Casino Launch Lights up Johnson’s S. Philly

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LIGHTS SHONE on the facade of South Philadelphia’s brand new Live! casino and entertainment complex last week as it opened its doors to a host of dignitaries.

BY TONY WEST
The largest in-person development complex in Philadelphia’s pandemic history is now live. Or should we say Live!

On Feb. 11, the Cordish Cos. staged a ribbon-cutting for Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia on Packer Avenue in the Stadium District of South Philadelphia. This long-awaited second casino for Philadelphia underwent countless adventures, involving changes of site and ownership, since 2004. Construction of the eventual winner began in 2019. COVID-19 bumped back its completion and complicated its opening until this winter.

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But it’s open now. While other large construction projects have continued around the city during the pandemic, no new-business total package in the last 12 months approaches this scale. The $700-million complex “transforms the Philadelphia Stadium District,” proclaimed a release by the owner, “and establishes the area as the only place in the country to experience big league action from four major professional sports teams, best-in-class dining and entertainment, world-class gaming and luxury hotel accommodations.”

PHILADELPHIA legend Julius Erving, L, joined Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson for the grand-opening celebration. Photo by Wendell Douglas

It is a welcome feather in the cap of Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District). His racially mixed district contains some hot residential neighborhoods but it also carries struggling bluecollar communities with a lot of poverty and its attendant problems.

“The facility has provided over 3,000 new construction jobs and is now hiring to fill up to 2,000 permanent new positions for area residents. Hiring preference is being given to residents living in the communities immediately surrounding the Stadium District, then throughout the Greater Philadelphia region,” Johnson said.

The councilmember noted 60% of all hires in the construction phase were local and more than half of new permanent employees will come from the surrounding area. Management is still hiring for 800 positions, including experienced table games dealers, cage cashiers, and guest services attendants.

LUMINARIES at the event Sharon Powell, L, and Antoinette Johnson joined Councilmember Johnson (no relation) at the glamorous entertainment complex in the Stadium District. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Johnson vowed that half of all hires will come from minority communities.

Ongoing, the casino projects $2 billion in cash added to the local economy over the next five years, $100 million of which will boost city tax revenues. This brings the city up to its rightful share of the business impact promised it when Pennsylvania casinos were launched 16 years ago.

COVID-19 put a dramatic spin on the development. Like all entertainment venues, it relies on high-volume in-person entertainment customers to be viable going forward.

In this cause, Cordish Cos. had the advantage of being able to design in advance for disease-safe interiors rather than struggle with retrofitting structures built for an earlier age.

State-of-the-art air purification was installed to treat and clean the air in the facility, including any virus particulates. The system is designed to perform 12 air changes per hour throughout the casino floor, which is more than twice the frequency of most commercial buildings.

CORDISH COS. has made an effort to engage several local charities as beneficiaries. L. Cordish’s Ron Norton presents a $10,000 check to a representative of the Garces Foundation. Photo by Wendell Douglas

In addition, the one-of-a-kind slot-management system will guarantee every customer who plays a slot machine is sitting down at a freshly sanitized machine that has the capability to automatically social distance the customer from the nearest guest. It can automatically shut down a slot after it has been played and can only be reactivated by an attendant after it has been sanitized. Once a player starts to play, the system will lock down the machines on either side to enforce social distancing in areas not protected by Plexiglas barriers. The system will also allow a patron to request their machine be cleaned at any time.

The plan follows all public guidelines and recommendations on masking, temperature checks and social distancing.

PHILLIES Coach Charlie Manuel, L, was among the dignitaries who shared the podium with Councilmember Johnson. The new casino plans to co-star with the unparalleled sporting attractions of the city’s Stadium Complex. Photo by Wendell Douglas

Ushering the plan through its final stages was no small feat for Johnson as well. “It was very rewarding to work with this proposal from start to finish,” he commented. “It is a beautiful and safe casino, a shiny bright spot.”

But no city councilmember has been able to work normally since last March. Johnson’s offices are for the most part closed, his team working virtually and remotely.

“Meanwhile, we’ve been managing robust constituent services: addressing gun violence, food shortages, people dying, unable to see loved ones.”

Time for something fresh, he said. “This is the start of a great new tourist destination in South Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania.”

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