Science center to seek delay in North Shore casino vote
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Carnegie Science Center may seek to delay an expected May 1 vote by the city planning commission on a master plan for the proposed North Shore casino, fearing that traffic and other concerns affecting its property may not be worked out by that time.

Joel Aaronson, attorney for the science center, said yesterday he likely will ask for a delay in the vote. He said he doesn't believe there is enough time between now and May 1 to get and analyze traffic information and to negotiate solutions.

The science center, the Steelers and the Pirates were among the casino neighbors who raised concerns about traffic during a public hearing on the master plan two weeks ago. The $435 million slots casino is to be built on the Ohio River shore between the science center and West End Bridge.

Mr. Aaronson said the science center has had one meeting with representatives for casino operator Don Barden, but still isn't close to reaching an agreement on ways to mitigate its concerns.

He said the science center still is waiting for a more in-depth traffic analysis from the casino.

"Nobody wants to delay this but it is a complex project and there are a lot of other stakeholders who are going to be very much affected," he said.

The science center has concerns about the impact the casino and its traffic will have on patrons crossing and school buses parking on North Shore Drive. Visitors use the road to go between the science center and the UPMC SportsWorks complex.

With increased traffic from the casino, Mr. Aaronson said a tunnel or overpass may have to be built at the science center so pedestrians can cross North Shore Drive. The center already closes down during football games at Heinz Field because of the traffic.

The science center also is worried about the impact casino lighting could have on its observatory, which can't be used during Heinz Field night games. Without some mitigation, the bright casino lighting effectively could eliminate all use of the observatory, Mr. Aaronson said.

He added the science center is happy to support the casino project. But the development must be done in "a way that doesn't prevent the science center from operating."

He said he would prefer that the planning commission wait until agreements are reached or close to being done rather than approving the master plan with conditions.

"Once approval is given, it's difficult to craft and negotiate those conditions," he said.

Mr. Barden wants to get moving with the casino project as soon as possible, his spokesman, Bob Oltmanns, said. He could not say whether the casino would oppose a delay in the May 1 vote. It is under a tight schedule to meet its proposed summer 2008 opening.

At the same time, Mr. Oltmanns stressed that Mr. Barden and his company, PITG Gaming LLC, prefer to work with the gaming implementation task force set up by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato to address concerns rather than doing it piecemeal.

The science center, Steelers, Pirates and many other stakeholders are represented on the task force.

"We're interested in being good neighbors. We're interested in working with the implementation task force on behalf of their constituents to address any of the concerns that have been put forward," he said.

"We don't oppose dialogue by any means or cooperation with the task force. The sooner we can get on with that the better it will be for everybody."

I really don't understand why these traffic studies weren't done prior to Barden winning the casino. Seems to me to be a day late and a dollar short.