Interim casino could open within a year

SugarHouse today unveiled design changes for its waterfront casino and said an interim facility with 1,500 slots could be up and running by this time next year.

But the partners behind SugarHouse still need to borrow about USD 140 million in order to start building, Robert Sheldon, president of SugarHouse, said at a City Hall news conference.

In 2006, when the SugarHouse project won one of two slots licenses for Philadelphia, the partners told regulators they had USD 445 million in financing from a gaming unit of Merrill Lynch.

However, Sheldon said that commitment with Merrill Lynch no longer exists.

Merrill Lynch was a casualty of the financial crisis and was forced to merge with Bank of America.

Sheldon said the partners have put up USD 160 million of their own equity, which should make lenders more comfortable with the project.

„We don’t anticipate that it will be difficult,“ Sheldon said.

The SugarHouse partners are led by Chicago gaming billionaire Neil Bluhm. Local investors include real estate developer Daniel Keating 3d, lawyer Richard A. Sprague, former state Supreme Court Justice William Lamb, auto magnate Robert Potamkin and business-services entrepeneur Jerry Johnson.

At today’s media briefing, Mayor Nutter endorsed the project, saying the city needs the hundreds of construction and casino jobs that the project will generate.

„These jobs are what the city needs right now,“ Nutter said.

The city could immediately see USD 11 million a year in revenue for hosting the casino, the mayor said.

The new design includes a lower casino building and more space along the water’s edge. But it still includes a massive, multi-story parking garage for 3,000-plus cars, making it the largest in the city.

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