The developer of the mini-casino planned for Centre County has confirmed the location will be at the former Macy’s department store at Nittany Mall.
The location is in College Township close to Penn State University and Beaver Stadium, and the township posted information on its website Wednesday received from representatives of Philadelphia businessman Ira Lubert about the project.
Lubert, a Penn State graduate and board trustee whose many business interests have included prior investment in Pennsylvania casinos, secured rights to develop the mini-casino through a $10 million bid at a Sept. 2 Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board auction.
He and Bally’s Corp. announced in January that the national casino company had become a full partner in the project, and Lubert submitted a comprehensive application to the board’s Bureau of Licensing Tuesday describing details.
A board spokesman said those details will not be released publicly for weeks, until after an internal review is completed, but the township has received and posted a portion of the application known as the Local Impact Report.
A letter to the township on behalf of Lubert, from the Ballard Spahr law firm to accompany the report, specified the Nittany Mall site, where the Macy’s closed in January 2020. The letter advised local officials, “As you know, the proposed location is currently zoned for gaming, is conveniently located near the I-99, I-80, and Route 322 interchanges, and, subject to receipt of applicable approvals from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, would offer 750 slot machines, 30 table games, a sportsbook, restaurant and entertainment facilities.”
Local impact lessened by using mall location
The Local Impact Report prepared by Econsult Solutions Inc. noted various ways in which any additional burden on local services and traffic from adding the gambling venue is mitigated by its going into a mall that was built to accommodate heavy visitation.
That visitation has dropped substantially in recent years as Macy’s and other retailers vacated the mall, but the property provides a ready infrastructure for the project. That was similarly the case with Westmoreland Mall in the recent opening there of the state’s first mini-casino, Live! Pittsburgh. Penn National Gaming, meanwhile, is in the midst of constructing a mini-casino at the York Galleria mall in York County.
“We anticipate that the regional market draw of the casino is expected to have a net-positive impact on College Township tourism, helping to revitalize the Nittany Mall and attract other retail and hospitality operators to the area,” the report stated.
“In total, we estimate that the casino development is expected to have a negligible impact on College Township from capital improvements. Tax revenues to the Township from the casino will be a significant net positive to the Township budget.”
College Township, which is adjacent to bigger State College, has about 10,000 residents and an annual budget just over $10 million.
Instead of its own police department, the township contracts to receive police services from State College, and the report estimated the casino would add just an additional 6.2 calls a month to police work, along with an additional 2.2 fire calls and two EMS calls.
“Some increased traffic is expected due to the increased number of people who will be traveling to the township to use the new casino,” the Local Impact Report continued.
“But … the proposed site of the Nittany Mall and the surrounding streets are already equipped to handle traffic associated with the full scale mall activity. Because that mall activity has declined in recent years, with approximately 90 percent vacancy in the mall’s current commercial space, the increased activity expected from the casino should not warrant any new traffic signals or new street construction to accommodate the anticipated casino traffic activity.”
No public comments from developer for now
Lubert has not discussed the project publicly, but the casino’s planners will be required — presumably months from now — to outline details both at a local public hearing in the township and at a subsequent gaming board hearing in Harrisburg.
The Ballard Spahr letter identified the project’s “prospective chief executive officer/general manager” as Eric Pearson, a Las Vegas gaming consultant who was CEO of Valley Forge Casino Resort when Lubert was the primary owner there before selling it.
Pearson said in an email to Penn Bets Wednesday that he was not prepared yet to discuss details publicly. A representative of Bally’s also said this week that it would have no immediate comment on plans.
The January announcement of the Bally’s partnership with Lubert said the total investment in the project would be $120 million, with construction to begin in the first half of this year and take about 12 months to complete. A “casino fact sheet” presented on the township’s website now, however, says construction is expected to begin “in the second half of 2021.”
College Township could have voted in late 2017 to opt out of hosting any mini-casino, a route that more than 1,000 municipalities around the state chose to take, but township officials took no action to prohibit one. Officials have cited potential jobs creation, economic development, and support for the mall’s revitalization as factors in that decision.
In its casino fact sheet on the website, the township states: “College Township Council is actively monitoring the situation and awaits further application information, at which time it will chart a course forward, if needed.”