NewsLanc.Com

    Providing Greater Lancaster with an Alternative Source for Local News and Commentary  _________________________________________________________
  November 7, 2006                                         Publisher: NewsLanc.com LLC                                    Volume 1, Number 14
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Editorial:
Is A Casino Planned for Convention Center/Hotel?

Almost everyone "in the know" has heard the rumors about an understanding with the Rendell administration that a casino will be part of the convention center/hotel project. Economically, if not morally, it certainly makes sense.

We ask: why would there be support for a project that, according to national experts, is likely to be an abject failure, costing city and county taxpayers tens of millions of dollars? Why would such knowledgeable public officials and business leaders from Senator Gibson Armstrong, to Representative Mike Sturla, to Governor Rendell and the sponsors of the project (High, Lancaster Newspapers, Fulton Bank) support such a dubious project unless there was an understanding that an immensely profitable casino license was in the wings?

There has long been speculation that convention center support was the political price Rendell paid to Armstrong for Armstrong not derailing the casino licensing legislation.

Within 48 hours of taking office, Lancaster city Mayor Rick Gray, who had expressed some misgivings about the project while campaigning, became a fervent supporter of the project. Once elected, was he told something he hadnít known?

At a recent County Commissioners' meeting, Commissioner Pete Shaub went ballistic when asked by a NewsLanc.com reporter if he had heard rumors about plans for casino gambling for the project. He impugned the reporter's integrity for simply asking the question. When pressed, he said he was not aware of such plans in a barely audible voice.

Commissioners Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson acknowledged hearing talk of a casino, but said they knew nothing beyond the rumors. Did Shaub, the lone commissioner behind the project, "protest too much?" Jack Buckwalter, Chairman of Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., termed the rumors "ridiculous," but referred a NewsLanc.com reporter to Nevin Cooley, a High Industries official and President of Penn Square Partners, the General Partner of the project. Buckwalter said Lancaster Newspapers is only a limited partner and that comments about the rumors should come from High.

Nevin Cooley has not returned phone calls from NewsLanc.com.

A casino would be a boon for the otherwise doomed hotel. It would lure suburbanites downtown and be a financial gold mine. It also would help attract business to the convention center. If plans for including gambling in the project were discussed by officials, such secret talks would be a flagrant violation of the "Sunshine Law."

A large portion of the Lancaster County community opposes gambling. If rumors have a basis, shouldn't the public have an opportunity to have a say now; not later, when the project is underway and the sponsors "discover" that bookings are disappointing, and a casino is represented as the only practical way to avoid disaster?

City and Eight Municipalities Laud
Commissioners' Leadership


Officials from Lancaster City and eight other municipalities gathered at the Nov. 1 County Commissioners' meeting to praise the commissioners for providing leadership and matching grants to make urban areas more livable and thus deter urban sprawl.

Delegates from the City, Columbia Borough, Rapho Township, Denver Borough, East Donegal, Mt. Joy, Mountville, Elizabeth Township and Millersville credited the county for making projects possible in their respective municipalities through the county's "stewardship" and matching grants, along with state and local contributions for $6 million in projects.

The grants make possible improvements for parks, pathways, parking areas, and the revitalization of Lancaster Square.

Given the length to which each local official went to praise the commissioners, the impression on bystanders was that the municipalities were seizing the opportunity, in the face of so much vitriolic criticism from the monopoly Lancaster newspapers, to display confidence in the effectiveness of Lancaster county government.

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Convention Center Failure
Would Cost County
$35 - $40 Million;
City $35 Million

The Hotel Room Tax, that largely finances the convention center project, would immediately terminate if a failing convention center were to be converted to an alternate use. The Lancaster County Convention Center Authority (LCCCA) is not permitted under its charter to conduct any other business.

In such a scenario, the LCCCA would need to request that the county loan $54 million to retire the bonds prior to any sale. The distressed property would likely be sold for a fraction of the original cost and the loss to the county would be perhaps $35 million to $40 million.

Given the historically low demand for downtown hotel rooms and the expert-predicted poor feasibility of the convention center / hotel project, the hotel will likely experience both poor occupancy and meager rates, and thus hemorrhage money, conceivably $2 million a year.

If the proposed hotel goes into receivership, it is hard to imagine to what alternative use it could be put.

Therefore, the City of Lancaster stands to lose much if not all of its $36 million it guarantees of hotel debt.

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Talk Back!
Make Your Voice Heard.
Write a letter, make a call:


Edward G. Rendell, Governor
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA 17120
(717) 787-2500
E-mail the Governor here.

Gibson Armstrong, State Senator
(717) 787-6535
garmstrong@pasen.gov

Mike Sturla, State Representative
(717) 295-3157
msturla@pahouse.net

J. Richard Gray, Mayor, City of Lancaster
(717) 291-4701
mayorsoffice@cityoflancasterpa.com

Ernest Schreiber, Editor
Lancaster New Era
eschreiber@lnpnews.com
(717) 291-8733

C. Ray Shaw, Editor
Intelligencer Journal
rshaw@lnpnews.com
(717) 291-8650

Marvin Adams, Editor
Sunday News
madams@lnpnews.com
(717) 291-8788