Looking like they'd been up for 14 straight hours playing slot machines, a wearied city planning commission voted to approve the master plan for Don Barden's North Side Majestic Star casino.
With the May 29 vote, Barden's PITG Gaming can begin construction at the site, which is located near the Carnegie Science Center. The approval followed several delays in which PITG and its soon-to-be neighbors -- the Steelers, Pirates and Carnegie Science Center -- tried to resolve concerns about the traffic the casino will create.
Approval came after a more than two hours of public testimony from more than a dozen involved parties. And the commission still has to approve plans dealing with design, lighting, signage and landscaping.
Most of those who testified were lawyers for the various parties involved and traffic planners hired by the sports teams. But the Steelers and Pirates have already voiced disappointment with the process so far. Hired lawyers and traffic planners argued that the casino had yet to submit a full traffic-impact plan, which they contended was essential. And they groused that speakers were given only three minutes to speak -- not enough time, they complained, to express the full scope of their concerns.
"PITG's conduct shows a clear pattern. They have continuously promised to do everything they can to work it out, to be helpful and cooperative," said Greg Rhodes, an attorney representing the Steelers. "However, in fact, they seldom do anything and then when deadlines come, they say we don't have time because of their own expedited timeline for construction.
"Unfortunately this is a pattern that allows for cutting corners."
The Steelers weren't the only ones unhappy; similar complaints were aired by the Pirates organization and the science center not only about traffic, but that PITG has done little to negotiate with them.
"The science center will be the most consistently and intimately adversely affected of all the stakeholders," said Joanna Haas, director of the Carnegie Science Center, whose main complaint is that the casino will hinder school bus access to the facility. "You are hearing concerns today and none of them wear the label of adjacent property owner, but I do.
"The mitigating measures supplied by the [department of planning] are not adequate."
Sidney Kaikai, the city's transportation planner, has been working for months with all parties to develop a solution for the concerns. Kaikai urged master-plan approval based on 16 conditions -- among them a pledge by PITG to complete a traffic study by Sept. 30. Also, despite assertions by the other groups, Kaikai says PITG Gaming has been working with the Steelers, Pirates and the Carnegie Science Center and believes the Casino and the others, particularly the science center, are "almost there."
PITG attorney Deborah Roush agreed that the sides can reach an agreement, but griped that whenever critics had a difference of opinion, PITG was labeled as obstructionist.
"We have made ourselves available to the Steelers and we're sorry that we sometimes do not agree with everything they request," Roush said. "But we are starting to feel that any time we do not agree with any thing on their wish list, the Pirates and unfortunately the Carnegie Science Center's wish list that we are told we are uncooperative, unresponsive and that we are not listening.
"We are very disturbed that we have heard the same demands over and over, along with the implicit threats that if we do not provide everything required as it's requested, there will be no support. I don't think this is the kind of message the city wants to send to outside developers."