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Report: Schenectady casino won on location, operator's record

Report: Schenectady casino won on location, operator's record

The state Gaming Facility Location Board chose Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenect
Report: Schenectady casino won on location, operator's record
A rendering of the proposed Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor shows the harbor with a 'lighthouse' in the foreground.

Losing bids elicited host of concerns

With the recommendation of Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady for a casino license, three other Capital Region proposals fell short.

The state Gaming Facility Location Board listed its findings of the casino applications on Friday, including positives and negatives of the proposed projects. The report detailed why proposals in Cobleskill, Rensselaer and East Greenbush were not chosen.

According to the board, Howe Caverns’ tourist attraction would not have been compatible with a casino, it was unclear who would have managed the day-to-day operations at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, and the Capital View Casino and Resort had strong public opposition.

The board noted additional concerns of the three casino proposals in the region that were not recommended for a license:

Howe Caverns Resort and Casino in Cobleskill

&bull; Board questioned the compatibility of the existing tourist attraction at Howe Caverns and the proposed casino and water park.

&bull; Full House Resorts does not have operational experience with casino projects comparable in size to Howe Caverns.

&bull; The status of SEQRA review was unknown.

&bull; The application greatly overstates the economic impact of the facility’s operation.

&bull; Site is located within an archeologically sensitive area and would have required an archeological survey and consultation with the state Historic Preservation Office. The site is located within 0.5 miles of a known bat hibernaculum.

&bull; The casino design was predictable and lacked any factors that might create an impressive visual impact.

&bull; Limited dining options and lack of plans to provide an on-site entertainment venue.

&bull; Casino was not part of a regional or local economic plan. Howe Caverns failed to explain whether the proposed project would align with local and regional economic development goals.

&bull; Local law enforcement did not have sufficient capacity at current staffing levels to provide effective police services for the casino. Howe Caverns said additional police staffing, equipment and funding would have been required.

&bull; Howe Caverns did not address the impact of added traffic to the condition of local roads and the capacity of the local municipalities to address those needs.

Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Rensselaer

&bull; It was unclear who would have managed the day-to-day operations and marketing of the casino.

&bull; Hard Rock did not present any traffic or socioeconomic studies.

&bull; Board was concerned with the lack of a formal and larger entertainment venue at the casino, especially because Hard Rock has a long-standing tradition in entertainment.

&bull; The quality level of the hotel that Hard Rock proposed was unclear. Hard Rock did not specifically reference a “star” quality level. Board noted that the largest suites located on the upper levels of the hotel did not face the river.

&bull; State experts suggested that Hard Rock did not indicate how it would have implemented the MWBE program.

Capital View Casino and Resort in East Greenbush

&bull; Board noted that Capital View’s analysis of compatibility with adjoining areas did not address the adjacent residential area. Capital View noted the proposed development of the former farmland location would result in community revitalization, but there had been public opposition to the site.

&bull; The Capital View project was the subject of more than 1,400 comments, of which 94 percent were in opposition and 6 percent were in support.

&bull; At the public comment event, Capital View was the subject of more than 50 comments, with about four out of every five comments indicating opposition.

&bull; Capital View proposed significant traffic mitigation measures. Capital View estimated the construction costs of the improvements at $9.25 million, which would have been funded by Capital View. State agency experts noted that the proposed mitigation measures were extensive.

&bull; Capital View concluded that the town of East Greenbush should be prepared to increase staffing by roughly 10 percent to accommodate additional demand from the casino.

&bull; The status of SEQRA review was unknown.

&bull; Board experts noted that Capital View’s design did not take full advantage of potential views, especially given the stated commitment to landscape the project site heavily.

&bull; Capital View believed that the steakhouse, to be operated by Mazzone Hospitality, was a differentiating factor of the project. However, the proposed steakhouse would have been located only 10 minutes away from the downtown Albany steak restaurant operated by the same restaurateur.

&bull; Estimated economic impact of construction or operations could not be confirmed. Capital View’s facility is not part of a regional or local economic plan.

-- Haley Viccaro

The state Gaming Facility Location Board chose Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady for a casino license because of Rush Street Gaming’s strong track record and the casino site’s riverfront location.

The siting board, a subsidiary of the state Gaming Commission, released a nearly 800-page report on Friday detailing its findings of 16 casino proposals for upstate New York. Ultimately, the board recommended three projects for a casino license, including Rivers Casino and two others in Tyre, Seneca County and Thompson, Sullivan County.

The Rivers Casino, a partnership between Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago, would be 51,361 square feet with 1,148 slot machines and 66 table games. The project also includes a 150-room Sheraton hotel, 9,000-square-foot meeting and convention space, 2,875-square-foot entertainment lounge, three restaurants and three bars/lounges.

“Board experts suggest that the design and configuration of gaming activities and space work well,” the report states. “The main gaming floor is located within the rectangular podium, with various inward-facing dining, bar, lounge and entertainment options alternated around the perimeter. Board experts suggest that this design, although traditional, helps create synergy with the casino floor.”

According to the board’s report, Rush Street plans to open the facility within 23 months of receiving a license. The Gaming Commission plans to award licenses in a few months, after background checks are completed by state police.

The casino is projected to provide about $5 million to $5.5 million in tax revenues to the city of Schenectady in year one, and $5.6 million to $6 million in year five, according to the report. Direct state tax revenues are listed at $69 million to $86 million in year one and $81 million to $100 million in year five.

The economic impact from construction of the project will be $234.8 million to the state and $175.7 million to Schenectady County. The economic impact from the project’s operation in 2018 is estimated at $303.6 million to the state and $229.8 million to the county.

Rush Street expects to hire 877 full-time employees and 193 part-time employees.

Although the site’s location next to the Mohawk River is noted as a positive feature, the board said it believes Galesi and Rush Street could do more to take advantage of that.

“Board experts note that further advantage can be taken of the gaming facility’s riverfront location by making amenities river-facing,” the report states. “The project site affords room for some future expansion, but Rivers does not currently provide expansion plans.”

David Buicko, chief operation officer of the Galesi Group, said the site plan is still being finalized and that he believes the design takes significant advantage of the river.

“The banquet facility, hotel, bike path, steakhouse and other amenities currently utilize the river,” Buicko said.

In terms of future expansion plans, Buicko said the success of other portions of the old Alco site would dictate what to develop on the south side of the harbor, which will remain undeveloped initially.

“We don’t know what’s going on the south side yet,” he said. “Expansion will be determined based on the market, whether there’s more need for residential, retail or hotels.”

The board also notes that the 150-room Sheraton, to be operated by BBL Hospitality of Albany, would be the first hotel in the Capital Region situated on the water.

The board expressed concerns that the hotel would be too small for the forecasted demand. The Sheraton hotel is on top of Galesi’s plans for a 124-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

“If each of the forecasted 80,000 tourist visitors per year were to stay one night in the hotel with one person per room, at 100 percent occupancy the hotel would need to have 219 rooms,” according to the report.

Rivers Casino plans to partner with local hotels to offer casino packages and is looking to hold vendor fairs on a regular basis to inform local business owners of the goods and services needed by the casino, the report says.

Rush Street plans to partner with the Mallozzi Group to operate some venues on site, like the banquet facility, and is looking to collaborate with the Mohawk Golf Club.

The casino is also projected to benefit the city and county of Schenectady. Revenue aside, the project is expected to increase housing demand in the county by 83 units and increase the county’s population by about 0.15 percent in 2019.

“Rivers states that the income provided by casino jobs for current residents and potential new residents are expected to assist the city of Schenectady’s goal of increased home ownership as well as creating opportunity for revitalizing properties,” the board’s report states.

Home ownership in the city is a priority of Mayor Gary McCarthy, who is looking to boost owner-occupants through his Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady program.

“Rush wants long-term employees and to hire people for career positions,” McCarthy said. “I see that as a perfect match for the HOMES program. You have some high-end housing, middle-class housing and some that you have to be creative with. So we have a variety of options.”

The board states that Rush Street indicates additional police staffing in the city might be required.

Despite complaints by Glenville town Supervisor Chris Koetzle, the board points to state agency experts’ findings that the Rivers Casino traffic study is highly detailed with specific analysis of intersections leading to the site.

Rush Street guarantees to provide equal opportunities to all qualified employees, including people with disabilities, the report states. The Rivers Casino has the support of the Greater Capital Region Building and Construction Trades Council, New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council and AFL-CIO.

The Rivers Casino project is on top of plans by Galesi to build 304 apartment units, 87 condominiums and 10 townhouses, plus 170,000 square feet of office and retail space. The total price tag for the project, with the casino, is about $480 million.

The report states, "Board experts suggest that benefits of the site location include that patrons also many avail themselves of the amenities provided by the Mohawk Harbor mixed-use development located on the Mohawk River.”

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