South Philly casino gets zoning nod over racism charges

A group of Kentucky residents testified in City Council yesterday about racist practices allegedly employed against African Americans at a business owned by a development company that is set to help build Philadelphia’s next casino.

But those past incidents didn’t deter the City Council’s Rules Committee from giving a favorable recommendation to an ordinance that would grant needed zoning for Live! Philadelphia Hotel & Casino, planned for the stadium district in South Philadelphia. The zoning will go before all of City Council for a vote on Dec. 3.

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“I can’t say that we have found any evidence that this company is a racist company,” said Rev. Terrence Griffiths of Black Clergy of Philadelphia of Cordish Companies, which with Parx Casino is developing Live! Philadelphia.

Griffiths testified that he was approached by representatives of Metropolitian Public Strategies (MPS) with a report about past racist conduct accusations leveled at Cordish — and that their goal was to obtain union representation of casino employees by Unite Here.

Rodney Muhammad, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, backed up Griffith’s story.

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“I became a little bit suspicious about how anxious this person was to have me come out against Cordish Companies,” Muhammad said of MPS’ representative, saying he pulled out of a press conference to denounce Cordish after checking on the company’s reputation with other NAACP chapters.

“None of us have run into anything like that,” testified Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis, MO chapter of the NAACP, of allegations of racism against Cordish.

But three witnesses from Lousiville, Kentucky, condemned practices intended to keep out black customers at Fourth Street Live! in their city, which Cordish developed.

Shelton McElroy, who has an active lawsuit against Cordish, testified that he was thrown out for violating the dress code — while three shirtless white patrons danced on the bar nearby. (Cordish said Live! Philadelphia will not have a dress code).

“They’re not going to implement this police in Philadelphia,” McElroy testified, “since it wouldn’t make dollars and sense … But you would be rewarding racism.”

Maya Williamson described being ordered by two managers — a black man and a white woman — to keep black patrons out.

“She said, ‘They’re bad for business. Anything you want to do to keep them out, do it,” Williams testified, breaking down in tears. “They should not be able to do that.”

Cordish VP Blake Cordish and COO Zed Smith attributed any racist conduct to “third parties” employed at those specific venues, and testified that their community benefits agreements with South Philly residents would supportthe city.

“We appreciate the confidence shown in our team by the City Council,” Smith said in a statement. “We can’t wait to get started in creating thousands of jobs and career opportunities for the people of Philadelphia.”

The $450 million project is estimated to create 3,000 construction jobs, 2,000 permanent new jobs and draw 8.5 million visitors a year.