Lee Iacocca is planning a trip to Cobleskill, Schoharie County this summer to visit Howe Caverns.
Why is Iacocca — the brains behind the Ford Mustang — traveling to the Capital Region? Casinos baby!
Officials at Howe Caverns are partnering with Full House Resorts, Inc. of Las Vegas on a proposed casino project. Iacocca sits on the board of directors of Full House and plans to be involved in the project.
Iacocca, 89, will attend a press conference at the tourist attraction to unveil further details of plans for a casino, called Howe Caverns Resort and Casino. A date for the event has not yet been scheduled.
Iacocca was the head of American automakers Ford and Chrysler. He designed the Ford Mustang, Ford Pinto and Ford Escort. He also helped to revive the Mercury brand in the 1960s.
After leaving Ford, he served as CEO and chairman of Chrysler. Iacocca is recognized as the driving force behind the company’s turnaround. During his leadership, Chrysler introduced the minvan, which led industry sales for decades. Iacocca is often remembered for his sales pitch: “If you can find a better car, buy it.”
After retirement, Iacocca slowly faded out of the limelight. But he did appear again in a Chrysler commercial in 2005 with rap artist Snoop Dogg. Also, in 2009 the Iacocca Silver 45th Anniversary Edition Ford Mustang was released.
Allen Paulson, a friend of Iacocca, founded Full House Resorts in 1992. Iacocca was brought on as a partner shortly after, and he is still one of the company’s principal owners.
Suraj Commuri, associate professor of marketing at the University at Albany, said Iacocca’s name would make a splash for Howe Caverns’ casino proposal.
“Bringing in a name like his is going to have an effect,” he said. “His name is legendary. This shows that he is spending time on something, which signals that it is important because he is backing the project.”
Commuri said a businessman like Iacocca, who was very successful in the automobile industry, would not publicly back a losing team.
But does it increase Cobleskill’s chances of wining the bet for a casino against other proposals in the region? Possibly.
“Any way you look at it, this is a good thing for their project and it could work to their advantage,” Commuri said. “I’m not suggesting the gaming board will use this to make a decision, but it is one of many positive things for the project. They are pressing all of the right buttons.”
Another player involved in the project is Michigan developer Michael Malik, who has pursued several casinos in Detroit with his business partner Marian Ilitch. Ilitch and her husband, Mike, founded Little Caesars Pizza and own the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings.
But Malik is flying solo on this development, putting down $450 million to finance and own the project.
The project is bold and larger than others proposed in the region. It is expected to create more than 3,000 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent jobs. It’s projected to generate up to $500 million in revenue each year.
The Howe Caverns Resort and Casino would include:
•Between 1,200 and 1,500 slot machines and between 35 and 60 table games
• 254-room hotel and a second 250-room hotel
• 55,000-square-foot indoor water park and outdoor water park
• Convention center and banquet facilities
• Arcade room and entertainment park
• A total of six restaurants
• Pool and spa
Officials at Howe Caverns turned to Park Strategies LLC, a lobbying firm managed by former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, to help push the project. The agreement for consulting services was established for April through July at $12,000 per month.
D’Amato served as a Republican senator for New York from 1981 to 1998. He played a big role in former Gov. George Pataki’s Republican nomination in the 1994 gubernatorial race.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, have sent letters of support to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the casino project.
Emil Galasso, owner of Howe Caverns, is also pursuing a separate project he first unveiled in 2010 — a dinosaur canyon.
It will be a new attraction, aside from the popular caves, that will be blasted into the rock 120 feet deep with life-size animatronic dinosaurs, a dinosaur theater and other attractions.
As part of the $450 million casino project, the developers are looking to provide $1 million to a newly created economic development fund to support the area. Up to 2.5 percent of all room charges on site would also be used to support the initiative.
Howe Caverns already attracts about 200,000 visitors each year. It is the largest cave open to the public in the Northeast and the second most-visited natural attraction in the state behind Niagara Falls.
Developers backing the Cobleskill proposal are vying for a casino license against other sites pitched in Amsterdam, East Greenbush, Rensselaer and Schenectady.