Residents, lawmakers react to proposed Westmoreland Mall casino
Hempfield shoppers and lawmakers say they’re excited for bright lights, high stakes and jingling slot machines to replace the denuded mannequins, empty racks and discount hunters that Wednesday filled the closing Bon-Ton at Westmoreland Mall.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Cindy Elliot of Hempfield said of the plan to build a “mini-casino” at the mall as she browsed a Bon-Ton clothing rack that had not yet been picked clean. “I think it will help the area.”
Plans for the casino, first reported Tuesday by the Tribune-Review, were formally submitted in Harrisburg to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board just before the close of business Wednesday.
A joint news release issued by owners of the Westmoreland Mall property and Stadium Casino LLC, the firm that earlier this year paid $40.1 million for the mini casino license, confirmed its plans to open a 100,000-square-foot gaming and entertainment facility in the soon-to-be-closed two-story Bon-Ton department store.
“We look forward to working with the Gaming Control Board, Hempfield Township and Westmoreland County in creating an exciting new destination in Westmoreland County. The property is ideally situated in the region, with excellent infrastructure and road networks in place,” said Joe Weinberg, a partner in the Stadium Casino group. “The synergy of this new gaming and entertainment facility with the existing retail and dining amenities in the property and surrounding area will be tremendous.”
Stadium Casino is a partnership between the Maryland-based Cordish Companies, which operates a number of casino and retail sites around the country, and Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc., which operates the Parx Casino in Bucks County. That partnership is developing a $600 million casino project in Philadelphia.
“Hempfield is going to become a destination,” said George Reese, chairman of the township board of supervisors.
Westmoreland Mall, a 1.2 million-square-foot property off Route 30, is owned and operated by CBL Properties of Chattanooga, Tenn.
“This combination of gaming and new dining venues, which is the first in the CBL portfolio, will draw new traffic to Westmoreland Mall from across the region, positioning the property for long-term growth and success,” said Stephen Lebovitz, chief executive officer for CBL.
Details of the casino plan and other aspects of the proposed development were not released Wednesday.
Stadium Casino and mall officials said there is no timetable for construction. That will be finalized after a review and approval of the plan by the gaming board, they said.
The Bon-Ton will close within the next week.
The mini-casino will have 750 slot machines and 30 table games, and a staff of about 600, according to state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield.
Hempfield beat out Greensburg, Derry, Unity and Salem, all of which were jockeying to host the casino. Hempfield and Derry early this year passed resolutions courting Stadium Casino, while Greensburg officials reached out to the company to promote sites in the city.
Local lawmakers are excited about the money the casino will bring in, and the potential development it could attract.
“The casino will benefit Hempfield by utilizing an existing commercial property, and keeping it on the tax roll, and it will bring in new revenue,” said township supervisor Doug Weimer.
Under state law, 2 percent of the casino’s revenue from slot machines and 1 percent from table games will go directly to Hempfield, while an equal amount will go into a state fund used to pay for projects in Westmoreland County.
“It will be a huge economic boost for not just Hempfield Township but all of Westmoreland County,” said Hempfield supervisor Rob Ritson, who is also chief of staff for Kim Ward. “We’re privileged enough to have it located in the township.”
Township leaders say they do not yet know how much money to expect or how to spend it.
Weimer said he hoped the casino would revive the struggling mall.
“Retail is suffering, stores are suffering because of online shopping,” he said. “This should help to keep foot traffic in that area.”
Though many mall shoppers were optimistic about the casino, Dan McDonough of Pittsburgh said he’s against the project.
“I don’t like it. We have enough problems; we don’t need more,” said McDonough, who ventured to Hempfield on a shopping trip. He opposes most forms of gambling, saying it’s “people wasting their money.”
Ritson said the township will need to talk about security around the casino. State police patrol the inside of casinos, but the township will need to ensure it doesn’t cause any problems in the surrounding area, Ritson said.
“It’s going to bring its share of challenges for us, so I’m looking forward to some really good conversations with my fellow board members,” he said. “We’re going to have people who are concerned about activities caused by the casino and the surrounding areas.”
The mall, which sits on a busy stretch of Route 30 east of Greensburg, has plenty of parking and is well-suited to supporting a large enterprise like the casino without burdening local infrastructure, Reese said.
“It’s coming, in my opinion, to the best place in the township,” he said.
Township leaders have not met with Stadium Casino LLC.
Jacob Tierney and Rich Cholodofsky are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter @Soolseem. You can contact Cholodofsky at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]