Chinatown casino critics: Survey says businesses oppose Foxwoods

Opponents of moving the planned Foxwoods Casino from South Philadelphia to the Gallery at Market East said an informal survey of 75 business owners showed strong opposition to the idea.

Two groups met in Chinatown Monday night to discuss the proposal, offered by Foxwoods, Gov. Rendell and Mayor Nutter as a solution to the stalemate over building Foxwoods on a traffic-clogged section of Columbus Boulevard in Pennsport. One was held at Holy Redeemer School on Vine Street and was organized by Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. About 75 people attended.

A second meeting, of the OnLeong Association above HK Golden Phoenix Restaurant on Race Street, involved a smaller group and focused on strategy. It included 15 people, a mixture of business leaders and activists. It was organized by Helen Gym, a board member of Asian-Americans United, and businessman Ying Zhang Lin, PhD, president of the Fujian Association of Greater Philadelphia Area, who acted as interpreter.

At the meeting, Gym and Lin said they had surveyed 75 businesses in the quadrant formed by Arch, Race, 9th and 10th. Of those businesses, Gym said, 48 were "strongly opposed" to a casino nearby. Another 12 were "concerned" and wanted more information. 12 businesses supported the idea, and 3 didn't care, she said.

The survey must be put in perspective: These are the results of an informal, in-person poll. It was conducted by a group that has staked its position in opposition to a casino, and before Foxwoods has presented a detailed proposal.  

Perhaps most intriguing are the reasons that opponents gave for their opposition. According to Gym, they were, in order:

1) Concern about gambling addiction among Asians. 

2) Impact of a casino on Chinatown's culture, families, and children.

3) Safety, crime and security.

4) Doubt of the economic benefits.

5) Traffic and parking.

One business owner voiced a concern that the casino would kill shopping options by replacing the Gallery, Gym said. Note that traffic, which  to be came to be the primary concern of neighbors in the Pennsport section of South Philly, came in last.

The mood at both meetings was generally unfriendly to the Foxwoods move, indicating that, at the very least, Rendell and Nutter have work to do in selling the plan. A community meeting with Councilman Frank DiCicco, state Rep. Michael O'Brien, and a representative from the Nutter administration is scheduled for next week. Chinatown is part of DiCicco's councilmanic district and O'Brien's state legislative district.

Local opposition to Foxwoods in Pennsport was the chief factor in forcing Foxwoods to consider moving, and DiCicco was the primary voice for the neighborhood. Brian Abernathy, DiCicco's legislative aide who has been his point-man on casinos for the last three years, said the proposal would not be rushed through, and that Chinatown residents would be a part of the process at each step. Abernathy said the city has asked Foxwoods "to come up with something they can present publicly as quickly as possible," and he noted that it has been less than three weeks since Foxwoods announced its intentions.

"People are concerned, they have every right to be concerned, but I encourage people to stay calm until we have detailed information. We have a lot of work to do," Abernathy said. "The councilman, the mayor and Representative have all said we're going to go through a process. I don't think any of our reputations is to ignore or steamroll anyone. And we're certainly not going to start now."

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