A little over an hour ago, PITG Gaming Majestic Star was awarded the only slots casino license for Pittsburgh in a unanimous vote by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. PITG, pending appeals, can begin construction on their North Shore casino for a projected March 2008 opening. This vote came as a shock; anyone following this year-long-plus soap opera thought the license would go to either Forrest City Enterprises/Harrah's, which wanted to build a casino at Station Square, or Isle of Capri, the St. Louis-based casino owners who promised $290 million to the Pittsburgh Penguins to build a new arena and wanted to build a casino in the Hill District.
This decision will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in recent Pittsburgh history. Besides the traffic concerns that plagued every proposal, placing a casino on the North Shore will blight what has become one of the most attractive areas of Pittsburgh during this on-again, off-again third renaissance the city has been going through since the construction of PNC Park and Heinz Field. What is currently a pedestrian- and family-friendly open space will become enclosed and ridden with crime and drugs, centered around the casino. (And how convenient that it's based on the river; murderers can dump their victims in the Ohio, and despondent gamblers can plunge to their watery demise in a fit of post-I-lost-my-family's-savings depression.)
But on top of all that, Pittsburgh is most likely going to watch as the Pittsburgh Penguins, a professional sports franchise with nearly 40 years of history, walks away from the city once its sold to a new owner and its lease is up at Mellon Arena (which comes in June). For the yinzers in Pittsburgh, who cares; the Steelers are still here. For everyone else, Pittsburgh will be marked with the scarlet letter of infamy as one of only a handful of major American cities that has allowed a professional sports franchise to leave town. Unlike other cities, though, Pittsburgh is incapable of recovering. The city's too old and politically ill-equipped to handle to the negatives that will come from this.
This casino business -- and the Penguins situation -- will continue to evolve, probably at light speed, over the coming weeks. But for now, gaze upon a few conceptual views of the Majestic Star North Shore casino. At least the Penguins will be able to look at something pretty as they fly away.
(All images courtesy Strada, LLC.)