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State bets on Schenectady casino proposal

State bets on Schenectady casino proposal

A rubble-strewn brownfield off Erie Boulevard in Schenectady was chosen as the site for a Capital Re
State bets on Schenectady casino proposal
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, left, joins Rotterdam developer The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago at a press conference at GE Proctors Theater in Schenectady after the Gaming Facility Location Board announced the former Alco site on E...
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
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The 16-page final report by the state Gaming Facility Location Board can be found at www.gaming.ny.gov.

A rubble-strewn brownfield off Erie Boulevard in Schenectady was chosen as the site for a Capital Region casino Wednesday, prompting loud applause at the announcement in Albany and tears in an office in Rotterdam.

The cheers were mostly from a group of people opposed to a competing proposal in East Greenbush. They were holding signs that read “Save East Greenbush,” which they changed later with a black marker to read “Saved East Greenbush.”

The roughly 50-strong Save East Greenbush contingent was seated directly behind a handful of people supporting a proposal at Howe Caverns in Schoharie County. As clapping continued, the Cobleskill residents in the first row remained silent.

At the same time, David Buicko, COO of the Galesi Group, developer of the Schenectady site, watched the announcement on a computer in his office with some local officials. He said the news “brought tears to my eyes.”

“I was really happy. It was happy tears,” Buicko said. “I am really passionate about this project, and it makes me so happy for Schenectady.”

A news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at Proctors to tout the casino project at the former Alco site between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River.

The proposed Montreign Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County, and Lago Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, were also recommended by the board.

The Schenectady proposal was chosen by the state Gaming Facility Location Board over other proposals at Howe Caverns in Cobleskill, on Thompson Hill in East Greenbush and at de Laet’s Landing in Rensselaer. The next step is for the Gaming Commission to award a casino license after reviewing the project and background checks on the developer and operator are completed by state police. Officials said they expect that process to take about three months.

Board chairman Kevin Law said two significant factors that led to the decision favoring Schenectady was that Galesi already met requirements under the state Environmental Quality Review Act and that development would revitalize a former industrial site.

“The three selections we made all completed SEQRA,” Law said.

The Schenectady casino, Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, will be developed by the Galesi Group and operated by Rush Street Gaming of Chicago.

Rivers Casino is a $330 million project that will house 1,150 slot machines and 66 table games. Next to the casino will be a 150-room Four Points by Sheraton. The casino is projected to generate $223 million in revenue by its third year of operation and create 1,200 direct jobs.

After the announcement in Albany, backers and supporters of the Rivers Casino gathered at Proctors. More than 50 people sat in the GE Theatre holding "We Support Rivers" signs above their heads as officials answered questions about the project.

Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin, who traveled to Schenectady from Chicago for the announcement, said the casino could be up and running in less than two years. Under terms of the process, officials said the winning projects must be up and running within 24 months of receiving their state licenses.

“That’s an aggressive estimate assuming everything goes as planned,” he said. “We need to continue refining the design, and I think we have a great plan. We want to start construction as soon as possible.”

Rush Street is planning to work closely with local businesses and organizations — including Proctors — to market entertainment and Schenectady County Community College to promote its casino gaming program.

News of a casino comes as Schenectady makes strides to revitalize downtown with new restaurants and space for technology companies. The city received more than $1 million from the state last week to develop several buildings along lower State Street and rebuild Liberty Park.

“We’re excited about the connection between the downtown and the harbor,” Carlin said. “We will have a shuttle running between the two. We haven’t worked out formal details, but we’re excited to work with businesses and the community.”

Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, said the casino adds another major attraction to the area and will bring more business to the city.

“It follows our plan, which is to build out the Proctors block and Erie Boulevard and complete the revitalization of downtown,” Gillen said. “You have a $480 million economic driver for the old Alco site. Now we’re going to turn it into a great waterfront asset for Schenectady.”

Carlin and Buicko stressed the casino will not only benefit Schenectady but the entire region. The group gained support for the project from Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, who is looking to the development as a job opportunity for residents of her city.

Some Schenectady residents, including those in the nearby Stockade neighborhood, have voiced concerns about a potential increase in crime and traffic due to the casino. The site sits next to the East Front Street neighborhood and close to the Stockade Historic District.

Schenectady Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said a casino is not an inviting place for criminals, however. Instead, he said his focus is on traffic, which he believes will be mitigated with a new roundabout to be built at Erie Boulevard and Nott Street.

“I am not really that concerned. The casino will have its own security people,” he said. “I think the police will have to shift some of their responsibilities to the casino. If anything, I think the thing we might have to spend some time addressing is the possibility of traffic issues.”

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said traffic and safety would be addressed to ensure people have a good experience at the site, whether at the casino or in their apartment overlooking the river.

“I think we would be able to handle traffic control,” he said. “We want to create a level of safety and comfort for people visiting the site. Part of the development has already occurred with Proctors and more restaurants and bars. This is the next phase of our ongoing efforts to bring Schenectady back.”

The casino project adds to a $150 million project previously planned by Galesi to transform the 60-acre brownfield site into a waterfront community with 304 apartments, 70 condominiums and 10 townhouses. Those plans also include a second hotel — a 124-room Courtyard by Marriott — 60,000 square feet of office and retail space and a harbor with 50 boat slips. The site will also have public access to the waterfront with biking and walking paths.

Construction is happening now on the site. Buicko said work is taking longer than expected, but shovels are in the ground.

“The site work is happening, and the work is designed to accommodate the casino,” Buicko said. “We are proceeding to design the casino. In a perfect world, they will proceed on a parallel track. It’s happening now, and it’s pretty cool.”

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