Operators of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway again pledged to seek local input before undertaking a massive expansion plan that would add a four-star 108-room hotel and 2,000-seat multipurpose event center to the sprawling facility off Jefferson Street.
Executives from the racino stressed the two-phase expansion plan is part of the facility’s “natural growth” as a business operating in the city. They said the design would be consistent with the style of Saratoga Springs and that they would work toward alleviating concerns by working with the city’s land use boards before starting construction.
“There’s a lot of opportunity at this point for collaboration and to incorporate the concerns of the city and we intend to do that,” said Brian Davis, the racino’s director of design and development, during a 15-minute presentation on the project given to the City Council Tuesday.
Racino Vice President George “Skip” Carlson said the project would create “hundreds” of construction jobs, about 200 permanent positions at the hotel, and would bolster the city’s room occupancy tax. Also, he said the racino wants the expansion project to be a source of pride for the city.
“Our goal, our strategy, is to build a hotel the city will be proud of,” he told the council. “That is our number-one goal.
And city officials will likely have to take the racino at its word. Though some called on the council to take legal action to impose local oversight for the project, a private attorney representing the city advised them that such a effort would be futile.
Mark Schachner, a lawyer specializing in issues pertaining to the state Environmental Quality Review process, said an article 78 proceeding to stop the project would almost certainly fail. He said the city pursued this legal recourse unsuccessfully when the racino undertook its last expansion in 2006 and the regulations have since changed in a manner that would make the chances of success even more improbable.
“I can’t in good conscience recommend the city pursue that avenue,” he said.
In 2005, the racino proposed adding 700 more video lottery terminals, a 150-room hotel and a 2,000-seat event center, but significantly reduced the scope of the project the following year. Still, city officials expressed concern about the lack of oversite they had for the 41,000-square-foot expansion, which added a nightclub, a 300-seat buffet and 400 more VLTs.
The latest project would first build the five-story hotel in an area next to where the nightclub was constructed. The second phase of the project would construct the event center, which would include about 24,000 square feet of space.
Carlson said the events brought to the center would be “market driven,” but didn’t specify exactly what types of acts would be featured. The center would also require the racino to expand its parking capacity by 300 spots.
Several member of the public decried the lack of local oversight in the project. Some called on the city to take legal action against the racino.
Mark Baker, the president of the City Center Authority, was among those left unsatisfied by the racino’s presentation. He urged the City Council to take whatever “legal, legislative or civil remedies” necessary to ensure proper local oversight.
“The concern still arises to the function of the multipurpose event center,” he said. “I think it’s going to have a significant impact on our business.”