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Casino design faces critics at Schenectady meeting

Casino design faces critics at Schenectady meeting

Mike Levin, a designer for the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, said maybe Rush Street Gam
Casino design faces critics at Schenectady meeting
Brian Fink, principal with Las Vegas-based architecture firm Klai Juba, speaks during a meeting of the Schenectady Planning Commission to discuss Rivers Casino redesigns at Schenectady City Hall on Wednesdsay, June 17, 2015.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
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Rivers Casino site

Mike Levin, a designer for the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, said maybe Rush Street Gaming “went overboard” with its switch from a contemporary design to a traditional design.

“After spending time here and talking to people, we thought maybe we made a mistake,” Levin said during a city Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night of the original, more-modern look. “It went from slick and contemporary to more historical.”

Compared to previous designs released to the public, the casino’s look has been transformed from white exterior to brown brick. The building also has metal panels and red signage.

Levin, principal with Development Management Associates, said Rush Street tweaked the design to better reflect the city’s history and fit in with other buildings on the old Alco site off Erie Boulevard along the Mohawk River.

“Our team has spent a lot of time in Schenectady over the past four or five months,” he said. “We became very enamored in the architecture on State Street, Jay Street and the Stockade. We also got more information about the site, and the history of the site is incredible.”

Levin said Rush Street would return with a tweaked design based on feedback from commission members — who met with the designer and developer before the meeting — and the public.

“I want to see the casino exciting because I want people to be excited when they visit,” said Niskayuna resident Melinda Perrin. “I think it’s time for Schenectady to stop looking back at the past and look forward to the future.”

Perrin, along with city resident Pat Rush, suggested the building be more eco-friendly, with possibly a green roof or solar panels. Rush also questioned if the building would be LEED certified.

Al Magid of Schenectady said he believes the project “is being railroaded” and urged Rush Street officials to take a step back.

“We’re railroading on a locomotive site,” he said. “The developer and operator haven’t even begun to do due diligence.”

The casino will be 150,000 square feet with a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor that will house 1,150 slot machines and 66 table games. The casino will have 1,744 parking spaces and 14,929 square feet of signage. There will be one large pylon sign measuring 80 feet tall with a 32-foot digital display situated by the entrance to the site at Erie Boulevard and Nott Street.

Levin said the tall pylon sign is needed due to poor visibility of the casino from the street due to STS Steel, the only company left on the site. The steel manufacturer employs 55 and owns 70,000 square feet of space on the property.

“We’re not doing the Vegas thing,” Levin said. “This is a regional casino. We spend several millions of dollars on signage. Our goal is when you come to our site that you know you are on our property. We think our signage is tasteful.”

Mary Ann Ruscitto of the East Front Street neighborhood said she is against the big pylon sign.

“We don’t want the giant big sign at the entrance to our neighborhood,” she said.

The casino will be 72 feet tall, cover about 18 percent of the site and be located 71 feet from the river. It will have a five-story parking garage and an adjacent 150-room hotel. The brand of the hotel has not yet been named.

The Planning Commission will vote on the site plan for the casino during its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, in Room 110 at City Hall.

The $330 million casino could be built in as little as 16 months, according to Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin. The operator is waiting for a casino license from the state Gaming Commission, which is expected by the end of the year.

The casino is part of Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group’s plans to revitalize the 60-acre brownfield, which used to be home to the American Locomotive Company, with housing, office and retail space.

The Planning Commission approved Galesi’s plans for a 24-unit townhouse building by the river and a 60,000-square-foot building with office and retail space. Both buildings are located at the northern end of the site, near Freemans Bridge Road.

The commission approved the townhouse building after three commissioners initially voted against it because of the building’s dark brick exterior and staircases leading up to each unit. Commission Chairwoman Sharran Coppola argued the color of the building is not a good enough reason to vote no.

Like the casino, the townhouse building’s design pays homage to the history of the site, said J.T. Pollard of Re4orm Architecture. Pollard said the brick is lighter in color than what appears in the rendering.

Commissioner Brad Lewis said the building “looks like an Alco knockoff.”

“I really don’t think the materials fit,” he said. “I simply don’t want to see this. I just don’t like the configuration. I don’t think it fits either.”

Lewis, along with commissioners Chris Rush and Julia Stone, originally voted against approving the townhouse building. After some back and forth, however, the commission unanimously approved the site plan.

Dan Hershberg of Hershberg and Hershberg in Albany said each townhouse unit would have balconies overlooking the river.

Pollard said the retail and office building would not look like one massive building but appear separated for retailers, like shops on the Jay Street Marketplace.

“We want to create a nice environment for people to pull up and shop,” he said. “We do have walkable retail along the harbor. The building will be scaled toward smaller shops and give each retailer its own identity.”

STS Steel President Glenn Tabolt said during the meeting Galesi’s plans cut into property the company leases as part of a 99-year agreement with the developer.

“That road is going through property that we lease,” he said regarding the extension of Maxon Road into the site by the retail and office building. “We haven’t come to an agreement yet with Galesi on the compensation for taking that property. We would also lose our parking area to green space.”

Hershberg said Galesi is still in discussions with STS about the road and gaining access to a portion of the company’s yard.

The site will also feature a 50-boat-slip harbor, a bike path and pedestrian walkway. Work on the harbor, along with roads and utilities on the property, is underway.

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