3 Things That Might Have Kept Steve Wynn in Philadelphia

Maybe. Maybe not. But geez, it’s still a tough sell to bring companies to Philly.


Many people were surprised earlier this week when casino-mogul Steve Wynn announced he was backing out of his plans to build a gambling resort in Philadelphia’s Fishtown section. It’s really not that surprising. Wynn thinks big. He’s building a $4 billion resort on the tiny island of Macau. His casino in Vegas makes the word “opulent” seem understated. He’s after big money, big fame, big publicity. And Philadelphia is not the place for this. It’s not that big a market. There’s already a lot of competition. And most importantly, it’s not New York.

New York is the place for Wynn. So when New York’s voters last week approved a resolution that could potentially allow gambling in the city, I’m sure Wynn’s mouth watered. I mean, c’mon, if you’re a big-thinking, big-playing kind of guy like Steve Wynn, why in the world would you waste your money investing in Philly when you can make a splash in New York City, just 90 miles up the road. It’s New York. It’s not Philly.

Could our city have done anything to save the deal and keep him here?

I really doubt it. Even if the mayor wasn’t wasting his time this past week trying to make a national name for himself as an ambassador in London and Tel Aviv, there was still little to be done. And even though a guy like Wynn will always lean toward the glamour and wealth of New York, there are still things that the city could have been doing that would have at least given him pause for concern. Or at least provide a better environment to attract other companies to the region. The mayor can travel all he wants, sip champagne with dignitaries and CEOs around the world and talk himself blue in the face to try and entice them to move operations to this town. But without these three core things, most businesses will likely go the way of Wynn.

1. A lower tax base. For starters, please give the mayor credit. The Pew Charitable Trust just released their report on the finances of American cities between 2008 and 2011 and Philadelphia found itself in the middle of the pack, which isn’t so bad. By raising taxes and cutting expenses, the mayor navigated us through what could have been fiscal disaster. But he still faces enormous pension liabilities. And taxes in the city, both for business and individuals, are among the highest in the country. Why would you move your company to this environment? How can you tell your shareholders and employees that now they’ll have to pay more taxes (if not immediately because of some abatement “deal” then in the future). Business people don’t do this. They move to places in the world (see: Ireland) where taxes are as low as they can be. To cut taxes the mayor will need to courageously face entitlements, particularly pensions. I’ll write some other day about the city’s pension liabilities and my gist will be this: Cut them for the people who don’t need them, even if you have to go to court. The goal is to reduce taxes in the city. That will attract businesses and provide a much stronger revenue base for decades.

2. A better educational system. If Steve Wynn moved his family to Philadelphia, do you really think he’s sending his kids to a Philadelphia public school? Could he stand up in front of the key people he’s moving here and tell them to do the same for their kids? Could he attract great people from the region and from around the country by dangling our great public school system in front of them as an enticement? You know the answer. The city has to continue to change the way our schools are run. I’ll write some other day on this too and my gist will be this: More charter schools, less pensions to those who don’t need it, better treatment of teachers, more partnerships and promotions with corporations, and more segregation based on behavior (give the kids and their families who want to succeed a place to succeed). If your job moves you to another city, aren’t you looking to live where there are the best school systems? Aren’t property values higher there? Aren’t more businesses attracted there? A great education system attracts great things. It’s not just about teaching our kids. It’s about building a good infrastructure for the future.

3. Security. Fishtown is kind of safe. But it also borders some pretty rough areas of Philadelphia. In fact, there are a lot of rough areas in the city. Our police force has done a good job with the limited resources it has. But Philadelphia, like many major cities, suffers from enormous blight and crime. People want to feel safe going to work and being at home. A larger, better-equipped police force is a key component of this. I’ll write on this in the future as well and my gist will be: More investmentment in police, tougher rules on policeman who abuse their responsibilities and more time off for everyone, less pensions to those who don’t need it, more outsourcing, more partnering with corporations and more no-crime zones. Who would want to relocate their company to an area where their employees are at risk? Who needs that liability? With all the headaches that come with running a giant resort/casino, why would Steve Wynn want to worry about the safety of his guests the minute they want to take a walk around the block?

Not that these three things would’ve kept Steve Wynn in Philadelphia. A guy like that is more of a New York guy. And that’s fine. There are plenty of other fish in the sea, plenty of other companies both in this country, England, Israel and elsewhere who would seriously consider opening up operations in the city of Philadelphia. But geez… what a tough sell it is right now.

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  • DTurner

    You forgot to mention Negadelphians; if you believe many people in this region, Philly is no better than Detroit or Cleveland. We need to try to be a little more positive and realize how much progress the city has made over the past two decades and the huge potential it has.

  • Brandon

    Let’s see:

    1. Studies have shown that tax rates have very little impact on where people move–both businesses and individuals. Plus, when you factor in our low, regressive state income tax, Philly is actually a deal for high-earning folks.

    2. NYC schools are horrible too. I mean it’s not like Philadelphia has suburbs with great schools though. Oh wait, yea we do. I agree the school system needs help (though charter schools are not the answer), but this is really a non sequitur.

    3. Fish town is kinda safe? When is the last time you’ve even step foot in Fishtown? Fishtown is safe. Northern Liberties is safe. Old City is safe. Philadelphia, by and large, is safe. No one is thinking I’ll head over the Wynn Philadelphia and then get dinner in the badlands afterwards.

    Why do you even live here if you hate Philly so much? I guess hating your city provides you with a constant stream of things to write about.

  • MikeyMike

    With NY allowing gaming, non of the 3 things mentioned would have helped keep Wynn. At all.
    Taking each of your issues:
    1. Lower Tax Base – a business like gaming isn’t going to be scared away by a slightly higher tax base when they can get the kind of revenue from a resort like Wynn’s drawing in people from all over, which is what Wynn would have done…except NY is now going to allow gaming. Sure, no one likes to pay a ton in taxes, but if that were the concern, he never would have bid to begin with.
    2. Education – Seriously???? you think that would make a difference???? Nevada’s public schools are consistently at the bottom, nationwide. OK, not the bottom, but 49th out of 50. Maybe that’s why he isn’t building in Mississippi? Maybe. But Philly’s schools’ ranking would have no place in the equation for building a resort.
    3. Security – A resort of that caliber would have security covered. It wouldn’t matter what’s down the road.

    Sorry, but nothing could have kept Wynn in Philly, thanks to the upcoming prospects in NY.
    Much to the chagrin of Mike Stack and family and much to the joy of Big Bart.