June 03, 2019

Hempfield, Westmoreland leaders betting on economic boost from mini-casino at mall

The proposed mini-casino in Hempfield is expected to bring millions of dollars to the community, piggybacking off similar projects across the state.

While a timeline has not been set for construction of the casino in the former Bon-Ton store at Westmoreland Mall, and a final meeting with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has yet to be scheduled, local leaders are preparing for positive changes thanks to new jobs, salaries and economic impact.

“I think it is truly a great thing for our township in regards to that land out there, that mall, such a large parcel that became available,” township Supervisor and board chairman George Reese said. “I think what I’d like to see when they come here is the opportunity for jobs for people. And not just for Hempfield. I’m looking for those outside of Hempfield.”

Across the state, the casino gaming industry has created more than 33,000 jobs and has had an economic impact of $6.3 billion with a dozen casinos, including ones in Pittsburgh, Erie and Washington County in Western Pennsylvania.

While the exact economic impact for Hempfield has not yet been determined, initial estimates show about $1.7 million in taxes will be generated each year, said Melanie Phillips, the township’s finance director.

“I fully expect our revenues to be at their best when the casino first opens and then experience a leveling off as the novelty wears off,” Phillips said via email. “We will not budget for this revenue for the year in which the casino opens. Instead, we will see what the actual revenue stream is and use that to project going forward.”

Officials from The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based group that is developing the casino, predicted a boost of about $152 million for Westmoreland County, adding the $131 million casino would bring about 500 full-time jobs with average wages around $43,000.

The casino, which cost the company $40 million for a the rights to build, is expected to house 750 slot machines, 30 table games, restaurants and night life spots. Construction is expected to bring an additional $123 million to the county with the addition of 700 jobs related to developing and retrofitting the space. Mall officials started demolition in April, township Manager Jason Winters said.

With those open positions in construction, Reese hopes Cordish will take advantage of local contractors and suppliers, giving the area a boost before the casino opens.

“I hope they take that into consideration,” Reese said. “When it’s over, the jobs go away, but that property’s going to have to be maintained. … There’s local people within our county that can provide those services.”

Phillips said projections from casino owners are the “best-case scenario,” and that full-scale casinos are creating $2 million per year in revenue for communities — revenue that will help balance the budget in the future.

“Anytime you bring jobs and development to the township, you help with the tax base, and we had a steady decline in population over the last few years, so that makes the area struggle from time to time,” township Supervisor Tom Logan said. “We’ve been fortunate in that we have a pretty solid tax base; we have a pretty solid work force.”

In Pittsburgh’s North Shore, Rivers Casino produced over $300 million of revenue in 2017, according to the American Gaming Association, one of the top 20 commercial casino properties outside of Nevada.

The Meadows Casino and Racetrack, which opened in North Strabane, Washington County in 2009, has generated over $98 million in economic, community and industrial development projects, said Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Through a countywide local share account program, which is made up of Washington County’s annual allotment of 2% gross terminal revenues as a host county, investments have been made in infrastructure, industrial parks, job training and community improvements.

The casino also touts community partnerships with small businesses and the North Strabane Fire Department, which built a new substation across from the 350,000-square-foot building thanks to land donated by The Meadows, which is now owned by Berks County-based Penn National Gaming.

For Chad Amond, president and CEO of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, renovations to the mall, which now has two empty anchor stores including the former Sears location, would bring similar partnership to Hempfield.

“The malls, they are struggling across the country for retail space, and I think that they need to be more of a destination location,” Amond said. “This is going to impact the county positively. … It’s going to draw people in from other areas and it’s going to impact the hotels, the restaurants, I think it’s going to impact small businesses.”

Amond expects to see new hotels and restaurants pop up around Westmoreland Mall, like IronRock Tap House, which is under construction.

“I think it will be good fit,” Supervisor John Silvis said. “We’re anxious to see it come.”

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