Saratoga Gaming and Raceway has abandoned plans for a controversial 24,000-square-foot, 2,000-seat event center as part of its planned expansion in an effort to garner support for the project among city officials.
Representatives of the racino detailed their amended plans during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, stressing the event center planned as a second phase of the expansion is no longer in the works. Brian Davis, the racino’s director of design and development, said the object of removing the second phase was to ensure the racino can complete the 108-room hotel, 137-seat restaurant and spa that are far more critical to the facility’s business model.
“After months and months of going on with this, we realized we were getting much too bogged down and that it was getting in the way of our true objective, which is our hotel,” he said.
The racino operators previously stressed that their expansion is a way to draw more business to the video lottery terminal facility once a casino with live table games opens elsewhere in the Capital Region — likely within a 50-mile radius. They estimate the expansion of casino gambling in the region could reduce the racino’s market share by up to 40 percent and drastically impact its 630-person workforce.
“We’ve always said the hotel is the most important piece of this,” said Rita Cox, a spokeswoman for the racino. “It’s really what we need moving forward.”
Racino operators approached the state’s Office of General Services and Gaming Commission in November and asked them to suspend a review of the event center project. Though the planned 134,000-square-foot expansion drew a number of criticisms from the community, many centered around the event center and the competition it could pose for the City Center — a major economic generator for the Spa City’s downtown.
Some predicted the City Center would lose roughly a third of its business as a result of direct competition posed by the event center. Business owners feared the competition could have a negative impact on downtown, which relies heavily on convention traffic throughout the year.
The operators of several Capital Region entertainment venues also objected to the event center, especially when the racino operators were still pursuing one of four state licenses to offer live table games at their Saratoga Springs facility. Potential competitors argued that having live table games and the event center could be disastrous for entertainment venues such as Proctors in Schenectady and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Mark Baker, the City Center Authority’s president and a vocal critic of the event center, praised the racino’s decision. Absent the event center, he said, the authority has little concern over the impact of the racino’s expansion.
“The elimination of the event center is a very positive move,” he said. “There’s less of a direct competition bringing business out of downtown into that area of the city.”
The racino operators are preparing an amended application and are seeking letters of support from city officials, including ones from the departments of Public Works and Public Safety, indicating they will service the facility. Davis said there was “perceived friction” over the project that was noted by Gaming Commission officials reviewing the project.
Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen applauded the change, saying neither city police nor firefighters have an objection to the revised proposal. Mayor Joanne Yepsen was also encouraged by the development.
“We are encouraged that the Saratoga Casino and Raceway took the concerns of our citizens and our city government seriously in the design,” she said. “We continue to evaluate this project in the larger context of what is best for the city.”