Shippensburg Township’s proposed mini casino will be moving to a new site, executives of the gaming company said.
Greenwood Racing Inc., owners of Parx Casino in Bucks County, will evaluate other sites for its proposed mini casino after deciding the cost to develop the previously selected site to be too expensive, Bryan Schroeder, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief compliance officer, first told The News-Chronicle July 19. This previously selected site off of Exit 29 of Interstate 81, was a 10.77-acre property on a realigned Cramer Road in Shippensburg Township.
“The real issue and more important one,” Marc Oppenheimer, Parx's chief marketing officer (CMO), later said in a telephone interview Friday, relates to the company being “forced” to refurbish the nearby highway overpass, which he said would be estimated to cost an additional $20 to $30 million.
Oppenheimer declined to comment further on the subject. A Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) spokesman indicated improvements to the bridge were not part of the highway occupancy permit submitted by the developer, and had no knowledge of the state asking the developer to fund improvements to the bridge.
“As per the highway-occupancy permit, the developer is making improvements on both sides of the bridge, at the ramps, including new lane configurations and signals. Cramer Road access on the west side is also being realigned. This development mitigates the traffic impact per commonwealth policy and regulation. The bridge did not need widened to achieve their mitigation,” wrote Mike Crochunis, district press officer, in an email to The News-Chronicle.
The bridge’s widening is an improvement listed on PennDOT's 12-year plan, he said, but there are no funds currently lined up for the future project, which would be considered five years down the road and afforded through avenues such as federal funding, licensing fees, and the state’s gas tax.
“I can’t see the state asking someone to take that on,” he later said.
“Five years ago, PennDOT said they didn’t want to approve anymore developments that would affect the I-81 bridge, specifically a distribution center,” said Township Supervisor Steve Oldt in a telephone interview.
He added the $3.5 to $4 million of infrastructure improvements, like the three new traffic lights off the interstate, were as much as they were going to allow, and wanted to block any future developments.
Either way, the casino is on the move.
These changes in plans will delay the casino’s opening to 2021, versus the originally projected 2020, Schroeder noted.
Schroeder said Parx Casino is still “really committed to Shippensburg Township,” and will not be moving their site to another municipality. The company intends to resubmit land development plans, and repeat any similar processes associated with approvals in the township.
“We want to stay in Shippensburg Township, research as many sites as possible, and find the best one,” Schroeder said.
Company representatives also said there was another minor issue with the site related to the geological conditions, requiring the land to be stabilized because of sinkholes.
Oppenheimer said Parx Casino is now looking at a “number of sites,” including 250 S. Conestoga Drive, once home to a Lowe’s Home Improvement store. Oppenheimer described the site as “viable with an already built building and parking lot.”
One of the complications with the site would be the zoning, because of its proximity to Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church on Walnut Bottom Road, as well as nearby residences on Mickey Lane, Oldt said.
The township adopted an ordinance in December of 2018, amending its zoning code. The ordinance replaced “off-track betting parlors” with language for “casinos and gambling facilities.” The ordinance included restrictions, one prohibiting the gaming facility from being built within 1,000 feet of a residential area or place of worship.
Oldt said the township would consider doing “whatever we could do to make the casino a reality,” but it also has to follow what is outlined in the state legislation and ultimately must be approved by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Although Lowe’s no longer operates its store out of the building, the company still remains locked into a long-term lease for the property. Anthony Bird, associate broker with NNN Properties Group, said the owner of the 20.94-acre lot is “not currently marketing the property in any way,” and took the listing down about six months ago. Oppenheimer declined to comment on other possible sites being considered at this time.
Schroeder said the design of the casino may change, but he does not expect actual operations to be affected, like the number of people visiting the casino, or number of slot machines present. The casino is expected to have about 475 slot machines and 40 electronic table games, along with a first-class sports bar and restaurant, according to the company’s presentation at the March public input hearing.
The company will evaluate other sites based on sufficient acreage, location and the impact on the community, Schroeder said.
The new site isn’t the only change for Greenwood Racing.
Anthony Ricci, who pitched the idea of a mini casino to residents of Carlisle Borough or South Middleton Township last year, and presented the project plans in Shippensburg Township at the March public input hearing, stepped down from his position as Chief Executive Officer of Greenwood Racing Inc. in April of 2019.
Schroeder wrote in an email to The News-Chronicle: “Mr. Ricci has been retained as a consultant for Greenwood Racing Inc. The decision to find another site had nothing to do with the change in Mr. Ricci’s employment.”
There has been no interim CEO selected at this time, rather a Management Committee has been assembled of the Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Counsel, he later said.
Greenwood Racing was the highest bidder in a Feb. 22, 2018, Category 4 “mini casino” auction and chose to find a site within a 15-mile radius of a central point in South Newton Township to build.
Municipalities had the option to approve an “opt-out” resolution, and shoot down any possibility of hosting a mini casino, as outlined in new legislation passed by the state legislature in 2017. Mini casinos became a concept in 2017.
Shippensburg Township was one of the few municipalities in the radius that decided not to file this resolution. Greene Township, who also did not opt-out of the possibility, was considered a possibility at one point, and the company had their eye on the Chambersburg Mall. South Middleton Township and Carlisle were once considered possibilities, but they had decided to opt-out, and stick with their decision, even after Ricci pitched the positives of a mini casino before the board and public.
The company officially entered a purchase and sale agreement March 5 with the seller, Shippensburg Investors LP, a subsidiary of an affiliate of Equus Capital Partners, a commercial real estate agency. John Knott, vice president of development at Equus, who is listed as the main contact for the property, did not return an email or voicemail seeking comment prior to press time Monday.
Schroeder said they signed the agreement of sale, and the company was amid the due diligence period when they decided to terminate the agreement and not close the transaction. Oppenheimer confirmed this decision to move was final.
According to the agreement, this period of investigations and feasibility studies – when they could decide to terminate the agreement on the property – was set to close 180 calendar days after entering the agreement, or Sept. 1.
The 10.77-acre site, which would have been listed on the tax roll as 777 Cramer Road, is a subdivision of the larger site owned by Shippensburg Investors LP, south of the 1,100,500-square-foot distribution and e-commerce industrial facility, which is currently being constructed. The casino property was Lot 3 of I-81 Commerce Park.
The project is still awaiting approval for its slot machine license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
“A move in location would necessitate an addendum to their application,” said Doug Harbach, communications director for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Harbach said the Gaming Control Board may decide to hold another public input hearing due to the change in site. The board held its public input hearing for the license in March, and is an opportunity for government officials, community organizations and others to provide feedback on the proposed casino for the board to weigh in their deliberations to decide whether to formally approve or deny the license application. The March public input hearing brought mixed reviews on the possibility of a casino in Shippensburg Township.
Harbach noted the investigative unit was still collecting and assembling the necessary evidence and had not scheduled a hearing on the license. An addendum to the license application has not been filed yet.
Parx has not directly contacted the township on their decision to move, according to Oldt.
“We just have to sit and wait and cross our fingers,” Oldt said Saturday. “We certainly want them here.”
Engineer Scott Bert, chief designer at his firm, Herbert, Rowland & Grubic (HRG), declined to comment on the project. In an email to The News-Chronicle, he wrote, “As far as I know, we are their primary engineer. However, we are not working with them at this time. They are doing their own thing on site selection, and they just told us that they would be in touch if they find something in the area and need our assistance.”