SugarHouse History: Optimism In 2006, Riparian Fight Today

The state Supreme Court spent 100 minutes today listening to SugarHouse, a casino proposed for the Delaware riverfront in Fishtown, fight with the city and state about whether it can build on 11 acres of state-owned "riparian" land. SugarHouse says the state, in a law passed 101 years ago, gave the city control of the riparian land, which is sometimes also called "submerged lands" but in this case is a lot of mud, rubble and broken-down old piers.

All this got us thinking about the the sense of optimism that filled SugarHouse Chairman Neil Bluhm of Chicago 17 months ago when he was one of five applicants for two state casino licenses in Philadelphia. Let's go back to what Bluhm told the state Gaming Control Board on Nov. 13, 2006:

SugarHouse bets on riparian rights.

"We believe that there will be no question that we will get riparian rights."

"...there is a long history of granting riparian rights to developers along the water."

"It's inconceivable to me that the legislature would not grant riparian rights for a project when it's going to benefit the Commonwealth and [Philadelphia] and increase their revenue. So we have no concerns about getting riparian rights."

That turned out to be a bad bet.  SugarHouse bypassed the General Assembly and asked the city to give it the rights to build on the riparian lands.  Mayor Street's administration gave the OK in November. State legislators sued in December, saying the General Assembly controls riparian rights. Mayor Nutter overturned the SugarHouse decision after taking office in January.  And now the Supreme Court has to decide.