This year marks a decade of casino gambling money dedicated to local projects
August 20, 2018
Have you ever driven on the bridge at Morganza Road to Southpointe II, perhaps while heading to its Town Center, and then followed other roads? Turned on a water tap in a Southpointe II restroom? Been toasty warm inside a Town Center restaurant while your meal is cooked over a natural gas blue flame?
The throngs who played slot machines at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino might be the last people you’d associate with those roads, water lines or gas lines, but the gamblers – ka-ching! – generated part of the money that helped make Southpointe II’s infrastructure what it is today. And those roads, while not paved with gold, allow approximately 15,000 people in Southpointe I and II to get around.
Bill Sember, who as director of operations for the Washington County Authority oversaw, along with the agency’s board of directors, the development of Southpointe II, emphasized the word “part.”
Southpointe II may have received $2,550,000 from the local share of casino gaming, but it also had a list of funding sources that the Local Share Committee refers to as “leverage,” or, money from other sources.
In the case of Southpointe II, it was the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program; money from the federal Economic Development Administration; and a total of $6 million in loans from the state. Much of the money went toward the above-named infrastructure.
Southpointe II’s development predated the initiation of casino gambling locally, but its arrival was timely for it and other projects.
An overview of 10 years’ worth of local share allocations in Washington County shows two business parks and one mixed-use development have been the biggest beneficiaries from the local share of casino gambling at The Meadows, which has generated more than $87 million over a 10-year period.
Southpointe II in Cecil Township, Starpointe Business Park in Hanover and Smith townships, and Alta Vista Business Park in Fallowfield Township have flourished since The Meadows opened its temporary casino in June 2007.
Alta Vista has received $3.3 million, and Starpointe Business Park near Burgettstown is the single-biggest recipient, receiving $5,550,000 during the past decade.
But government coffers can shrink, as the point man for one business park found.
Dan Reitz, executive director of the Washington County Council on Economic Development, said,”The LSA has been really, really helpful because the state has less and less money to grant or lend.”
Reitz recalled that in 2008, with six months’ worth of local share accumulated, the first phase of Starpointe had already been completed.
Olson Industries roofing and Volvo Rents were soon to be joined by Miller Plastics and Lanxess and a flex building.
“We were going to do phase two, which included larger parcels,” Reitz said. “We needed larger, pad-ready sites.”
Few would have foreseen a decade ago that on the horizon would be a 468,000-square-foot Scannell Properties building, a 90-bay distribution and trucking dispatch operation related to the Shell Chemical natural gas ethylene cracker in Monaca, Beaver County.
The most significant aspect of business parks’ development really comes down to the jobs they bring.
“When the Scannell building is done, there will be over 500 (jobs), and they’re supposedly going to be in there by the end of the year,” Reitz said.
“In this next phase, we’re borrowing money from the Power of 32,” Reitz said of the transaction that carries a $4 million cap.
Starpointe is the first project to be approved for such a loan from the organization that encompasses 32 counties in Western Pennsylvania, the West Virginia panhandle, eastern Ohio and western Maryland.
Philadelphia, Allegheny, Erie and Delaware counties receive money from casinos within their borders directly from the state Department of Revenue, but fourth-class counties – those the size of Washington – do not.
The local share of casino revenue is set at 4 percent of gross terminal revenue, and Washington County begins its local share process on the local level. Applicants are scheduled for public hearings before the committee, which makes a recommendation on how much money goes to projects it deems worthy to the county commissioners.
Each year, the commissioners have approved the committee’s list without any changes, and from there the information goes to the state Department of Community and Economic Development in Harrisburg, which has the final say about local economic development and historical preservation projects.
Local sewer and water line projects have, collectively, been a big-ticket item among the local share projects. The smallest single expenditure was the installation of an automatic door at the Washington Senior Citizens Center.
Washington County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi and his colleagues have never overruled the Local Share Account’s committee recommendations for funding under chairman Jeff Kotula and what the commissioner called “seasoned economic development people. That’s such an important board to the county.”
Sember and Reitz have seats on the committee, but they say they’ve recused themselves from deliberations on decisions about funding their own organizations.
The process was refined after the early years saw representatives of municipalities arrive hat in hand to request a snow plow or salt storage shed.
“They gave every municipality except North Strabane $25,000 per year plus $10 a head for population,” said William McGowen, executive director of the county redevelopment authority that administers the program.
“The only thing it changed for us was that $3.5 million came off the top.”
North Strabane, as the casino’s host community, has its own funding stream, and tiny Green Hills Borough doesn’t meet the population threshold.
Washington County Redevelopment Authority plans to hold three workshops explaining how to apply for funds made available from the local share of casino gambling at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino.
The program is open to Washington County and local governments, municipal authorities and nonprofit agencies.
The workshops are designed for local officials and those who will be preparing and submitting applications.
Here are the locations and times:
- 10 a.m. Monday in council chambers at the Donora Borough Building, 603 Meldon Ave.
- 2 p.m. Tuesday at Western Area Career and Technology Center, 688 Western Ave., Canonsburg.
- 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the public meeting room of the Courthouse Square office building, 100 W. Beau St., Washington.
The 2019 application and related information will also be posted on the redevelopment authority’s website, www.racw.net, under “economic development.”
Eligible projects include job training, public interest, community improvement and economic development.
The application deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3.