The former Lowe’s Home Improvement store building on South Conestoga Drive in Shippensburg Township is Greenwood Racing’s newly proposed location for its mini casino, according to recent filings with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) and the municipality.
The owner of one of Pennsylvania’s largest gambling venues, Parx Casino in Bucks County, abandoned a vacant site on Cramer Road for its future smaller casino due to a number of concerns that arose with the location after further investigation more than a year ago, including one that may have led to the company shelling out millions of dollars to build a new overpass at the Interstate 81 Exchange, due to its proximity to it.
The company later entered into a letter of intent to lease the premises of the former 139,535-square-foot superstore at 250 S. Conestoga Drive on Sept. 24, a PGCB filing reads.
On March 17, the gaming firm officially settled on a resolution of a dispute, related to a traffic impact study required by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), it had with the PGCB’s Office of Enforcement Counsel that, along with the overall impact of COVID-19 on the gambling industry, played a role in delaying the progression of the project to this point.
PGCB Spokesman Doug Harbach said in a telephone interview March 18 that with the dispute in the rearview mirror, the “goal” is to host a public input hearing in Shippensburg Township on Greenwood’s Category 4 slot machine license application, with amendments to reflect the change in location, within a few months.
“All parties would like to move aggressively in getting the project in front of the board for a final determination because we’re talking about significant revenue and jobs for the town and commonwealth,” Harbach said.
Public officials, community leaders and any residents will have the opportunity to voice (or submit) thoughts on the project to be noted on the record during the public meeting as further evidence for the seven PGCB members to consider when deciding whether or not to ultimately vote on awarding the license Greenwood had won in an auction for $8.1 million in February of 2018. The format will likely differ from typical public hearings because of the COVID-19 pandemic and details are still being finalized, according to Harbach.
In addition, a public hearing is scheduled on the company’s conditional use application that will come before the Shippensburg Township Board of Supervisors for possible final approval at 8 a.m. April 3, at the municipal building on Walnut Bottom Road, according to Township Supervisor Steve Oldt.
According to the March 5 conditional use application filed with the township, the 20.94-acre parcel that houses the former Lowe’s building across from the Walmart shopping center would be host to slot machines and table games currently estimated to include 600 available gaming seats, and a nationally-branded restaurant/sports bar with about 250 seats.
As part of the local share component of the gambling expansion legislation legalizing these mini casino licenses in 2017, Oldt noted that a percentage of the casino’s annual gross gambling revenue will be directly allocated to Shippensburg Township, but there is a cap of 50 percent of the town’s entire municipal budget -- meaning between $500,000 and $600,000 is the most it could receive.
In the conditional use application, it states 150 to 175 construction jobs could be created in connection with the development of the gaming facility and approximately 125 “desiring, well-paying jobs.”
“It’s not a done deal and we don’t know where it is all going, but if the project is successful, this will be a big thing for the greater Shippensburg area, not just Shippensburg Township,” Oldt said in a March 19 telephone interview. “There will be naysayers that say this will bring drugs, crime and prostitutes, but this is not the same as going to the casinos in Atlantic City or Las Vegas. This is a mini casino, and it will be one of the safest places in Shippensburg.”
A dispute was raised in a Jan. 15 filing by Greenwood’s attorneys, petitioned against the scope of a PennDOT-required traffic impact study that had the area to be surveyed at allegedly more than double the size ordinarily recommended for a development comparable to the proposed gaming facility.
The attorneys added in contention that the study could have potentially resulted in the company having to pay millions of dollars for upgrades or the replacement of the nearby Interstate 81 overpass, located in that expanded study area, to handle the vehicles traveling to the casino.
“After allowing the development of large warehouse, distribution and logistics facilities directly adjacent to the I-81 interchange, PennDOT is now ostensibly attempting to saddle GW Cumberland (subsidiary of Greenwood), whose facility will be over 1 mile away, with the costs of studying and potentially improving or replacing the Interstate overpass,” the petition states.
Harbach had “no comment” on that portion of the petition.
A public hearing on the petition filing had been scheduled during the March 17 virtual meeting of the PGCB, but in its place, a “stipulation of settlement” was instantly approved in a 6-0 vote by the board.
“GW Cumberland agrees to the scope of the study requested by enforcement counsel, but to only pay a pro rata portion of any improvements needed in the extended study area and with a dollar cap on any such improvements,” said PGCB Chief Counsel Douglas Sherman before the roll was called. “The
settlement agreement also seeks to establish the monetary cap today, but the parties understand that the board is not willing to do that, and as a result, before the board for approval, is a stipulation of settlement modified to exclude any exact dollar amount.
“The board’s approval of this modified agreement will resolve the petition before the board and allow the project to continue to move forward.”
An agreement of sale for the formerly proposed 10.77-acre site, cleverly expected to have been addressed 777 Cramer Road with previous hopes of opening in late 2020, was in place between Greenwood and land owner Shippensburg Investors LP, a subsidiary of an affiliate of Equus Capital Partners, before it fell apart in the summer of 2019.
The apparent fear of possibly having to pay for upgrades to the overpass was also a big reason why Greenwood did not close on the purchase of the Cramer Road site, a subdivision of a larger block of land, which included a nearly 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center behind it and was about a mile closer to I-81 compared to the new site, according to Chief Marketing Officer Marc Oppenheimer in a 2019 telephone interview with The News-Chronicle.
In the same telephone interview, Oppenheimer noted the former
Lowe’s building, which closed in November of 2018 due to underperformance, was one of the original sites being considered for the casino because it already had a “built building and parking lot.”
Since its departure, Lowe’s has remained locked into a long-term lease for the property with the New York-based ARC Real Estate Group (Ship to Shore), which has been the owner since 2014 when it purchased the site for $24.35 million. According to the conditional use filing, ARC is still the landlord, under the name of Ship to Shore.
Oppenheimer had “no comment” to offer on the settlement approved by the PGCB, or the overall project when reached on March 18.
“The matter of the widening/refurbishment of the I-81 overpass was a matter of concern, but it was not a foregone conclusion that it would be required to be completed. The township had already approved the development plans without attaching any such condition,” said Attorney Mark Stewart in an email
in the summer of 2019. “The PGCB directed the applicant to conduct a traffic study, the scope of which (as set by PennDOT) required a review of any impact on the overpass and potential mitigation. Where the engineers would have come out remained to be seen, but it was a concern and the cost estimates referenced were discussed.”
Sinkholes found at the old site and concerns over sharing an access road with the incoming warehouse also reportedly led the company to look elsewhere in the township with eventual opening pushed back to 2021.
When reached on March 19, Stewart maintained the issue of the traffic impact study, beginning with the first selected site on Cramer Road, leading to possible upgrades or replacement of the overpass were never mandated, because of it ultimately being “premature” to have made such conclusion before the conduction of the study, rather the conclusion was thought to have been further implied when the second location was chosen, about a mile further away from the overpass, and the overpass happened to be inside the requested traffic study area.
Stewart said it is a safe bet to assume 2022 is when Shippensburg could have its fully functioning mini casino if all goes as planned.