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Nationwide Realty Had Ties To Failed Pittsburgh Casino Bid

One of the leading opponents to a downtown Columbus casino was very much for a similar development in Pittsburgh. Nationwide Realty Investors is credited with guiding the development of the very successful Columbus Arena District. Four years ago Nationwide wanted to build a similar district in Pittsburgh; but that one would have included a casino.

Nationwide Realty Investors has strongly opposed the plan to build a casino in the Arena district that it developed. The company says it's a very poor site for a casino. But Nationwide Realty was in a very different position just four years ago in another city.

Pittsburgh's National Hockey League team the Penguins needed a new arena. The team turned to Nationwide Realty to recreate what they'd done in Columbus: build a new arena and develop the area around it. Nationwide Realty president Brian Ellis:

"We were asked by the Pittsburgh Penguins to join with them in a proposal that would have combined an arena district-like development with their stadium," Ellis says. "And as a part of that they were contemplating a casino to be integrated into their plan."

Nationwide partnered with the Penguins and Isle of Capri Casinos in an effort to develop an arena district near downtown Pittsburgh. A 2005 press release from Nationwide Realty states:

"The development will include a $290 million, 18,000-seat arena, a slots casino ...restaurant, entertainment, retail, hospitality and residential uses."

Nationwide Realty's Brian Ellis is quoted in the release as saying:

"Like the Arena District in Columbus, we will be creating a high energy, urban community where people want to live, work and play." Tim Wilmott the president of Penn National, the company that wants to develop the Columbus casino says that's what they want to be a part of here.

"It's not that much dissimilar to what had been proposed in downtown Pittsburgh," Wilmott says.

But Ellis says the Pittsburgh project was different than the planned Columbus casino which opponents claim is being forced on the Arena District.

Q: What happened? It never came about...

"Well different than in Columbus, the public developed a process to select a site in Pittsburgh," Ellis says. "They made a decision to legalize casino gambling first, and then they went through a very public and rigorous process to select a site. That's very different than what we have in Columbus."

As it turns out another company ended up building a casino in another part of Pittsburgh.

Ellis stresses that Nationwide Realty Investors does not own a financial stake in a casino nor does it have any interest in the planned casino next door to its development in the Arena District.

Q: Well I just wondered if you had an opportunity to have a stake in a casino downtown would you do it or are you still opposed to it?

"As I said, we're opposed to the casino," Ellis says. "We opposed Issue 3 to start with so we were opposed to legalizing casino gambling in the state of Ohio and we are in particular opposed to this site. We think it's a very poor site for a casino."

Nevertheless, the company with the rights to the casino, Penn National Gaming, says it is determined to build on the site that was approved in November by Ohio voters.

Read Nationwide's 2005 press release Open the .pdf document.