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The Big Gamble: Pittsburgh Casino Brings Some Prosperity to City Neighborhoods

PITTSBURGH, Penn. (WGGB) — Will a casino really make a difference across western mass? We’ve all heard the promises casinos make but how true are they?

ABC40 went to the Steel City to see how with the right approach and proper planning, neighborhoods miles from a casino can benefit.

Suffice to say that if we all had a magic ball, we’d look into the future to see if the positive impacts of a casino extend into the community.

The Pittsburgh area has unemployment and urban issues just like Springfield does. Their casino has been open for four years, and it appears the surrounding communities are benefiting from it, but only after taking come really careful steps.

Pittsburgh’s East Ohio Street is just miles from the Rivers Casino and for many years was plagued by urban problems

“We had some issues with nuisance stock crime. Nuisance bars, prostituon, and drug market,” says Mark Fatla, Executive Director of North Side Community Development Council.

Fatla says the casino has a formal agreement to provide the North side with financial aid each year.

Casino money is being used to redevelop buildings like this one and that one across the street. Store fronts are now for lease, trying to renergize the urban community.

“They want to be seen as giving back to a neighborhood,” adds Fatla.

So far, it’s working. This new bistro is making a go of it on East Ohio Street.

Barbara Burns has a successful gift shop a few doors down. “For those of us who are organized, for those of us who care about long term change and reinvestment in our communities, I just view the casino as one more partner,” she says.

The North side is invested in small, gradual improvements.

But other projects in Pittsburgh haven’t been so successful. This urban grocery store was supposed to open in 2009.

Four years later, it’s still an abandoned lot.

The Hill House Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Cheryl Hall-Russell says board members didn’t plan ahead for their casino donation.

Coupled with problems finding an investor, there’s been painful delays and conflict over how to spend the money.

“The thoughts on this lack of grocery store is disgusting. We’ve been waiting for this grocey store to open up for a couple years,” says Renee Fussell, a resident on “The Hill.”

Alyssa Emigh, another resident of “The Hill,” says, “It’s a struggle. It’s difficult. It’d just make things 10 times easier to have that there. We have everything downtown, except for a grocery store.”

The Hill and the North side neighborhoods aren’t far apart. They both receive formal funding.

The North side has made progress while The Hill’s improvements are stalled. We asked both neighborhood councils what advice they’ve give to neighborhood groups working with whatever casino comes to western Mass.

“I think it’s a mistake to not understand how that money’s going to be utilized ahead of time. It’s time to put politics and neighborhood poltics aside and make decisions well ahead of time, before that hits because it sounds good but if you’re not in agreement about where it goes it can delay that money getting on the ground,” says Hall-Russell.

Fatla adds, “You got to maximize the advantages. Make the most of the positives they bring you and understand the negatives and figure out how you are going to mitigate that. If you go in with what’s good and what’s bad. Than your working on both sides of that equation than you have a chance to make something positive out of it.”

That grocery store is expected to break ground sometime soon in The Hill neighborhood. They have gotten extra grants, finally have an investor, and are organized to proceed forward.

The North side has many more store fronts and projects on their list of things to do.

Getting the money for a place like the South End or North End of Springfield is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another.

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