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What you need to know for 01/17/2017

Saratoga Springs seeks more details on racino expansion

Saratoga Springs seeks more details on racino expansion

Saratoga Casino and Raceway’s large expansion project is gradually advancing through the state appro

Saratoga Casino and Raceway’s large expansion project is gradually advancing through the state approval process, but preliminary plans have not yet satisfied the level of detail expected by city leaders.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen said a binder of documentation given to her by Dan Gerrity, the president and majority stakeholder of the racino, shows a project that will add a total of 134,000 square feet of space off an area northwest of the Vapor Night Club that is now occupied by a practice track.

The first phase proposes building a 108-room hotel, a 137-seat steakhouse, a 28-seat coffee shop, a pool, a spa and a fitness center.

A second phase would construct the more controversial part of the project: A 2,000-seat event center and a 180-seat meeting room. This construction would add 68,000 square feet, more than doubling the size of the project, according to plans submitted to the mayor’s office.

“There are a lot of materials to review, but it still doesn’t give much detail about what they have planned there,” Yepsen said during the City Council’s agenda meeting Monday.

The expansion would dramatically increase the existing 183,000-square-foot space. No time frame was included for when the racino plans to break ground on the estimated $30 million project.

It’s unclear whether Saratoga Springs will have anything more than an advisory role in the planning. Saratoga Springs now is listed as an involved agency, meaning city officials will have a chance to review plans and make comments.

The ultimate approval will likely come at the state level. The New York Office of General Services continues to review preliminary plans submitted by the racino in November, although the state Gaming Commission is expected to be the lead agency during the project’s review.

Within the next month, the commission is expected to submit the first part of an environmental assessment form to involved parties, requesting comments on the project. The letter will start a 30-day window in which the city can pose questions of the applicant.

“When I talked to the Gaming Commission last week, they assured me the clock has not started ticking,” Yepsen said. “It has been submitted — the materials — but the Gaming Commission has not taken any action.”

The racino’s expansion comes at a time when its operators have indicated interest in securing one of four licenses for live table games being offered across three regions of the state. Rita Cox, a racino spokeswoman, said the owners fully intend to pay the state’s $1 million fee required to apply for one of the licenses, but haven’t decided whether they will submit an application.

The fee is due on April 23 — one week before the commission’s mandatory conference of applicants. Companies have until June 30 to apply for a casino license, with a final decision on sites expected sometime this fall.

Support for bringing live table games to the racino has been tepid at best, leading members of the City Council to adopt a non-binding resolution in March indicating they would not support a casino under the conditions laid out by the gaming legislation approved by voters last year. Evidence of local support is a critical element that applicants must demonstrate for their proposal to be considered by the commission’s gaming facility location board. Applications will be automatically rejected without a resolution indicating support for an application adopted by the host municipality.

Cox reiterated that the project to expand the racino isn’t dependent on bringing in live table games. She said it intends to move forward independent of the gaming license.

“We’re definitely still moving froward with the expansion,” she said.

Cox also stressed the racino intends to “cooperate” with the city’s land use boards. She said the racino also intends to resolve any outstanding questions posed by city leaders.

For now, the project must wait for movement on the state level. Cox said the racino is eager to get the project under way, even though there’s no clear time frame for when it will happen.

“We’d love to break ground as soon as we can,” she said. “We look forward to getting this project in the ground and under way as soon as possible.”

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