Barden failed to secure permanent financing.

Mark Belko can be reached at or 412-263-1262. First Published October 10, 2008 4:00 AM


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