Schenectady could be a contender in the race for a full-scale casino in the Capital Region, as one local developer confirmed Wednesday that several people have toured his riverfront land in the hopes 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.
One of those places is in Schenectady, at the nearly 60-acre tract Galesi is redeveloping along the Mohawk River near Glenville. The land — once occupied by the American Locomotive Company, then left partially vacant and decaying once the plant shuttered in 1969 — is slated for a massive transformation from industrial wasteland to vibrant waterfront community.
Galesi is preparing to begin construction on the first phase of the project, which includes a national hotel chain, an upscale apartment complex, a block of condominiums, retail space, a banquet facility and a marina. Eventually, the site would also include a grocery store, office space, bike path, restaurant and possibly a film studio, though that idea has been on the back burner ever since the state denied grant funding to a California firm looking to build one there.
“I’ve been approached by people and had people on our property who have asked if we would consider our site for a casino,” Buicko said Wednesday, adding that these people were brokers who wouldn’t say which companies they represent or who they’re asking for.
“I’ve been approached by people who want us to consider the site for a big-box store, more residential, a movie production studio,” he continued. “We have a great site here, and whether somebody wants to put a movie studio or a big-box store or a casino in, we’re interested if it helps Schenectady.”
But as other municipalities have publicly clamored for or against one of four casinos being planned for upstate New York, Schenectady has stayed out of the debate. On Wednesday, city and county officials were hesitant to voice any opinions one way or another regarding a casino.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the City Council has had no formal discussions regarding a casino in the city, but has “informally floated” the idea.
“You have to look at all these different options for economic development — a casino, a movie studio, condos, riverfront development — and see how it fits in, what the possibilities are, whether they would work in Schenectady or whether they wouldn’t work,” he said. “I don’t preclude any of this from the review process. I think we have the potential here to put together something that would complement the other economic development happening in Schenectady.”
Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said one of the reasons for the county’s silence on the subject of a casino is the lack of information on some of the particulars, such as how much a licensing fee would cost.
“Nothing is going to be decided or formalized until the state puts a [request for proposal] out,” he said. “But people are looking at Schenectady more than ever before for projects.”
Depending on whom you ask, Schenectady’s chances of winning one of the four casino sites are great to slim. Gillen pointed out that Schenectady County is a small county, limiting the availability of sites big enough for a full-scale casino. That’s one of the reasons the former Alco site has attracted so much interest, he said.
John Sabini, who left his job as chairman of the state Racing and Wagering Board in January, said he’s toured the Alco site in his new role as a government-relations consultant and knows people are interested in the site for a casino.
“I think it’s close enough to [Interstate] 890 to be a good site, not to mention the improvements on Erie Boulevard,” he said. “There is a multifaceted plan there for waterfront use and other development that I think make a casino more possible. The other thing is that Schenectady is kind of in the middle of the Capital Region, with Saratoga to the north and Albany to the south, so I think strategically it’s in a good spot.”
Galesi Group is scheduled to go before the City Planning Commission on Wednesday to seek conceptual review of its master redevelopment plan, though that could be postponed a month since Buicko said he may be out of town next week. Architectural renderings submitted to the Department of Development last week were a bit preliminary, he said, and will likely be tweaked. The renderings — by Re4orm Architecture of Schenectady — are for the first phase of the project and show aerial views of the site and a harbor lined with five-story condominiums, pedestrian walkways and manicured landscaping.
If a casino were built on the site, it would likely occupy the southernmost piece of the 57-acre parcel, directly across the river from Glenville. Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said he hopes any discussion of a Schenectady casino would include the town, since it would “clearly impact” Glenville.
“It seems simple courtesy to be invited into the process,” he said.
Koetzle said he’s unsure which way town residents would lean on a casino.
“Obviously there could be a positive economic impact for our retail and restaurants in town,” he said. “But I think there are legitimate concerns about the impact it can have on a community.”
A request for proposals is due this month from the state Gaming Commission and the application process should end this fall. In addition to the Capital Region, the Catskills and the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes regions are slated for casinos.
Although the existing Saratoga Casino and Raceway was considered the “heir apparent” for a Capital Region casino site, vocal opposition in Saratoga Springs to a Las Vegas-style casino has inspired other municipalities to throw their hats in the ring.
Montgomery and Rensselaer counties have been public in the past few months about seeking a casino. Several out-of-state developers contacted Montgomery County officials to express interest in building a casino on a 520-acre swath of land in the town of Florida and city of Amsterdam.
Albany County leaders appear skeptical of a casino so far. Buicko confirmed that several people interested in a casino have toured one of his sites in Latham — the now vacant site of the old Starlite Theatre, which sits on 100 acres off state Route 9R. Despite the interest, Buicko said he’s unsure a casino would work at that site.
“I don’t think Colonie is supportive of a casino,” he said.
Officials are also trying to market the soon-to-close Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in the northern Saratoga County towns of Wilton and Moreau as a prime location for a casino.
“People are going around looking at what developable sites are out there,” said Buicko. “I think the heat really turned up after Saratoga’s vote. Everybody is out there kicking tires.”
Meanwhile, Chicago-based casino operator Rush Street Gaming has hired Bolton-St. Johns, LLC, an Albany government-relations and public affairs firm, to lobby the state for a “possible business development.” Rush Street has casinos in Des Plaines, Ill., Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The company declined to comment Wednesday on whether it’s seeking one of the four upstate casino licenses.