A good bet for old Alco site?
I have a natural affection for underdogs, which might explain why I was pleasantly surprised to see Schenectady emerge as a possible contender for a casino.
I voted against the governor’s plan to legalize Las Vegas-style, live-table casinos in New York. But the referendum passed, and the Capital Region is going to get a casino, which raises the question: Where should it go?
The assumption has always been that the casino would end up in Saratoga Springs. After all, the city already has a gambling culture, with the thoroughbred track and the racino. And it’s an attractive place that draws thousands of tourists every year.
But I never found that logic particularly persuasive.
Saratoga Springs has one of the lowest employment rates in New York — 5.9 percent.
And since the stated purpose of building casinos upstate is revitalizing depressed areas, doesn’t it make more sense to site the casino in a struggling community with a higher unemployment rate?
Having visited casinos in gloomy locales such as Atlantic City and Philadelphia, Miss., I tend to be skeptical when people claim casinos are magical engines of good times and prosperity. People love to visit Las Vegas, but what is it like to live and work there? An unemployment rate that’s worse than the national average and high foreclosure rate suggest Sin City leaves a little something to be desired.
But my skepticism is beside the point.
Gambling proponents claim casinos will bring much-needed jobs and economic development to needy places. Shouldn’t we build them in needy places?
If people are willing to gamble in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, Miss., I don’t know why they wouldn’t be willing to gamble in Schenectady. Or Montgomery County. Or Rensselaer.
Last week the developer of the former Alco site in Schenectady confirmed that several people had toured the riverfront property to explore the possibility of building a casino. “Ever since Saratoga voted against it, people are looking at all sorts of places in the region,” said David Buicko, COO of the Rotterdam-based Galesi Group.
It’s worth noting that residents of Schenectady also voted against the casino referendum, while voters in Rensselaer and Montgomery counties were supportive. Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy told The Gazette that the City Council has not formally discussed the possibility of a casino, saying it was important to assess different options for economic development and whether they would work in Schenectady. “I think we have the potential here to put together something that would complement the other economic development happening in Schenectady,” he said.
In general, I think casinos should only be built in communities that want them.
But I also think it’s interesting to contemplate the impact a casino would have on Schenectady, especially if it was located on the 60-acre tract that Galesi is redeveloping along the Mohawk River.
Right now, this piece of property is an unused industrial wasteland, although Galesi is preparing to begin construction on the first phase of the project, which includes an apartment complex, office space and a bike path. Could a casino be a vital part of the Alco property’s long-awaited revitalization?
I’m not sure.
A casino would undoubtedly bring new problems and challenges to the city, such as an increase in problem gambling and entertainment competition that could hurt local businesses. And it might be tougher to rent apartments near a casino, although I’m sure there’s a subset of the population that’s eager to live in close proximity to a casino.
But a casino might breathe new life into an underused waterfront, helping open it up for recreation and leisure. Right now, Galesi’s plans for the site include a marina and a bike path. Would a casino fit in with the developer’s plans to bring retail space, housing, businesses and other forms of recreation to the river? Or would it become the site’s most dominant feature, drawing mainly gamblers downtown and few other people?
A casino in downtown Schenectady would be transformative. It would change the city in a dramatic way.
But would it change the city in a mostly positive way? That’s the question that needs to be answered before a casino is built on Schenectady’s riverfront.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at email@example.com. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.