Mayor Gary McCarthy spoke to more than 20 landlords in the city Wednesday evening about the future of Schenectady’s neighborhoods and the potential impact of a casino.
McCarthy said his focus in 2015 is to market home ownership in the city through his Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady (HOMES) program, while continuing to demolish blighted homes using a $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan.
“If I could get more middle-class people in here I believe it will create long-term sustainable value,” he said to members of the Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change (SLIC) during the group’s monthly meeting. “If we can continue the work downtown and into the neighborhoods it will produce a real return that people will look back on and say they’re fortunate to buy real estate here.”
McCarthy, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year, said demolishing dilapidated homes in the city’s neighborhoods is one step in the right direction to get more people to buy homes and live in Schenectady.
A recently announced $558,000 grant for Amsterdam, Gloversville, Schenectady and Troy to combat urban blight in partnership with the University at Albany will enable the city to more efficiently target distressed properties and problem landlords, he said.
As part of the grant, the cities will work with UAlbany’s Center for Technology in Government to develop an information sharing system for the communities to share data related to code enforcement and develop a unified strategy for tackling the issue of blighted properties.
McCarthy noted some of the city’s other challenges including high property taxes and the “bad reputation” of the Schenectady City School District. Although property owners are burdened with high taxes, he said the housing market has adjusted to the tax rate.
“We all know taxes are high here, but it has driven down property values,” he said. “So your total cost of home ownership in Schenectady is lower than some of our sister communities even though their tax rates may be lower.”
Marion Goodrich, a member of SLIC, asked if a casino would help lower taxes in the city. McCarthy said “absolutely” because the facility is projected to generate $4.1 million for the city and the county.
“A casino will have a significant impact on the revenue stream of Schenectady,” he said. “It will also create opportunities for home ownership and for landlords with the addition of 1,000 new jobs just in the casino alone.”
Schenectady was recommended for a casino license by the state Gaming Facility Location Board last month. The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago are planning to build a $330 million Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor at the former Alco sit between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River.
After the Gaming Commission awards a license to Rush Street, the casino would be built within two years. The facility is on top of a previous plan by Galesi to develop the 60-acre brownfield into a housing community with apartments, condominiums and townhouses as well as retail and office space.
“Rush Street wants to be part of the community and look for other investments and other ways to work with Schenectady and the Capital Region,” McCarthy said. “I believe we’re fortunate to have them.”
McCarthy addressed some of the landlords’ concerns regarding possible crime and traffic as a result of the casino, stating that he doesn’t believe either would be a problem.
“There is some community debate and potential negative aspects for a casino, although I think the industry has evolved differently,” he said.
McCarthy said the casino would come equipped with state police. Those troopers would be tasked with monitoring the casino’s operations and its customers. He doesn’t anticipate an impact on the city’s Police Department.
“The crime is really nonexistent in the casinos because they don’t tolerate that,” he said. “The casino would want them off of their property and out of the facility. The negative influence won’t be there.”
In regard to traffic flow, McCarthy said the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Erie Boulevard and Nott Street, at the entrance of the casino site, would cause some disruption, but traffic overall would not be heavy at any one time.
“The casino will draw a lot of people in, but it won’t get everyone at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. but more of a level flow of people coming in and out of there,” he said. “The casino won’t have any real peak times.”
Some landlords expressed concerns about the quality of life in the city once the casino is up and running. Chris Morris, director of SLIC, asked if neighborhood associations would play a large role in keeping the city clean and safe.
McCarthy said he is looking for the casino to have a positive impact on the city’s neighborhoods and hopes volunteer groups pinpoint potential problems so the city could address them.
He added that a casino would build on the success that has already happened downtown, which he credited, in part, to Proctors. The theater hosted 1,730 events last year and draws about 650,000 people to the city, he said.
“Proctors is really the heart of the rebirth downtown,” McCarthy said. “Then we closed a deal that brought Quirky here, and there is also Transfinder next door with a national footprint. These are companies that add value and excitement to downtown.”