As part of the Community Benefits Agreement with SugarHouse Casino, the Penn Treaty Special Services District has received $500,000 per year from SugarHouse since opening in 2010. Once SugarHouse’s second phase is finished, presumably bringing in more revenue, the amount will jump up to $1 million per year. So what exactly does PTSSD do with the money?
The PTSSD serves the river wards closest to SugarHouse. These are Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Old Richmond and South Kensington. With the money they receive from SugarHouse, the PTSSD makes grants and enters into sponsorships with local non-profits.
“The money has been used in so many different ways in the community, it is just amazing,” said Maggie O’Brien from Fishtown Action. “The amounts of money that are given out would have taken an organization years to raise.”
Any non-profit within the PTSSD area can apply for funding and present their ideas at the group’s monthly meetings, which are open to the public. Grants are open-ended, while sponsorships are capped at $5,000. Neither rolls over from year to year, making them one-time payouts.
“All of the organizations that have received grants work to better our neighborhood, so in effect the group receives the grant but the community benefits,” O’Brien said.
In total, PTSSD has given around 50 grants and 17 sponsorships since dispersal of the Community Benefits Agreement money began in 2010.
“I have worked on many projects in the neighborhood over the years,” O’Brien said, “It is so much better to know that funding is available to get projects started than having to worry about how many fundraisers you will need to have to raise money.”
Although the PTSSD enjoys funding events and supporting their community, they do have limitations.
“Some public schools and public recreation centers have come to us and we really feel that that is not the Penn Treaty Special Service’s District’s responsibility,” volunteer and secretary Dolores Griffith said. “We really want the city to take responsibility for what the community deserves in the funding that they get.”
Even so, Griffith says that there are exceptions.
“Over at the Hancock Playground, they have an after school program and they do it over the summer, and it had no air conditioning,” Griffith said. “We funded an air conditioner for the children and for the people that work there.”
So far this year, five grants have been awarded. CEIBA, an organization dedicated to promoting “the development and financial inclusion of Philadelphia’s Latino Community,” has received a grant to help people in the community with their tax returns.
Other 2014 recipients include: Holy Name of Jesus Parish, St. Peter the Apostle School and the Friends of Penn Treaty Park. Another recipient that stands out is Rock to the Future, a music education program for Philadelphia’s underserved kids.
There has only been one sponsorship so far this year, but it is an interesting one. On December 13, Liberty Lands Park will host Krampuslauf Philadelphia, a “family friendly, maker-friendly festival of winter terror,” focusing on Krampus.
Krampus, for those unfamiliar, is the Christmas bad cop to Santa’s good cop in Germanic cultures. He sports a devilish, horned visage, and takes the children who have not been good enough to receive presents from St. Nick.
“Some of the grant from PTSSD went to reimbursing the artist who built our giant, glowing puppet/float/costume of a goat/bird hybrid that lit up the entire night during Krampuslauf,” said Amber Dorko Stopper, founder of Krampuslauf Philadelphia . “He had spent quiet a bit of his own money to do this.”
In the past, Stopper and her husband have foregone giving each other Christmas gifts because they paid completely out of pocket for the event.
“The remainder of the grant will go again to supplies for the ‘big build’ for the event next year,” Stopper said.
It will be a multi-person costume and float that will be worn and steered by many children and one adult.
The PTSSD expects to award many more grants and sponsorships throughout the rest of the year. They look forward to who they can help with the money and are proud of the ways that they have already served the community.
The St. Laurentius School was one of their recipients in 2012 and the PTSSD was also able to sponsor their We Care Soccer Club.
“It’s a soccer club during the summer and it keeps the kids attentive, they love it,” Griffith said. “They are all volunteers and [we] pay for t-shirts and soccer balls for every participant at no cost to the parents.”
In 2013, the PTSSD funded the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians. A group out of Holy Name of Jesus Parish that serves Irish potatoes at a fundraiser every year.
“They had a mixer and it was on the fritz, it was not working properly so they came and they asked with their grant request if we could fund a new mixer,” Griffith said. “So we gave them a mixer.”
Diana Jih from the NKCDC said that they have taken advantage of funding from the PTSSD and have also helped other smaller community groups and organizations apply for the funding in the past.
“We received $7,500 a few years ago, we used this money to help with cleaning lots along Frankford Avenue,” Jih said. “At the time we lost some funding for this work and as you know it is so important to the neighborhood.”
Having the PTSSD to provide funds for community organizations and projects when neighborhood groups lack the funds is one of the many benefits for Jih.
“The great thing about the PTSSD funds is that it goes to neighborhood groups that have very real needs and in many cases not a lot of options to get the funds needed,” Jih said. “I believe that they have done a great job of doing just what we wanted when the Special Services District was set up.”
While the benefits and drawbacks of SugarHouse, and the as-yet-unannounced second casino, will probably continue to be debated for years to come, it is hard to argue that there have not already been ancillary benefits that wouldn’t otherwise exist if not for the PTSSD’s deal with SugarHouse.
– Text, video and images by Kayla Cropper and Eric O’Hara