In Gettysburg Casino Fight, 2 Visions for Tourism Collide

Confederate soldiers fire cannons during a reenactment near the Gettysburg battlefield.
Confederate soldiers fire cannons during a reenactment near the Gettysburg battlefield. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 6, 2006

GETTYSBURG, Pa., April 5 -- Two warring camps met face to face Wednesday in this famous Civil War town to test this proposition: whether a proposed casino with up to 3,000 slot machines near the storied Gettysburg battlefield would be a sacrilege to hallowed ground or a decisive step toward economic prosperity for the people who live here.

After nearly a year of maneuvering with competing economic studies, legislative campaigns, petition drives and public relations barrages, 300 or more supporters and opponents assembled at Gettysburg College for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's first public hearing on a plan to build the Crossroads Gaming Resort & Spa within an hour's drive of the Washington area.

The $300 million facility, which was originally called Gettysburg Gaming Resort & Spa, would include a four-star hotel, a luxury spa and a complex of restaurants at Routes 30 and 15 in nearby Straban Township.

Wearing a ponytail, former Conrail Inc. chairman and lead investor David M. LeVan argued that the resort would make Gettysburg a year-round tourist attraction, plow as much as $224 million a year into the economy and create 3,052 jobs. The resort, backed by an $80 million investment from Morgan Stanley and an upbeat economic study by George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller, would be about three miles from the battlefield in a commercial area already jammed with car dealerships and big-box stores, including a Wal-Mart.

Supporters said the casino would increase tourism in the area by nearly 2.2 million visitors a year and would not be visible from the ground where blue- and gray-clad armies clashed in the high-water mark of the Confederacy. Scores of proponents filled the Student Union Ballroom on Wednesday, many wearing T-shirts with logos of betting chips that said "Pro Casino."

"Crossroads is about taking charge of our future," said LeVan, who grew up in the town.

But opponents said the casino would desecrate the very soil where President Abraham Lincoln called for "a new birth of freedom" for the nation.

"Today Gettysburg is a shrine to the highest principles we hold dear in this country," said Susan Star Paddock, chair of No Casino Gettysburg. She said her organization has conducted a poll that found 96 percent opposition among people who came to Gettysburg to visit the historic Civil War sites.

"These visitors are saying they do not want a casino here, and if there is one here, they will not come back," she said. "These are tourists seeking meaning. They do not come just seeking recreation."

As Paddock spoke, 10 people filed in with cartons containing what she said were anti-casino petitions bearing 60,305 signatures. She noted that several prominent Civil War historians, including Pulitzer Prize recipient James McPherson and Edwin C. Bearss, have voiced opposition to the project. So have Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) and Republican U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum.

Polls suggest overwhelming opposition among residents and heritage tourists from across the country, said Rep. Stephen R. Maitland (R), who represents the Gettysburg area in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He has sponsored an amendment to the state gaming law that would keep the casino out of Adams County.

The investors went public with their plans to build the casino a year ago. Citing overwhelming public interest, the Gaming Control Board has scheduled two additional hearings: on Friday at the State Museum in Harrisburg and May 17 back at Gettysburg College's Student Union building. Registration to speak at the hearings closed last month, but members of the public have until June 2 to mail written statements to the board.

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