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Gettysburg playing host to new battle

Karen Gardner
Frederick News Post

(4/24) a Major Debate seems to have come down to a battle of the T-shirts in this tourist town where T-shirts reign.

Only this time, the T-shirts are being donned by the locals. "No Casino Gettysburg" and "Pro Casino" leave no doubt as to wearers' sentiments.

On a recent spring morning at her home, not far from Confederate Avenue, Susan Star Paddock was wearing a "No Casino Gettysburg" T-shirt.

At a Pennsylvania Gaming Commission hearing a few days later in the Gettysburg College ballroom, casino supporters camped on one side of the ballroom wearing "Pro Casino" T-shirts. Across the aisle were those wearing "No Casino Gettysburg" T-shirts.

Gettysburg, the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, which was fought from July 1 to 3, 1863, is now the site of another battle. Historic preservationists are lining up against businesspeople over what boils down to a single question: Is a 3,000-slot casino good for Gettysburg?

A casino proposed for the outskirts of Gettysburg, about two miles from Gettysburg National Military Park, would not be within sight of the battlefield, but it's still too close for many. Others believe it can't be built fast enough.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Commission will decide by the end of the year if a casino will come to the Gettysburg area.

The National Park Service, as is customary with local projects, is remaining neutral on the issue.

Supporters say the casino would bring 2.2 million new visitors a year to an area that already attracts 1.7 million visitors annually. Many new visitors would come from Washington and northern Virginia, traveling north on U.S. 15 through Frederick County to the casino's proposed location at the intersection of U.S. 15 and U.S. 30, about 10 miles from Emmitsburg.

Booming area

Gettysburg bills itself as "the biggest small town in America." Back in 1863, it was a farm community of 2,400 when the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia met for three bloody days on the farmland encircling the town.

Today, farming is still a major industry, along with tourism. The Borough of Gettysburg is home to 7,500 people. But the areas just outside Gettysburg are rapidly growing. Although the borough's population is holding steady, Adams County's population is estimated to have grown by 8,400 people since the 2000 census to about 100,000 people. Most of that growth surrounds Gettysburg.

The casino would be in Straban Township, which surrounds Gettysburg and encompasses the borough's outlying areas. This area is also home to a Wal-Mart, several shopping centers, car dealerships, a sprawling cement plant and other commercial activities.

"We know it's going to be developed," Ms. Paddock said. "We just don't think it should be a casino."

Gettysburg National Military Park, encompassing about 6,000 acres, attracts about 1.7 million visitors a year, the highest total for any Civil War battlefield in the National Parks system.

Gettysburg native David LeVan is a self-professed Civil War buff. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School and once headed Conrail before the Philadelphia company was sold. He then returned to his hometown in 1998 and started Battlefield Harley-Davidson. He also plunged into local preservation efforts, helping restore a local theater and the train station where Lincoln arrived before delivering the Gettysburg Address.

When Pennsylvania decided to get into the casino business two years ago, Mr. LeVan saw an opportunity. Last year, he unveiled a 3,000-slot casino proposal. Besides the slot machines, Crossroads Gaming and Spa would be home to a 224-room hotel, a 30,000-square-foot spa, 1,500 parking spaces and a variety of upscale and casual restaurants. It would also have an option to expand to 5,000 slots.

Crossroads, operated by Chance Enterprises, which Mr. LeVan started, would add 900 new jobs and stimulate creation of 2,000 more in the area, according to company estimates. It would pump $224 million into the local economy.

Crossroads is vying with partnerships in five other Pennsylvania locations for two casino licenses. Two are in the Lehigh Valley, one is in the Poconos and one is near Valley Forge.

"We just feel they're playing on Gettysburg," Ms. Paddock said.

Crossroads representatives countered at the Gettysburg College hearing that they do not plan to capitalize on Gettysburg's history.

"We will avoid any theming or architectural reference to the Civil War," Mr. LeVan said in his presentation.

Grassroots effort

It's hard to have a conversation with Susan Star Paddock without getting interrupted at least once. Her home phone rings, her cell phone rings, and visitors stop by the 130-acre farm where she and her husband, Jim, live.

Mr. Paddock, 61, grew up in Gettysburg and inherited the family farm. Like Mr. LeVan, he attended Gettysburg College and then left the area. Also like Mr. LeVan, he returned in middle age and became involved in local preservation efforts. One hundred acres of Mr. Paddock's farm is now part of the Land Conservancy of Adams County, a private nonprofit group that supports land conservation.

She is a psychotherapist, and he is a land-use planner and consultant, but they are far from wealthy. They live in a rustic farmhouse and drive around in well-used cars, heating their house with a wood-burning stove. Since the casino proposal was announced last year, the Paddocks have put their careers on hold to fight the proposal.

Ms. Paddock often brings her black Lab along with her as she passes out anti-casino signs or picks up petitions.

"This is not about the casino site," Mr. Paddock said. "That site will be developed. This is about heritage Gettysburg. The casino is counter to that. We're not a casino town. We're a heritage town. We're not meant to draw people from Maryland and Virginia to gamble."

The national park is popular with families and schoolchildren, she said.

"For a while, Las Vegas was billing itself as a family place, but now they're not doing it," Ms. Paddock said.

The community is family-friendly, and a casino would change that, Ms. Paddock said.

"I think people feel safe here," she said. "We value our role as stewards of a national treasure. We are family-friendly. I can take my dog into the bank here."

Rows of neat houses, some fronted by brick sidewalks, line the streets of Gettysburg.

This is the first time Mr. Paddock and his wife, 61, have gotten involved in a major local issue.

"We're not historians," Mr. Paddock said. "This, to me, is a no-brainer. This is real history."

Casino happy

The proposed casino has many friends in and around Gettysburg. The Borough Council voted to support the casino project after Chance Enterprises offered the borough $1 million of its profits annually, even though the casino will be outside the borough limits.

Bill Synnamon owns the Union Drummer Boy and Union Cigar Club shop just off Gettysburg's main square corner.

"As a curator, a historian and a dealer in the Civil War community, I have a very active interest in preserving Gettysburg history," he said. "But the casino would bring its own public."

Gettysburg has built up an active trade in hosting youth soccer tournaments and weddings, he said.

"You have a more upscale clientele coming here now," he said. "There's absolutely nothing for them to do. It's not just the gambling; it's the entertainment."

He agrees with Chance Enterprises' assessment that the economic benefits of a casino would be huge.

"I think it's going to increase wages," he said. "A lot of people will have to pay better money or lose (their employees) to a better-paying job. To me, the real problem of Gettysburg is new home construction. There are (4,000) to 6,000 new homes going in, and that's the real concern. It'll always be Gettysburg. They can't change it. It's hallowed ground."

His friend John Picini, who owns The Spot, a local restaurant, agreed.

"David LeVan has done a lot of things for this town. I hope he gets it," he said.

Tommy Gilbert, owner of Gilbert's Hobby Shop in Gettysburg, has been an outspoken casino supporter.

"I think the battlefield and the casino will eventually feed off each other," he said. "We will survive even if we don't get this casino. If we do get the casino, we will thrive."

Mr. Gilbert grew up with Mr. LeVan and with Mr. Paddock. Gettysburg is still a small town, and most of the principals have deep ties.

Christy Andrew was having breakfast in the Lincoln Diner, a diner on Carlisle Street in historic Gettysburg. The lifelong Gettysburg resident likes the casino proposal.

"It'll generate a lot of jobs," she said. "There are a lot of people looking for work. And there will be money coming back to the township."

Katie Brough, of nearby Biglerville, was sitting with Ms. Andrew.

"It's not like they're putting it on Steinwehr Avenue," she said, referring to the main road that bisects the national park.

Ms. Andrew works at the local Friendly's Restaurant, and her work hours are cut back considerably in the winter.

"Because of the Civil War being fought here, they've kept a lot of things from coming here," Ms. Andrew said. "The battle does generate a lot of tourism. But in winter, when the tourists aren't here, it makes it hard for visitors to hire people."

Barbara Schutt, who was sitting at a table with her husband in the Lincoln Diner, said the couple left Gettysburg because it is already growing rapidly. They used to be battlefield tour guides. They now live in Biglerville, six miles away.

"It used to be a quaint, nice little village," she said. "It's not that way anymore. But I think when you're making money from the dead, you have to do it in good taste."

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