The new Rivers Casino & Resort will be an economic engine accelerating local economies well beyond the city of Schenectady.
Regional officials are expecting big things from the $330 million casino, whose customers they think will fi ll hotels across the region and bring new customers into businesses and new visitors to local attractions.
“It’s a boost all the way around,” said Mark Eagan, president of the Capital Region Chamber.
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“While the casino has restaurants and all these choices, people will want to go elsewhere, to downtown and other places,” he said. “There really is a ripple effect. We’re excited by the casino, but we’re really excited about the whole Mohawk Harbor — the catalyst for all that was the casino.”
While the riverfront development will have two on-site hotels, the casino’s potential also helped Glenville land its first chain hotel, now rising within sight of Mohawk Harbor on the other side of the river.
“I think the area, because of the casino, will be a destination. It will impact Schenectady, Glenville, Scotia, even Clifton Park, especially on the riverfront. I think people underestimate the impact of waterfront,” said Pat Popolizio, owner of the Waters Edge Lighthouse restaurant and landowner for the 105-room Homewood Suites hotel scheduled to open in May.
Glenville town Supervisor Chris Koetzle has spoken out about the casino representing a major challenge for his town — more traffic, some of it on back roads, and therefore more public safety issues, though the town is receiving none of the host community benefit payments going to the city and to Schenectady County.
“My issue is with the county and state and how they share resources, not with the casino,” Koetzle said. “I think the casino will be good for the city, good for the county.”
Koetzle said the town’s current rewrite of its master plan — which has included putting moratoriums on things like adult stores and multifamily dwellings — is driven in part by concerns about land-use pressures the casino could bring. Separately, the town has secured $100,000 in state and federal funding toward studying what improvements are needed on Freemans Bridge Road, which is what Erie Boulevard becomes once it enters Glenville.
“The advent of the casino being located on our border surrounding helped push us,” Koetzle said. “Freemans Bridge Road has historically been a reflection of Erie Boulevard. … Now, with tourism developing there, you may see a transition in the Freemans Bridge Road area.”
Among the other ideas under discussion is trying to promote West Glenville’s Route 5 land — where the Wolf Hollow Brewery is located, and a maple sugar house and distillery are planned — as a visitor destination, geared around what’s called “agritourism.”
Glenville’s discussion makes sense, said Schenectady Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen. “There is going to be some of the traffic for the casino coming down Route 5 from the west,” he said. “Wolf Hollow has done very well.”
Gillen said the casino’s impact will extend widely, and casino management has worked with other attractions such as Proctors and the ViaPort Rotterdam mall on developing joint promotions. The region’s golf courses are also likely to benefit as travel packages are developed, he said.
“People come in and want to do golf, dinner, the casino,” Gillen said. “Certainly from the beginning there was a correlation between the casino and Proctors. The goal is to encourage casino visitors to come downtown.”
Gillen also noted the improvements being made to infrastructure coming into the city, some finished and some still underway. A $4.6 million reconstruction of the I-890 Erie Boulevard exit is finished, but he said the replacement of the Rexford bridge — a $32 million project scheduled for completion late next year — is also important for bringing people smoothly to the casino.
“That is going to be really helpful for bringing traffic into the city from Glenville, Clifton Park, the Northway,” Gillen said.
The casino will be employing 1,100 people, and they’ll be coming from throughout the Capital Region, commuting and contributing to the economies in their home communities.
“From the standpoint of employment, while they tried to hire from the city they knew they would have to hire from the whole area,” Eagan said. “They have to have the whole region feel like it’s their casino.”
The Saratoga County town of Ballston, just north of Glenville, is gearing up for new commercial development and looking for ways to attract some of the new traffic that is expected on Route 50, the most direct road link between Saratoga Springs and Schenectady.
“There’s definitely going to be a lot more through traffic,” said Ballston town Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak.
The town was already focusing on trying to get more commercial development in the Route 50 corridor, where there is already public water and where the town is studying how to provide sewer service. “We’d like to see some quaint shops and we’d like to see some restaurants in that corridor, too,” Szczepaniak said.
The Capital District Transportation Authority is gearing up for more people wanting to come to Erie Boulevard.
“Two routes will serve the complex, and our customers will have good access from Albany, Troy, Colonie, Latham, Niskayuna and Schenectady,” said CDTA CEO Carm Basile.
CDTA will also be providing a free shuttle service between downtown and the casino site, starting in the spring.
‘I think the area, because of the casino, will be a destination. It will impact Schenectady, Glenville, Scotia, even Clifton Park, especially on the riverfront. I think people underestimate the impact of waterfront.’