It was a little after noon on a picturesque June day, and the stores and restaurants that line Bridge Street on the south side of Amsterdam were virtually empty.
Amsterdam, a city of nearly 18,000, has an unemployment rate of 7 percent and a poverty rate of about 19 percent.
Business owners in the area are hoping a proposed $250 million casino resort, along with the construction of a pedestrian bridge that will connect the south and north sides of the city, will bring greater employment opportunities and increased foot traffic to the area.
The three-phase resort project would include a casino, hotel, farmers market, two 18-hole golf courses and 200 residential units.
“This area needs development of any kind,” said Phil Rossinol, owner of Southside Food Co. “The influx of money into the local economy would also help with the property tax burden in the county.”
Rossinol added that the pedestrian bridge and the Erie Canalway bike trail have already increased foot traffic. He believes a casino would continue that trend.
Lisa Vertucci, who owns Dolci Bake Shoppe, said she is not sure what kind of restaurants or stores would even exist in the proposed casino.
“We don’t know whether there will be good restaurants or even a bakery as good as this one,” she joked.
She thinks some of the casino-goers will leave the site and patronize stores on the Bridge Street strip.
“This is a gorgeous part of the city,” she said. “We have a lot to offer here.”
The casino's would-be operator and developer, Clairvest Group Inc. and Great Canadian Gaming Corp., promise the three-phased project will create 453 construction jobs and 850 permanent jobs. Sandy Rogo, a bartender at Herk’s Tavern, said he is not sure there are enough people in Amsterdam to fill those positions.
“Where will those people come from?” he asked. “I am not sure those numbers are accurate.”
Other than that, Rogo said, he is “100 percent in support of the casino.”
Earlier this year, a group of Saratoga Springs residents vehemently opposed a full-blown casino in the city, saying it would siphon energy from the vibrant downtown area. Ralph Parillo, owner of Parillo’s Armory Grill, doesn’t have the same fear. Amsterdam is not Saratoga Springs, he said, and he’s in favor of any project that would inject people and revenue into the city.
But the casino project may not even get off the ground. To move forward with the proposal, the developer and operator are asking the state Gaming Commission for a 60-day extension on the application deadline and a $25 million reduction in the licensing fee.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort met Thursday with members of the state Gaming Commission — which will choose four sites in the Capital Region, Southern Tier and Hudson Valley for three casinos — to present the reasoning behind the requests and why they should be considered. He said he expects the commission to make a decision whether to grant the concessions as soon as today.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who represents part of Montgomery County, issued a statement following the meeting saying: “I organized Thursday’s meeting because I want the proposed resort destination for Montgomery County to get a fair chance to compete. Based on the outcome of the meeting, I am hopeful that the Gaming Commission will judge a submitted proposal on its merits and give it equal consideration.”