SCHENECTADY — The spotlight in Schenectady is squarely on Mohawk Harbor, as city and county leaders prepare to celebrate Rivers Casino & Resort’s grand opening Wednesday, and locals are hoping the project will ultimately spread the wealth.
The harbor development has been a point of pride for elected officials, as it rose from a decaying brownfield to $330 million casino, hotel and other structures to house apartments and office space.
“It’s the continuation of good economic development. We’re seeing the stabilization of the city’s finances,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to cut taxes the last two years, and we look forward to being able to build on that record going forward.”
Cutting taxes is often the first thing Schenectady residents mention when asked what they hope the casino brings. Some recognize it could bring problems, but mostly see it as a job producer, a new revenue stream and a way to turn a once-decaying, polluted parcel into a riverfront destination.
Regardless of how they felt when the casino was proposed, residents of most of the ciity’s neighborhoods said they’re hoping to reap the benefits, if Rivers is successful.
Residents of the Stockade, which is walking distance from the property, are likely to feel the most immediate impacts of the new attraction. Though some have expressed concerns about additional traffic, there’s hope city leaders will use additional revenue to fund specific improvements in the neighborhood.
Carol DeLaMarter, president of the Stockade Association, said she and others see the historic area as a walkable community, and one that visitors might pass through en route to the casino.
“If the city sort of saw this neighborhood as a gateway for new folks coming, they might invest in sidewalks,” she said. “We hope the city finds money to do some focus on not just resurfacing roadways, but really making this a walking neighborhood.”
Infrastructure improvements also come to mind for Camille Sasinowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association.
She admits she wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a casino in Schenectady at first, citing problem gambling and crime as her main concerns. However, her father used to work on the Alco site, where Mohawk Harbor is located today, and she said she’d like to see the land prosper again.
If the casino is successful, Sasinowski said, she’s hoping some of the money trickles down to the more neglected parts of the city. In Goose Hill, she pointed to Van Vranken Avenue as an area that’s been overlooked.
The Hamilton Hill neighborhood also contains pockets of blight and poverty that the city has worked to address in recent years. Marva Isaacs, president of the Hamilton Hill Neighborhood Association, is fully supportive of the casino, saying she believes additional revenue can help build on planned developments along Craig Street, such as the Joseph Allen Apartments.
“I’m very happy about it,” she said. “I think the casino is going to be the best thing for Schenectady.”
Others are taking a wait-and-see approach to Mohawk Harbor.
Chris Marney, president of the Boulevard Area Neighborhood Association, said he, like most residents, is hoping to see an increase in city property values and a decrease in taxes. Ideally the casino brings improvements to the city as a whole, he said, but the association is waiting to see Rivers’ impact once it’s been operating for a while.
Bob Harvey, president of the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association, said he sees Rivers as a new employer that could benefit residents looking for jobs.
The casino has hired roughly 1,000 people, and the adjacent hotel, scheduled to open in July, is expected to employ another 50.
“Anything that produces 1,000 jobs and creates a riverscape is good,” Harvey said.
He said spikes in traffic jams and problem gambling are possible, noting that big commercial projects often have glitches in the beginning. But he’s mostly optimistic about what Rivers portends for Schenectady.
“Any casino can bring problems, so we have to look out for that and be aware,” Harvey said. “If it’s going to be contributing to increased tax revenues, that’s terrific. Anything we can do to lower taxes in the city.”