Ron Rubin Was Here

He’s left a bigger mark on Philly than anyone this side of Willard Rouse, and now, at 77, he wants to put a casino in Strawbridge’s. The key to being Ron Rubin? Patience, and knowing how deals here really get done

LAST SUMMER, RON Rubin called his buddy Ed Rendell with an idea.

Rubin wanted to relocate the proposed Foxwoods casino, in which he is a prime investor, from the river on Delaware Avenue to his Gallery mall. The waterfront was an unmitigated disaster of a site. Even Rubin, with his infamous patience, had had enough.

The state Gaming Control Board had approved two slots parlors for the city in 2006. Rubin formed an investment partnership, bringing in Flyers and Sixers owner Ed Snider and businessman/Rendell crony Lew Katz; each set up his share as a charitable trust — meaning that their earnings won’t line their pockets, but just might accrue enough to define their legacies.

However, after the group teamed with Foxwoods, the Connecticut-based casino, and won the bid from the board for the Delaware Avenue site, big problems immediately surfaced: South Philly neighborhood opposition was fierce; traffic congestion appeared unsolvable; and City Councilman Frank DiCicco, whose district included both casino sites, and whose sponsoring of a zoning ordinance in City Council greenlighting the casino was necessary, dug in — against Foxwoods, especially. If DiCicco hadn’t, he risked a John Dougherty-led attack that could accuse him of being in the pocket of developers as his reelection approached. “So DiCicco had to be more anti-gaming than Nixon was anti-Communist,” Foxwoods lawyer Jeff Rotwitt says.

For months, Rubin sat back. He was content to let DiCicco get reelected, to watch the process play out. Still, Foxwoods couldn’t come close to breaking ground. Occasionally Rubin and Rotwitt would have lunch at the Palm, downstairs from Rubin’s Bellevue office. Rotwitt was beginning to go a little crazy, shuttling between State Senator Vince Fumo and Governor Rendell and House Speaker John Perzel and community groups and Mayor Nutter and Frank DiCicco, begging for political traction.

Rubin seemed almost amused. “It’s out of our control,” he told Rotwitt, who certainly didn’t disagree. What will happen will happen, Rubin counseled; Rotwitt wanted Rubin to get more involved, to jump-start the process — “I think he was the only one who could have,” Rotwitt says now.

But Rubin had long ago learned the value of simply waiting. Some deals have a last-man-standing quality to them; they may look dead in the water, but if you hang in …

Meanwhile, anti-casino protests were relentless. John Dougherty stayed publicly quiet, because building a casino meant thousands of jobs for his blue-collar charges. Privately, though, Dougherty had made an offer to a lawyer for a Foxwoods competitor: “You want me to really kill this project?” The activist organization Casino-Free Philadelphia went out to attention-shy Rubin’s Penn Valley neighborhood, knocked on doors, shared what that guy next door was up to downtown. Bringing gambling to our city! (When they made the mistake of knocking on Rubin’s door, and asking him, through a speaker, whether he would talk, Rubin declined.)

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  • Wes

    I don't know if accurate to use "knowing how deals here really get done" to describe Ron Rubin. The fact that the graphic for this article cites DisneyQuest as an accomplishment speaks volumes of what this man has done to Philadelphia, which is to have left nothing but scars of surface parking lots littering once thriving, retail and commercial thoroughfares. He should stick to refurbishing hotels and designing suburban strip malls and leave the major urban core development to those who get cities.