A rigged game
The Allegheny Conference on Community Development, which has had a chokehold on Pittsburgh's civic and economic life for decades, is trying to persuade the state's new gambling commission not to approve a proposal for a slots parlor on the North Shore. (Remember that local governments have no power to decide where casinos can be built within their borders.) From the Post-Gazette:
In letters to Rendell and the other officials, Allegheny Conference Chairman Martin G. McGuinn said the city had gone through an "extensive process of planning and investment in order to create one of the country's most attractive and vibrant downtowns."
He cited as evidence the region's ability to land next year's Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament and the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. He said new private investment is taking place Downtown and on the North Shore, with more anticipated.
"Substantial private investments such as these are only made where there are clear land use plans and appropriate zoning controls in place to govern the use of nearby properties," McGuinn said.
As for the North Shore, he said, private investments were made with the "explicit understanding and commitment that there would be no gambling facilities nearby, and proposals to place gaming facilities there threaten these investments."
Let's keep some facts in mind:
1. Much of the "investment" on the North Shore has been in the form of public subsidies to the Steelers, Pirates and Continental Real Estate, the company charged with overseeing development between the two stadiums.
2. Two of the employers that are building headquarters on the North Shore, Del Monte and Equitable Resources, are merely moving from the allegedly vibrant Downtown, which has continued to deteriorate over the past decade.
3. A handful of restaurants on the North Shore have closed since the two stadiums opened, and Merrill Stabile, the man who now wants to open the casino, scrapped plans to build an office building near PNC Park because he couldn't get any tenants.
In other words, the growth on the North Shore is an illusion, and it's been an expensive one at that. The Allegheny Conference has controlled the region's economic development for years, serving elite corporate and government interests at the expense of the broader public good. That's what's happening here. I'm not thrilled at the prospect of any casinos in Pittsburgh, but the North Shore is as good a location as any, and a group of men and women in the modern equivalent of the smoke-filled room shouldn't have the power to decide for an entire city what is and isn't in its best interest.