Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When all else fails, bring in a casino

Have you ever noticed that when you go to a shopping mall, the mall always puts up signs to announce that new businesses are opening, but they never put up signs to announce that old businesses are leaving? Well, businesses ARE leaving malls, and shopping centers, and industrial areas all the time.

I tend to pay attention to closed grocery stores to see what ends up in this locations. Among the new businesses in old grocery stores are discount electronics retailers, drug stores, office supply stores, and health clubs.

It's probably safe to say that the larger a building, the tougher it is to find a new tenant. So what happens when an entire factory closes? If you're lucky, a casino may move in:

By the time [Bethlehem Steel] company declared bankruptcy in 2001, the blast furnaces had been cold for nine years, the 20,000-strong work force had largely been dispersed and the property tax base had plummeted, along with values of the homes of Ms. Corroda and her neighbors.

Yet on Friday, when the elegant $743 million Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened atop the site of the gigantic ore pit, Ms. Corroda was among the first in line with an ear-to-ear grin that exuded optimism for the area that has been lacking for some time....

The mayor said he expected the casino, the largest in Pennsylvania, to draw more than 4.5 million visitors a year and provide about $9 million to the city’s general fund, which this year stands at $55 million. Mr. Callahan sees this as the entertainment part of a redevelopment that also includes plans for an arts center and television station, a museum focused on American industrial history and condos to be built in a former steel plant building.

Of course, Sands was smart and made some design decisions to please the locals:

Here in Bethlehem, what delighted people like Ms. Corroda and Rich Fenstermacher, who worked for Bethlehem Steel for 34 years and is now a casino security officer here, were the homages to the company whose product helped build skyscrapers, railroads and military armament for a century. Exposed piping and a turreted ceiling were built to resemble the style of some of the buildings, and brick walls match the look of the structures that housed the factories.

Sands itself tells the story:

In December of 2006, Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVSC) was awarded a Category 2 Slot Machine License by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. LVSC was thrilled and quickly started working on the site categorized as both the largest Brownfield redevelopment project in the nation and the largest casino development investment made to date in the Commonwealth. At a projected cost of $743 million, the historic Bethlehem Steel plant is now being transformed into a fully integrated resort consisting of 3,000 slot machines, over 300 luxury hotel rooms, 9 restaurants, 200,000 square feet of premium retail outlet shopping, and 46,000 square feet of flexible multi-purpose space. On May 22, 2009, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened the first phase of the project, quickly becoming a major attraction in the region.

And, as can be expected, there is opposition to the presence of a casino in Bethlehem. But Tony Rhodin's problem isn't with the gambling - it's with the alcohol:

[M]y concern today is drunks. Unlike Atlantic City, where most folks take a bus or stay at a hotel in proximity to the gambling, Sands didn't finish building its hotel before the slots are to open. Yes, LANTA is going to run some buses -- but, in many cases, at some point they will lead to a car. The nearest hotel is a fairly long walk in what can be a fairly sketchy neighborhood. One hotel even promotes itself as just a short drive from the casino. I hope these hotels provide free shuttles on top of the LANTA service.

So, after pouring away money and pouring down drinks, celebrants will hit the road.

I'm hoping Bethlehem uses some of its casino money to stop these drunken drivers in that fairly remote part of South Bethlehem before they reach I-78 in one direction or Route 378 in the other. A permanent DUI roadblock in both directions would be great. A breath tester before getting out of the parking lot is another option.

Because we all know that DUI roadblocks nab DUI people, right? Here's what happened in Highland, California over Memorial Day weekend:

DUI Arrests — 8
Drug Possession Arrests — 1
Unlicensed Driver’s Arrested — 33
Warrant Arrests — 6
Other Citations — 8
Vehicles Towed — 19
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