McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission

Yesterday, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy made public his decision not to re-appoint the newly-chosen chair of the Planning Commission, Matthew Cuevas, to the Commission, ending Cuevas’ service after more than two decades. Here is the Comment I just left at today’s Gazette article, “Schenectady Planning Commission chairman bumped from panel” (February 9, 2016), by Haley Viccaro), giving my explanation for the dumping of Cuevas, and opposing making Bradley Lewis the next Commission Chair:

CityHallRubberStamp Why fire Matt Cuevas? Emperor McCarthy could not stand to have a Planning Commission chair who would occasionally ask questions at public sessions about the done deals sent to the Commission by his Zoning and Development staff and Metroplex. For example, Matt Cuevas noted during the Meeting on the amended waterfront district zoning that taking away the right of public access to the riverfront at Mohawk Harbor was inconsistent with the Commission’s Comprehensive Plan and 2008 Waterfront zoning goals.

Cuevas was also the only Commissioner to say that 20,000 square feet of casino signage seemed like too much, and that he was more comfortable with 15,000 sq. ft. That statement caused Corporation Counsel Falotico to stand up and reprimand Cuevas, with a lie about applicable zoning law, shutting down all conversation about limiting the signage. See http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTown

No matter what his qualifications might be, it is a conflict of interest for Brad Lewis to serve as both vice chair of Metroplex, which sends many of the most important proposals made to the Commission, and as a Commissioner. Lewis has never voted against a Metroplex-backed application. Instead, “Commissioner Quip” Lewis mocks any request from the public for additional information prior to voting and rejects out of hand suggestions that a proposal might have negative effects that need to be mitigated. For example, he once barked at me at a public hearing that “we should be so lucky as to have traffic or parking problems in Downtown Schenectady.” [The impact of a proposal on traffic and pedestrian flow and safety is, in fact, the first criterion listed in the section of our zoning law for review of Site Plans by the Commission.]

Schenectady needs a Planning Commission chair who takes seriously the role of protecting the interests of the people of this City and preventing unnecessary negative impact on our neighborhoods. We need a Chair who will ask the staff for full explanations of the pros and cons of proposals, and require that all information needed to make a responsible decision is obtained before decisions are made by the Commission.

p.s. McCarthy has named Albany lawyer Randall S. Beach to replace Matt Cuevas. Mr. Beach gives the following as his “representative accomplishments”:

  • Assists various developers in obtaining financing, local permits and SEQRA approval for large commercial, housing and retail developments.
  • Negotiation and drafting of complex commercial leasing, acquisition and conveyance agreements in connection with commercial office, retail, hotel and industrial properties.

Hull: Gazette no longer an objective critic

NoEvil-seeRoger Hull, former Union College President and Schenectady mayoral candidate, had a Letter to the Editor in Wednesday’s Daily Gazette questioning the ability of the Gazette to be an objective critic of our local government.  See “Gazette jeopardizing role as outside critic” (January 27, 2016; scroll to 3rd Letter). Hull’s letter highlights an important reason why, when it comes to safeguarding the interests of the residents of Schenectady, City Hall seems populated with more feckless snowmen than vigilant watchdogs: The City’s “newspaper of record” has become too closely allied with the Mayor, his Administration, City Council, and certain favored developers and businesses to serve as a fourth branch of government providing “checks and balances” through effective, unbiased criticism.

LoadedDice-GMDice-001Hull points out, for example, that “This past fall, we learned The Gazette was an investor with the casino owner and developer in a housing project to improve further the College Park neighborhood. ” And. “Now we learn the publisher of The Gazette is a member of the task force the mayor created on making Schenectady a Smart City.”

Roger Hull is too gentlemanly, perhaps, to also mention that the Mayor’s wife, Caroline Boardman, has been employed by the Gazette as a Multi-Media Specialist since May 2014 (when the casino issue first arose in Schenectady). Compared with a typical Gazette stafferMs. Boardman’s online staff webpage is remarkable — it has no mention of her married name, of course, but also no biography nor contact information. That seems somewhat ironic for a newspaper so interested in transparency lately.

NoEvil Hull wonders “whether a newspaper can remain objective when it is partnering with those advancing a particular agenda.” After spending 20 months or so closely observing the treatment the Gazette has given to the many factual and policy issues raised in the process of supporting and selecting a casino for Schenectady, and preparing for its construction and operation, this website doubts that the Gazette does or can remain objective when its allies at City Hall want a particular outcome on an important issue. And, that conclusion applies to actual coverage of the news in its “factual” reportage, as much if not more than on its editorial page content.

NoEvil-hearBy choosing to ignore negative facts about the casino, and by failing to pose crucial questions (i.e., the reality of constant deadline crises that were used to force decisions prematurely), and to demand the kind and amount of information needed for responsible decision-making by City Council and the Planning Commission, the Gazette has forfeited any claim that it can be an objective or effective critic. Moreover, by failing to provide the people of Schenectady with such information, and to provoke needed debate on the biggest questions shaping the City’s future, the Gazette has lost credibility and sown doubt about all of its coverage of local news.

The following postings at this site give specifics about the tilting of the news regarding the casino by the Gazette:

In our post on Rigging the News, we stated:

They [the Gazette’s owners and management] are proud of being “locally owned” and “independent”, but we’re afraid that can translate into parochial, unaccountable coverage, far too susceptible to pressures from local government and business interests (including important current or potential advertisers), and from the social, personal, demands on members of a small community of local leaders.

Those pressures can only be increased when the Gazette directly partners in business enterprises, joins important advisory bodies, and even hires the spouse of our Mayor. As a result, we have to look elsewhere for fuller news coverage and investigative reporting on City Hall, County Government, Metroplex, and development issues. And, it is difficult to envision how the Gazette can win back our trust.

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COMING SOON: renaming and renewal of this website

As of Friday, January 20, 2016, the website formerly known as “Stop the Schenectady Casino” has a new name and image on its masthead. By February 8, the anniversary of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre, this site will be officially relaunched and renamed “snowmen at the gates,” with the URL: snowmenatthegates.com. The New Mission statement at the top of our Sidebar has a brief explanation of our return to a broader focus and of the new name. If curious about the new header image, see our About page.

Note: All prior materials, including all casino-related posts and comments, are still available on this weblog; old links for stoptheschenectadycasino.com will be redirected to the new domain, SnowmenAtTheGates.com. So please browse and come back soon.

our concerns continue as license granted for Schenectady Casino

The NY Gaming Commission granted licenses for three Upstate casinos yesterday: Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, and Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County. See “License for Schenectady casino, two others approved” (Albany Times Union, Capital Confidential, Rick Karlin, Dec., 21, 2015); “Schenectady, two others awarded casino licenses” (Schenectady Gazette, Haley Viccaro, Dec. 21., 2015); “NYS Gaming Commission grants Schenectady casino a license” (News 10, WTEN, Mary Wilson, Dec. 21, 2015).

For some, it may seem grinch-like for us to withhold praise for the Schenectady Casino and to fail to wish it the very best success. Nonetheless, while we do not begrudge people who needs jobs supporting the Casino, we fear that its negative impact on the lives of the residents of Schenectady and of the Casino’s frequent customers and their families far outweigh the shaky revenue benefits that may come from the project, and we cannot endorse the faulty public policy that uses gamblers’ money to offset local property taxes.

In a nutshell, because we believe Rivers Casino cannot be a great revenue success without draining much-needed dollars from the financially vulnerable members of our community and creating significant numbers of problem gamblers, we cannot hope that it is a rousing success. 

The many postings listed in the Right Margin (and on our Issues page), and our September 2014 Statement in Opposition, explain our concerns, none of which have in any way been diminished by the actions or words of the McCarthy Administration or Rush Street Gaming.  Here are three primary reasons for our continued concern that the problems and issues we have presented will not be adequately addressed by local government, and will need constant vigilance from those who want to protect Schenectady from casino-made problems:

  • Casino Town: Mayor Gary McCarthy and the various arms of City government have turned Schenectady into a Casino Town, where Rush Street and Galesi get whatever they ask for (and more) and are not pressed to make any commitments beyond the gambling revenue taxes Rush Street will be obligated to pay to the State. See, e.g., “Rush Street’s Giveaways” [to other cities], and “Planning Board hands Casino Gang a Blank Check“.
  • See No Evil. Both City Hall and our primary local newspaper, the Gazette [see “Rigging the News“] refuse to acknowledge the likely negative impacts of the casino and therefore to call for necessary counter-measures and mitigation funds from Rush Street (such as the protocol for setting up a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program in the Host Community Agreement signed by Lago with the Town of Tyre and Sullivan County; see our Lago Info page).
  • Shaky Revenues. We have been saying for a year and a half, long before Moody’s recent affirmation of the negative outlook, that the casino marketplace is over-saturated and that revenues are Unlikely to Come Close to the Rosy Estimates. (see this posting) In addition, Rush Street traditionally over-estimates likely revenues in its applications for casino licenses. If there is a revenue shortfall, and even Mayor McCarthy now suggests that part of the casino revenue stream to the city will be needed to cover any negative impacts of the casino, what will be left to bring down property taxes, the primary reason Schenectady residents have been willing to take a chance on having a casino in our community?

Finally, for now, we invite you to check out the interactive map presented by K. Hume yesterday in the Gazette Editor’s Notebook, K. Hume. It should give pause to casino boosters who believe the Rivers Casino will somehow attract big money gamblers, or even the comfortable middle class, from afar (or even from across the State), and that Schenectady’s casino will buck the reality that most regular urban casino customers come from within a 25-mile radius, with relatively few people staying overnight (see our opening post last year). The Gazette map allows you to compare Schenectady’s casino with its coming competitors in Tyre and Thompson County, presenting an image of the Lago and Montreign casino resorts and basic numbers (click on each for a larger image):

LagoFacts . . . MontreignFacts

above: Lago in Tyre, Sullivan County [L] and Montreign Resort Casino 

SchdyCasinoFacts

If you were going to take your significant other or family on a special casino jaunt or vacation, and were willing to go more than 25 miles, would you choose Lago or Montreign, which look like casino resorts and have far larger project investments, or would you be attracted by the design of Mohawk Harbor’s Rivers Casino in exotic Schenectady, which continues to look like a shopping mall? (See image on the right.) Neither our Mayor and Planning Commission, nor Metroplex, were willing to insist that Rush Street give Schenectady a casino complex as attractive as those it has proposed in many other communities. See “Why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?“.  Once the novelty of Schenectady’s casino is gone, who do you think will be losing their money at Mohawk Harbor?

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a new pylon design due soon

CasinoPylon-Jan2016-001 According to an article in the Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson, “Casino sign plan to be submitted to city in ’16” (Dec. 13, 2015), a new design for the pylon sign will soon be unveiled:

As it stands now, the pylon sign is generally framed on two sides by a contiguous white vertical and horizontal band and does not feature any glass, as was previously discussed. It’s unclear if that white band will be lit.

 

The rendition to the right was included with the TU article, and was apparently provided by Rush Street Gaming design consultant Mike Levin.

The article also noted:

Levin said the Planning Commission already approved the height of the sign, which complies with city code, and that will not change.

Stockade resident David Giacalone, who has spoken out against the casino project, said a relatively inexpensive computer-generated visual impact analysis by an independent organization would help allay anxieties some people have about the brightness of the pylon sign on nearby residential neighborhoods.

For much more on the pylon, see our Pylon Sign Directory

 

City Hall is wrong about crime going down in Phila. and Pitts. casinos


LaughingMayorBW  M
ayor Gary McCarthy and electioneering Democratic Council members Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur want us to believe that crime has gone down near the two casinos operated by Rush Street Gaming in Pennsylvania and, therefore, we should have no problem with the Mayor not seeking an agreement with Rush Street Gaming for funds to mitigate the adverse effects on Schenectady and its budget due to increased crime. In the two following comments to recent Schenectady Gazette articles, I have stated as concisely as I can the error in City Hall’s facts and reasoning about the casino and crime, offering links to fuller discussion and supporting materials. There is also some discussion below on the Mayor’s failure to seek various mitigation agreements with Rush Street, which has been very generous to other cities where the administration negotiated on behalf of the people, rather than seeing itself as Partner and Cheerleader for the casino applicants.

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Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Mayoral candidate debate” (October 8, 2015):

smallquestionmark  CRIME? Mayor McCarthy has not been honest about casinos and crime. He and Rush Street like to claim that crime actually went down around its SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia. The study Rush Street cites actually tells a very different and complex story. For a full analysis and links to the actual study go to http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime .

  Here are some of the things McCarthy has not told the people of Schenectady about crime near the SugarHouse casino:

  • Philadelphia PD created a 14-man unit that solely patrols a one-half mile semi-circle around the casino. [A patrol that size would cost $1 million annually in total compensation in Schenectady, or mean even less coverage elsewhere.]
  • The Study did not include DUI or prostitution, two crimes very important to several nearby neighborhoods. .
  • There has been “displacement” of crime from the heavily-patrolled area to an area just past that half-mile radius (analogous to East Front Street, Stockade, College Park, Little Italy, Goose Hill) which has seen very large increases in vehicle theft and vehicle break-ins.
  • That study also says that “Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area”, although the increase was only statistically significant in the first couple of years.

  NEWBURGH. Rush Street’s actions in its application for a casino at Newburgh, NY, in 2014 also tell a very different story than its assurances here there will be no more crime increase from the casino than from a WalMart. At Newburgh, Rush Street acknowledged there was likely to be increased crime, spreading into other jurisdictions, and an increase in problem gambling. Mitigation dollars adding up to $2.5 million dollars annually, were promised in Memoranda of Understanding signed with the Cities of Newburgh, Beacon and Middletown, plus three school districts, and nearby Dutchess County. [For more detail, go to the end of the posting found at http://tinyurl.com/casinoMOTT2 ]

  In Schenectady, Rush Street and his “partner” Mayor McCarthy deny there will be an increase in crime, so the Mayor never asked for any payments to help with added public safety expenses, and Rush Street certainly never offered a penny over the gaming revenue tax it will pay to the State, which then sends funds to the County and City. We do not need a Mayor who calls a business that will take hundreds of millions of dollars from some of our poorest and most vulnerable people, and send it to owners in Chicago, his “Partner”. We do not need a Mayor who is deaf, dumb and blind about the problems caused for the residents and businesses of Schenectady by his Partners.

Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Schenectady Council election forum” (Oct. 9, 2015):

LeesaPSmiles  Sadly, Ms. Perazzo will say just about anything to defend the Casino and its Partner the Mayor, without bothering to check the facts or curb her enthusiasm.

  Residents concerned with the crime problem and expenses the Casino is likely to bring have again this week refuted their claim that crime went down at Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse [see http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime ]. In response, Ms Perazzo and Mr. Kosiur tell us that crime has gone down at Rush Street’s Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, and stress that we will have a State Police Barracks at the Schenectady Casino.

  There will be no “barracks” at Mohawk Harbor, but maybe an office for NY State Police (with a cot?). They will only be policing the actual casino grounds, and not following gamblers who have been drinking for hours onto the nearby streets or watching for car break-ins and prostitution a few blocks away. State Police also do the on-site patrol in the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino, and year after year, that casino has the highest number of crimes out of the dozen casinos in Pennsylvania. A State Police representative told the Pitts. daily newspaper that its high numbers were due to its urban setting. (Well, that’s a relief.)

   Has crime gone down around the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino? After five years of operation, Pittsburgh police are not talking about a reduction of crime. Unlike our Gazette, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will print negative news about its casino. It reported that “Although the casino has brought more crime simply by being there, Pittsburgh police have ‘not seen the type of crime increase everyone has been predicting,’ said Commander RaShall Brackney of the Zone 1 station.” I think Perazzo, Kosiur, and McCarthy know the difference between Not As High As Predicted by Opponents and “Went Down.”

GMcCarthyMug  Finally, the Mayor and his Council handmaidens want us to believe there is no reason for them to have pressed Rush Street Gaming for contributions above the mandatory taxes they will be paying. Tell that to the people of Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in its first five years, the casino estimates that it has paid out $744.7 in state and local taxes AND AN ADDITIONAL $48.6 million in contributions, including $37.5 million for Consol Energy Center [home of the Pittsburgh Penguins and rock shows], $3 million each to the Hill District and the Northside Leadership Conference, and $531,112 in donations to community groups. Imagine what such funds could be doing for our community.

p.s. Mr. Mayor, please stop counting your Casino Chickens based on Rush Street estimates. Pittsburgh Rivers was projected to generate $427.8 million in slot machine gross terminal revenue in its first year but after five years has yet to come close to that number. Last year, the Post-Gazette said it produced $284.3 million in such revenue in 2013. “We’re really happy with the performance,” said Greg Carlin, Rivers CEO.

By the way, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article mentioned above in my Comment about Pittsburgh is titled “After 5 years Rivers Casino seen as good neighbor” (by Mark Belko, August 9, 2014). How did it “earn” that local response? By working with and acceding to the demands of local interest groups. For example:

  • By reversing its attempt to charge $50 to park in its garage during a Stealers pre-season game.
  • By giving millions of dollars to neighborhood groups and community organization.
  • By agreeing to pay over $7 million a year for 30 years to the sports authority that operates the home arena of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and puts on rock shows.
  • By making important road and traffic improvements “after the Steelers and Pirates forced the issue” to avoid impending chaos.
  • By reaching out to an opponent, the community group Riverlife, for help in shaping the casino’s riverfront. The result, according to Riverlife’s CEO, is “one of the most beautiful privately funded public riverfront parks in all of the Downtown area.” [In contrast to a beautiful park, Rush Street Rivers Schenectady had demanded the removal of a public access guarantee from our riverfront zoning, and appears to be providing no area for sitting or picnicking along the riverbank for the public, but only a bike-ped path, which is an amenity that will help attract upscale residents to Mohawk Harbor.]

red check For more information that you have never seen in the Gazette that helps to explain why we opposed the casino, now work to avoid casino-related problems, and fault the Mayor for walking away from millions of dollars and guarantees that other Mayors would have won from Rush Street Gaming, see:

  1. Rigging the news: The Gazette and the Schenectady Casino“.
  2. Money on the Table“, and linked materials

This chart shows just how generous Rush Street has been when seeking to operate a casino in other cities or towns (from “Rush Street’s Giveaways“; click on it for a larger version):

Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon sign

mayorgarymccarthy2013sep Gary McCarthy used last night’s League of Conservation Voters mayoral forum on energy and environmental issues to insist that the monster pylon sign would be a “Community asset” and to incorrectly state it is “smaller than the GE sign.” See “Mayoral hopefuls discuss environment, casino at forum” (Daily Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, Sept. 22, 2015) Here is the rebuttal to the Mayor that I left this morning at the Gazette website:

Mayor McCarthy has finally stated that having a casino “is not without risk”, but he offered no suggestions on how to reduce its likely negative impact. Instead, he continues to distort or ignore facts to defend the unnecessary pylon sign.

The Mayor’s comparing the unsightly and hazardous pylon to the GE sign should make us shudder. The circular GE logo is 36′ in diameter, which means it is less than half the height of the 80′ Casino Pylon and three feet narrower, and is only slightly taller than the 32′ LED screen, which will be far more intensely lit and directly aimed at Erie Blvd. traffic and drivers on the new rotary. More important, the GE sign is distant from traffic and residences, and not merely a few yards from Nott and Front Streets and Erie Blvd., and short blocks from several neighborhoods.

GESign2 Even worse, the Mayor confirmed for us that the Casino Pylon Monster has the purpose of “branding” Schenectady as a Casino City, by saying the GE sign did a good job of branding our City. I am proud of Schenectady’s relationship to GE, but having the Rivers Casino sign as the symbol of our City — which is clearly the goal of Rush Street Gaming — will be a source of embarrassment for myself and the majority of people of our City and County.

Our next Mayor should, at the very least, demand that Rivers Casino use the Cisco LCD technology highlighted by Mayor McCarthy to significantly dim the lights on the Casino pylon during all overnight hours. For more on the pylon mess, see
http://tinyurl.com/PylonPosting

  • The Mayor also again denigrated those of us who are working to protect the residents of our City from negative Casino effects such as increased problem gambling, crime, bankruptcy, family violence, traffic hazards, and disruptive lighting, by saying there are people who had opposed the casino and are now “trying to slow or even stop it.” He indicated that the process of approving the Casino has been open and that every time there has been a public hearing changes have been made in response to public comments. That is a very different history from that chronicled here.

As the Gazette reported, Roger Hull said “Why does one need to have a sign that size? It’s not like people are going to be unaware of where the casino is.” But, Hull avoided a question asking whether the Casino should be required to comply with a maximum brightness rule during overnight hours. He also avoided a softball question asking whether the Planning Commission should be given the authority to fund independent studies of complicated issues, rather than merely accept the assertions of applicants such as the casino. Instead, Hull seemed to suggest that the Planning Commission was still “looking into” issues such as the height and location of the pylon sign. In fact, the Commission has already decided on the size and location of the pylon (accepting Rush Street’s proposal), and will apparently only be considering relatively minor design questions.

follow-up (6 PM, Sept. 22, 2015): Talk of open government is refreshing but, as I stated in a Letter to the Editor published last Sunday in the Gazette (“Planning commissioners must have gumption“, September 20, 2015), transparency is a prerequisite for good government, but will mean little if our administrative and quasi-judicial bodies, such as the Planning Commission and Zoning Board, do not demand full information from applicants, obtain independent expert studies as needed, ask tough questions, and engage in full, independent deliberation before making decisions.  The text of the Letter is immediately below.

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restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor

In all their dealings with Schenectady casino applicants Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, Mayor Gary McCarthy, City Council, the Planning Office, and indeed all of City Hall, have acted as if “Schenectady” is the old Mohawk language word for “Second-rate-City.” That supine posture was particularly noteworthy and blameworthy, last February, when our municipal leaders ripped the guarantee of public access to and enjoyment of the riverbank from our Zoning Code’s C-3 Waterfront District requirements, at the request of the Casino Applicants.

This posting argues that, as soon as possible, before construction makes alterations impracticable, our City Council must restore the right to public access to the riverfront. That is not only because riverfront access is the acknowledged best practice for all urban riverside development, and because Rush Street Gaming allows generous public access at both its Pittsburgh and Philadelphia casino locations, but because to fail to restore that right leaves Schenectady in the status of a second-rate City with second-rate citizens. The next two collages tell an important part of the story: 1) the preferential treatment Rush Street has given to two Pennsylvania riparian casino cities compared to the step-child treatment for Schenectadians, and 2) the total lack of rational and persuasive explanation from our City Hall.

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RushStreetAccessEd

– click on each collage for a larger, more revealing and legible version – 

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RestoreAccessE

When our Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 was written, and the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use zoning district was created, back in 2008, our leaders understood the importance of public access to the riverfront and acted according. Then City Council President Gary McCarthy was proud of both the Plan and the forwarding-looking requirements of the Waterfront District, which mandated a recorded easement granting permanent public access. For more than half a year, therefore, I’ve been wondering just what the Casino Gang could have said, promised, threatened to change City Hall’s attitude toward riverfront access. Or, was the mere request to strike the access guarantee enough to persuade our timid, starstruck, supplicant “leaders” to forfeit the rights of the people they represent and are obligated to serve?

Three documents show the practices of modern, responsible city and State governments when treating the revitalization of their urban riverfronts, and demonstrate that the “right” to pass through on a bike-ped path does not fulfill a public access requirement:

StayOnPathSign The overly credulous regulatory policy suggested by City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo is, at best, silly. Perazzo trusts the Casino Gang so much that she stated at the City Council meeting where she voted for the C-3 amendments, that the Public Access Guarantee was not needed, because “they’re going to do it anyway.” The response to an applicant who says, “We’re going to it anyway,” is “Good, then you shouldn’t mind that we keep the law on the books for those tempted to ignore the rules.”

The Mayor, as mouthpiece and enforcer for the Casino Gang, was somehow so mesmerizing that even the educated, experienced Director of Development, Jaclyn Mancini, forgot all she knew about the meaning of the words “public access”, and insisted, “They will have access to the retail shops.” “Customer access” is not what is meant by “public access,” and the main purpose of public access is for the people who comprise the public to enjoy the riverfront, not to bring in more shoppers for the retail establishments or gamblers for the casino. When told the access guarantee would be stricken from the Code, Mancini’s zoning and planning staff were apparently too astounded to inform the public of what we were losing, or to quit in protest.

While Schenectady revoked the public access guarantee on the rather small piece of riverfront that was available in our City, even Cities with miles and miles of riverfront have strict riverfront public access requirements for all new development or redevelopment. Philadelphia, where Rush Street has its SugarHouse casino is a prime example.  A Pennsylvania State tourist site tells us that Rush Street’s SugarHouse “casino . . . allows the public access to a luxurious promenade along the river.”  As suggested in the first (green) collage above, in June 2014, while Rush Street was maneuvering in Schenectady for the repeal of riverfront access, it broke ground on an expansion project that would enlarge its grand public access promenade, which was already almost 2000 feet long, and the biggest in a city with a dozen miles of riverfront.  (See, this 2011 article and this 2013 article in Philly.com). As discussed in our prior post “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table“:

SugarHousePromendade

Rush Street’s SugarHouse public promenade

 Public Access to the Riverfront: Philadelphia has miles of usable waterfront accessible to the public (along two major rivers, as well as creeks, lakes, and ponds), but it nonetheless continues to demand significant public waterfront access to its riverbanks, even from gaming facilities that it hopes will produce major tax revenues.  In contrast, Schenectady has virtually no private waterfront beyond Mohawk Harbor that could offer the public increased access to the Mohawk River, but it has revoked the public access guarantees just when they would be applied for the first time.

Philadelphia Public Access: Under the Philadelphia Zoning Code for its SP-ENT District (which includes gaming facilities as a permitted use):

§14-405(9) Design Standards

“(c) Siting and Access: (.2)  A permitted use developed on a waterfront site must provide dedicated public access to the waterfront, open to and connected from a public street. Public access will be provided along the site’s waterfront length at a width of at least 12 ft.”  . . .

 Setback: “[A]ll lots must provide an unencumbered waterfront setback [of 50 feet] from the top of the bank of any river to allow for unrestricted public access to the river’s edge,” in addition to a public pedestrian-bicycle path. Specifically,

•This waterfront access must include open space that is accessible to the public at a width of at least 30 ft., plus a right-of-way dedicated for pedestrian and bicycle traffic at a width of at least 20 ft.

•If the Commission reduces the waterfront setback requirement due to site-specific conditions, the setback may not be less than 30′ in width and must include the bike-ped right-of-way that is a minimum of 20′ in width. [See §14-405(3)(e), which is a portion of  the “Yards” section of Area Regulations for the SP-ENT casino district.

PiitsburghAmphitheater Is there something about the residents of Schenectady and our County, or about our visitors, that makes us less worthy of full public access to the Mohawk riverbank than the people of Philadelphia are to their rivers? Or, less worthy than the people who get to use the lovely park and amphitheater along the River at Rush Street’s Pittsburgh casino? (click on the image to the right)

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 . . Casino3rd-rear2-001 There is no indication in the latest, limited rendering of the riverfront view of the casino complex from Rush Street (see above), that there will be any public access “amenities” other than the pedestrian-cyclist path along the River.

NoPicnicSignThere appear to be no spots for anyone other than casino patio customers to sit down, and no space for picnicking or similar waterfront activities.  Whether you are a senior citizen, a tired runner, a family with children, or a couple on a date, “keep moving” and “stay on the path” will apparently be the message from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, compliments of Mayor McCarthy.

WalkPath-MH-Gaz02Jun2015-001The steep drop-off from the pathway shown in the June 30 Gazette photo (see Left) of the construction site may not be indicative of the final grading along the riverbank, but in combination with the benchless, treeless, rendering, it surely suggests that the public is invited to use the path that takes them through Mohawk Harbor, but not to dawdle along the Mohawk.

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We are 18 months or more from the opening of a casino at Mohawk Harbor. Quick action by City Council and the Mayor to restore the public right to riverfront “access and enjoyment” can fairly re-impose this obligation, which existed long before Mr. Galesi purchased the old ALCO site for future development of Mohawk Harbor, and for the entire time Rush Street Gaming was applying for its casino facility operating license before the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.  Indeed, nowhere did Rush Street inform the Location Board that it planned to ask that riverfront access be ripped from the existing Schenectady Zoning Code. Is there no City Council member who is interested enough in restoring the riverfront public access promised in the City’s Comprehensive Plan to come forward with a proposal to restore that right? Is the Mayor finally willing to declare his independence from the Casino-Galesi Gang and Metroplex and come to the defense of his public and their riparian rights? Or, am I about to be knocked off my quixotic horse one more time?

bait-and-switch along the Mohawk

CasinoPylon-Jan2016-001 update (December 18, 2015): According to an article in the Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson, “Casino sign plan to be submitted to city in ’16” (Dec. 13, 2015), a new design for the pylon sign will soon be unveiled:

As it stands now, the pylon sign is generally framed on two sides by a contiguous white vertical and horizontal band and does not feature any glass, as was previously discussed. It’s unclear if that white band will be lit.

pylonbait  bait . . . switch vshapemock-1

pylonsitecomparison

– above: [L] the Casino’s pylon “bait” rendering and [R] my amateurish but more accurate Switch mock-ups –

You’ve probably seen the Rush Street rendering of its proposed pylon sign shown on the Left above; it’s a 2-sided, rectangular monolith parallel to Erie Boulevard (note: the street indications were added by me, and not indicated by the Casino on their rendering).  On the right is my crude mock-up of the actual approved pylon: “v-shaped” with a giant 611 sq. ft. LCD screen on each wing of the vee. Because Rush Street never submitted a sketch, much less a detailed rendering of the real design and its orientation toward Erie Boulevard and Nott and Front Streets, and neither your Schenectady Planning Commission nor its Staff ever asked for the highly important documentation as part of its Site Plan Review, my awkward mockups are all we have for now. The uncertainty has led me to construct this QQ Pylon Collage:

V-ShapedPylonQQ

SneakyPylonChangesWThe surprise of a siamese-twin v-shaped pylon structure is, of course, in addition to the bait-and-switch elements we pointed out on Friday July 24 in a follow-up to our posting announcing the approval of the Casino Site Plan. The Planning Commission, without mentioning it, approved a version of the casino pylon that is

  • boxier (no narrow light-box “lantern” at the top),
  • brighter (a pure white background on the Rivers branding section of the pylon, instead of black, but with no Visual Impact Statement provided or demanded for any version),
  • taller by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and
  • wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

. . . than the versions shown to the public. Click on the collage to the Right of this paragraph for the details.

The following image sums up the various bait-n-switch elements:

B&Scollage

In words, here are the basic bait and switch elements (there may be more as yet not revealed by Rush Street or their City Hall handmaidens):

  • Pylon-FrontSt The Bait: A two-sided, monolith, rectangular pylon structure, 80 feet by 38 feet, with one giant LCD screen 19 feet by 32 feet, topped by a narrow “lantern/chimney” about 7 feet tall, which is sitting over a 14.5-foot tall Rivers Casino “branding” sign that has a black background, all shown positioned parallel to Erie Boulevard, at the intersection of Front St. and Nott St. (As explained in Comments to the Planning Commission and in several postings, the original design was far too tall and wide, and its monster digital LCD screen far too distracting and bright, for the location and for Schenectady in general. But, even worse, we have instead. . . )
  • VShapeMock The Switch: First presented and approved at the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission site plan review special meeting: An 80′ by 39′ pylon façade, in an unexplained and never-depicted v-shape configuration, without a slimming “lantern” on top, and with its branding sign now having a much brighter white background and raised to the top of the 80′ structure, far more prominent in the sky.  In addition, there will be a second 611 sq. ft. monster LCD screen, with one aimed at traffic reaching Nott Street and Erie Boulevard from the east, and one aimed at traffic coming up Erie Boulevard from the west.
40by19v

each wing 35′ x 24′

What would a v-shaped pylon of the size contemplated by Rush Street look like, and “feel” like at that location? It is hard to know, given the failure of the Applicant to supply a rendering or sketch and of the Commission or its staff to demand this crucial piece of site plan documentation. Our search has found nothing similar in front of a casino on this planet.  The “sample” v-shaped pylon to the left of this blurb is by a Polish firm that says the steel girders can be up to 9 meters high, and each advertising sign 2.5 m. by 6 meters.  That would make each wing of the “v” in the photo perhaps 35 feet tall and 24 feet wide. Also note, the branding section on top is not illuminated from the inside and there are no giant digital displays.

  • Thank you to the Albany Times Union for printing my Commentary on the pylon, “Exempting rules a bad sign indeed” (August 4, 2015). It is a TU-Plus article, which requires a paid subscription to reach directly online. You can see a draft submitted by me to the TU Editorial page Editor, by clicking on this pdf. file, “A huge, homely and hazardous casino sign.”

p.s. Have some fun with the kids or grandpa, and make your own Pylonicus-V design:

pylonicus-v

casino site plan approved (including the pylon)

CasinoPylon3rd

bait ‘n’ switch?

 follow-up – no full images for public review (Friday evening, July 24, 2015): It was disappointing to be told at City Hall this afternoon that there were no additional renderings or sketches available to let the curious public see the final design of the Schenectady Casino. The unveiling of the 3rd Design on July 9th by Rush Street Gaming merely gave us a peek, with a detail from the front and one from the rear, of the make-over they performed on the unpopular 2nd Design.

Although their Power Point presentation for the Special Site Plan Review Meeting of the Planning Commission on July 22nd offered a more complete set of sketches (not detailed renderings) of the nearly 300-feet long casino facility, those images were apparently not made into hardcopy form for submission to the Commission or for public viewing.  Rush Street has not posted any additional images at its Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor website, as of 10 PM this evening. (It does still have a video clip with the original casino design from last year on the home page).

Casino#3Pylon
[R] photograph of pylon image presented to Commission meeting on July 22 in Power Point display, showing the white branding section as contrasting greatly with the darker body of the pylon.

Nonetheless, one accomplishment of my visit was being able to snap a clearer photo [see and click on image to the left at the top of this follow-up section] of the sketch of the pylon design that was presented to the Commission for the Special Meeting, and which was approved as to height, width and location (with possible changes in color and materials to be considered). Looking closely at the new version, I realized that it is actually worse than the prior version in several ways relevant to the complaints of many thoughtful folk: It is boxier (no narrow light-box “lantern” at the top), brighter (a pure white background on the Rivers branding section of the pylon, instead of black), taller by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

– Regarding the lack of openness in the Commission process, see the Gazette Editorial: “Schenectady Commission still operates in shadows over casino” (July 27, 2015)

Below is a collage illustrating the sneaky new problems with the latest version of the Casino pylon. (Please click on the collage image for a larger version.)

SneakyPylonChangesW

. . . Commissioner Wallinger had pressed the Rush Street consultant over the white background of the branding sign at the Special Meeting, saying that the bright white was too much of a contrast with the remainder of the pylon, making it look like a separate sign sitting on top. That is one of the items that were noted for possible changes in the otherwise approved pylon. The consultant, Mike Levin, was surprisingly reluctant to discuss making the background dark, saying they want the “lantern effect.” It is more likely that they like the distance-viewing effect even more of the bright sign on top. There is little reason to be optimistic about the results of any additional tweaking, as we are told by Corporation Counsel Falotico that Commission members will merely receive a courtesy copy of the Rush Street changes to the pylon, rather than having a subcommittee session that might be viewed by the public. ” See “Public won’t review casino sign changes” (Schenectady Gazette, by Haley Vicarro, July 24, 2015).

– original posting –

PylonCommentsCover

rejected Comments

 The Schenectady Planning Commission, with only one dissenting vote (by Commissioner Tom Carey), approved the site plan for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. That includes saying yes to the fuller view of the 3rd Design presented by Rush Street’s architect, as well as the size, location and shape of the proposed pylon. Paul Nelson at the Times Union described the meeting in some detail:

“The city Planning Commission gave final site plan approval to the gaming operator of the $330 million Rivers Casino despite complaints from some residents and disagreement among some on the panel about certain features of the 80-feet tall pylon, or gateway, sign. . . . 

“The lone dissenting vote Wednesday came from Tom Carey, who lamented the sign’s size, the amount of parking and his feeling the developer could have been made the gambling hall more energy-efficient.

“The sign’s height, which complies with city code, and the brightness of signs on nearby residential neighborhoods area emerged as key issues.

“Mike Levin, design team consultant for Rush Street, said the gaming operation is orienting to traffic because the casino will be 750 feet from an Erie Boulevard roundabout being built.. . .

“Stockade resident David Giacalone said pylon sign will do nothing more than ‘dominating our skyline’.”

(Click to see the Gazette’s coverage of the “green light” given the casino.)

3rdCasinoRear . . . [L] 3rd version detail of riverside view of casino and hotel I hope the Commission was given more detailed renditions of the 3rd design than we saw at the Commission meeting. The presented drawings were not up to the usual standard for Site Plan submissions, but I heard no complaints from the Commissioners.

SitePlanReview22Jul2015 . . . Levin and Primiano

– above: [L] Commissioners listening to Rush Street design consultant Mike Levin; [R] Levin (standing) and Principal Schenectady Planner Primiano –  

Wallinger-pylon

Com’r Wallinger

A couple of rather minor design “tweaks” could be in store for the pylon, but none of the issues raised in the Comments that I submitted today to the Commission made a difference. (If curious, click here or on the image at the top of this posting for the 9-page Comments in pdf. form, with text and images on issues such as safety, aesthetics, phony excuses for the height and location, questions never asked and documents never requested, legal duties in a Site Plan Review, and more. Also see my June 17th submission to the Planning Commission, which stresses the inappropriate height and width and the serious traffic hazard from the huge digital display.

  • Chair Sharran Coppola declared that she liked the design of the pylon and its materials.
  • Commissioner Wallinger said she was pleased that the pylon did not look like a Las Vegas sign, but thought having the top “branding” portion of the structure such a bright white made it look like a separate sign sitting on the top of the pylon.
  • Thomas Carey, the lone dissenting vote on the Commission, declared that 80′ is too high, and bemoaned the fact that restrictions placed on every other business in the City against large signs lit internally did not apply to casino signage.
  • Commissioner Bradley Lewis, who is also the Vice Chair of Metroplex and was defended by the Chair from a charge of conflict of interest, praised the large size of the pylon and the ability to use the display screen for any message you might have, or for a “fancy logo” if that is what you want. Lewis made a joke of the idea that Union College students would be affected by the light from the pylon, saying “Union will survive.”
    • Bradley also went out of his way to deride the notion in my Comments that the classic Sands marquee pylon was at all relevant, saying that it was on the Vegas strip and therefore along the street. He appeared to miss my point that the Sands sign, which was the tallest at the time on the Strip, was only 56′ high, despite being used to compete for attention with so many other casino signs. I’ve yet to see a Metroplex project Mr. Lewis did not enthusiastically, and often with barbed tongue, support before the Commission.
  • Galesi Group COO David Buicko, who has often been the spokesman for the Casino Applicants, attended the Meeting but said only a few words.  When I was making my presentation to the Commission, focused on the failure to show the need for an 80′ sign, Buicko did animatedly shake his head “no” at me a couple of times, especially when I asked whether there would be streetside directional signage pointing toward the Casino throughout the City, eliminating the need for a colossal sign supposedly meant as a safety precaution to make sure drivers know in time that they need to get on the Erie Blvd. roundabout at Nott Street.
  • Commissioner Julia Stone told Rush Street’s Mike Levin the pylon was “the ugliest thing” she’d ever seen. She did later vote in favor of site plan approval, perhaps forgetting the power the Commission has over design in review of site plans.
  • East Front Street Association president Carmella Ruscitto told the Commissioners she just couldn’t understand why some people could be against the casino or its design, especially after the Galesi and Rush Street folk have worked so hard. It was a surprise that Carmella never brought up the subject of East Front Street opposition to the pylon. According to the Gazette, her younger sister Mary Ann pointedly told the Planning Commission last month, “We don’t want the giant big sign at the entrance to our neighborhood.” That topic must have made for some interesting sisterly conversation over the breakfast table.
  • Camille Sosnowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, told the Commissioners of her concern over light pollution and glare from the pylon and reminded them we do not yet know how much higher the Mohawk Harbor site will be raised above the flood level.
Casino#3Pylon

3rd pylon design

I believe the public will be quite underwhelmed when they see the rest of the 3rd design. Until better renditions are available, I am reluctantly posting the following blurry images that were snapped of the slide presentation from the back of the room with a pocket camera, as “better than nothing” CasinoDesigns2&3 above: front of the casino in the 2nd design [Top] and 3rd design

below: drawing of rear of casino in 3rd design

Casino#3Rear

One point future Site Plan applicants might want to keep in mind is that Sharran Coppola, Chair of the Commission, and Principal Planner Christine Primiano, apparently convinced their colleagues that a Site Plan Review consists of nothing more than determining whether the proposal is consistent with the Zoning Code. Past applicants nitpicked into making many changes in design may not be amused.  Ms. Primiano insisted that the permit should not be held up due to the differences over pylon design, since it was not a question of code violation. My legal interpretation of the law is quite different, as reflected in my Comments. Here’s a quote I used in the posting “the Commission should require a better pylon”, taken from the “Beginner’s Guide to Land use Law,” by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law:

What a site plan accomplishes “The purpose of site plan regulations is to ensure that the development of individual parcels of land do not have an adverse impact on adjacent properties or the surrounding neighborhood. Such regulations also ensure that the parcel’s development fits properly into the community and conforms to its planning objectives. The development of individual parcels must conform to the provisions of local zoning which contain use and dimensional requirements for site development. “Zoning, however, does not contain specifications regulating the details of a site’s development that protect, for example, the design of vehicular access to the site, the provision of needed landscape features, the location of parking areas, and the architectural features of buildings. Site plan specifications go beyond those of zoning, and protect adjacent areas and the community’s residents from flooding and erosion, traffic congestion and accidents, unsightly design, noise pollution, and the erosion of neighborhood character. This is their distinct purpose.”

  • By the way, Chair Coppola started the meeting by giving her defense of the “subcommittee meetings” the Commission members had with the Applicant Casino developer. She insisted it is a frequent practice and only to gather facts. She insisted more than once “there are no deals”. Later, Ms. Coppola remarked that she wondered what the Gazette editorial page would have to say about this evening’s results.
  • Share this posting with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/unsitely
  • See our Pylon Directory to find links to postings detailing the safety, design, and process issues raised by the Colossal Casino Pylon and its approval process.

the Commission should require a better pylon

SampleCasinoSigns

– click on the above collage to see sample signage designs for casinos other than the “shopping mall” colossus proposed for Schenectady, and to read a short explanation of why we deserve much Better than Big & Bland from Mr. Bluhm.  Share this posting with the short URL http://tinyurl.com/betterpylon

Rush Street has proposed a pylon sign design as mediocre as its overall casino design, and wants to place it at the worst possible location when safety and aesthetics are taken into consideration (find full explanations in the posts listed in our Pylon Directory). Rather than allow the Rivers Casino to foist its monster pylon on this City, the Planning Commission needs to decisively wield its authority under the City’s Site Plan review process, instead of yielding it to Rush Street and the Mayor’s Office.  The Commission should re-read the clear language of its duties and powers under our Zoning Code, and not be swayed by any pressure from the Mayor or advice from Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico to stand down on this matter (as happened during the Commission’s review of the C-3 amendments in February).

update (July 23, 2015): see “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015); and click here for a pdf version of my July 22 Comments to the Commission.

Mr. Falotico has apparently left the Planning Office and Commissioners with the impression their “hands are tied” concerning the pylon, because the C-3 district rules for casino signage now say (emphasis added):

“Multi-sided pylon signs shall be permitted, with a height not to exceed 80 feet.”

At the most, those words mean the Commission cannot refuse to approve locating a pylon sign, up to 80′ tall, somewhere on the 25-acre casino compound.  The prior sentence in §264-14(H) as amended states: Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”  And, Zoning Code §264-92(b) makes it plain that (emphasis added):

“The Planning Commission’s review of the site plan application shall be guided by the elements listed in §264-89 of this article.”  

Among the §264-89 factors that “shall” be applied by the Commission to all casino signage, including the pylon, are:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

Who agreed with the above interpretation just last February?  According to a Gazette article, “Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor: Riggi wants city to reiterate Planning Commission’s authority” (Haley Vicarro, Feb. 3, 2015), Carl Falotico did:

Corporation Council Carl Falotico stressed that the commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.

In “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW,” the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, explains:

What a site plan accomplishes “The purpose of site plan regulations is to ensure that the development of individual parcels of land do not have an adverse impact on adjacent properties or the surrounding neighborhood. Such regulations also ensure that the parcel’s development fits properly into the community and conforms to its planning objectives. The development of individual parcels must conform to the provisions of local zoning which contain use and dimensional requirements for site development. Zoning, however, does not contain specifications regulating the details of a site’s development that protect, for example, the design of vehicular access to the site, the provision of needed landscape features, the location of parking areas, and the architectural features of buildings. Site plan specifications go beyond those of zoning, and protect adjacent areas and the community’s residents from flooding and erosion, traffic congestion and accidents, unsightly design, noise pollution, and the erosion of neighborhood character. This is their distinct purpose.”

We urge each of the nine Planning Commissioners to take those words and their oaths of office to heart when reviewing the most important Site Plan they are ever likely to encounter.  As we have repeated often, there is no urgent need to sacrifice a full review merely because Rush Street keeps making the same false claims of deadline pressure. It will not have to open its casino for at least 26 months, and an appropriate pylon sign structure can be designed and installed in a couple of months.

dontforgettack  Because a thorough review requires a full set of Site Plan documents from the applicant, we also urge the Commission to demand all necessary documents, as mandated in §264-91 Application and Required Information, before granting the requested Site Plan Permit. If necessary with this complex, multi-faceted Plan, the Commission should consider approving various portions in stages, reserving final approval until it has received all required documents, and sought any expert opinion need to supplement the knowledge of staff and Commissioners.

  • The expert opinion of the New York State Department of Transportation on assessing the safety of electronic message displays could be particularly helpful when located close to busy intersections, and the Commissioners should not let inter-governmental rivalry, or a false sense of deadline pressure, keep it from asking for DOT assistance. (see this discussion)
  • RNBL4EMCs Similarly, the brightness and distraction of a huge electronic display (proposed to be 32′ by 19′) raises such significant issues with glare, driver confusion, particularly in inclement weather on unfamiliar roads, and the disturbance of nearby residences, that the Commission should take advantage of the International Sign Association’s “Recommended Nighttime Brightness Levels for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers [EMCs]“. The Commission should (1) consider adopting ISA’s Illumination Limits: “The difference between the off and solid-message measurements using the EMC Measurement Criteria shall not exceed 0.3 footcandles at night,” and possibly contacting the Statement’s primary authors; and (2) specifically ask Rush Street to demonstrate the proposed LCD screen will meet the ISA brightness standard. 
  • Additional information and explanation from the Applicant should also be required concerning how the siting of the pylon is likely to impact on nearby traffic and nearby residences, including those in the East Front Street and Stockade neighborhoods, on Goose Hill, and in Union Colleges housing, including the 7- story dormitory a block away.

Indeed, because getting the casino right is so crucial to the City and its residents and visitors, the Commission should use its power under §264-91 (G) to probe topics that are important for a casino compound and its signage (including, e.g., a Visual Impact Analysis and proof that brightness standards will not be violated). The Commission should require:

§264-91 GSuch other and further information or documentation as the Zoning Officer and/or Planning Commission may deem to be necessary and appropriate to a full and proper consideration and disposition of the particular application.

. . click to compare the Schenectady pylon to the Cincinnati Horseshoe pylon marquee.. CinciHorseShoeSignageCompared

Better Design.  Any large pylon or “marquee” signage meant to draw attention to Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor may become the primary image of Schenectady for many prospective and actual casino patrons, and will be a constant presence for a very large percentage of City and County residents. Its appearance should be much better than simply “okay enough” or “not particularly ugly.” It must be better than “good enough” to be approved. Although it is a matter of taste, the Commissioners are called on to make such judgments often and should not shy away from doing so on the casino project.

DesPlaines68

Des Plaines Rivers Casino pylon

 A lengthy search online has resulted in my discovering only one casino pylon somewhat similar in height, bulk and blandness to the one proposed for Schenectady, and that is the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines, Illinois. The Des Plaines pylon [image at the right] would, in my opinion, be rejected for use as a shopping mall monument sign in even a less-than-trendy suburb.  Its Schenectady sibling will surely not improve its appeal merely by being significantly taller and wider. A new design with more “style” and artistic impact is called for, simply from the standpoint of what makes effective signage.

As with the overall Schenectady casino design, which is quite uninspiring compared to proposed casino plans in other cities and towns wooed by Applicant Rush Street (see “why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps“), Neil Bluhm and his casino subsidiaries seem to have taken a much different approach at their other locations to the need for or design of major outdoor signage.  Thus, Philadelphia’s SugarHouse and Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino have no pylon or similar giant freestanding sign, despite being in cities filled with skyscrapers blocking views.

FallsView However, the Neil Bluhm-developed and managed Fallsview Casino and Resort in Niagara Falls, Canada, does have a relatively tall sign. It is, nonetheless, definitely not recognizable as a relative of the Des Plaines or Schenectady pylons. The Fallsview sign, seen in the rendition to the left of this paragraph but better viewed on the upper left portion of the collage at the top of this posting, was aptly desribed in a release by its corporate creator:

“The ‘traffic-stopping’ craftsmanship of this Diamond Vision display will be a beacon to the millions of tourists who visit Niagara Falls each year, and an integral part of Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort’s allure,” said Mark Foster, general manager of Diamond Vision. “As with all Diamond Vision installations, we worked closely with the architects and designers to create a display that complements the resorts theme and personality.”

Naturally, I’m not saying Schenectady should have a pylon-marquee sign just like Fallsview. For one thing, the LED screen ( 25′ x 12.5′) may still be too large for a streetside sign. And, at about 70′ tall, it might fit the scale of nearby buildings better in Niagara Falls than in our City. But, we do deserve an image that shows some of the thought and art that went into the Fallsview sign.  It could perhaps reflect the presence of a lovely Mohawk River location, or the ALCO history of the site, or Schenectady’s colonial past. Most important, it should reflect something unique, fresh, and aesthetically pleasing, and be designed at a size and with electronic display elements appropriate for its location.

My first set of pylon-related Comments to the Planning Commission (June 17, 2015) contains additional discussion on issues raised above, especially the safety problems posed by placing large digital displays close to busy intersections.

.

pylon options

– above: a few more examples of casino pylons –

ALCOlogo Afterthought: Looking into the “casino problem” over the past year, I’ve came across some of the interesting logos used by the Alco company over the decades. [see example at the head of this blurb] Perhaps one of them could be a starting point for a theme showing Schenectady’s past and strength aiming toward the future. (June 17, 2015)

a PYLON PRECIS (too big, too bright, too much)

  We’ve posted a lot at this website about the immense proposed Schenectady Casino pylon. This posting is an attempt to provide our readers (including the Schenectady Planning Commission and staff) with a fairly pithy summary. To wit, as explained a bit more below, we believe the proposed pylon colossus is too big and too bright for Schenectady and its visitors, especially at the proposed location near Nott and Front Streets, Erie Boulevard, and the planned traffic rotary. [update: click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015; also, “bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015).]

– Two collages sum up our main factual points; first:

NoSTSExcuseE

– click on each collage for a larger version –

However, some casino boosters (and regulators), might say: “Haven’t Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko and other Rush Street representatives been telling the Planning Commission, the Mayor, and the press, all year that an 80′ pylon sign was absolutely needed due to the casino being unseen behind the STS Steel building?” Yes, they have been constantly making that claim. And, it is not true:

NoSTSExcuseS

We believe the Schenectady Planning Commission has the duty and authority in its §264-89 Site Plan review of the Rivers Casino site plan to refuse to approve the proposed size, location, and design elements of the casino’s pylon. Although they exempted casino signage from the Zoning Code’s Art. IX signage regulations, the amendments this year to the C-3 District rules nonetheless specifically required Site Plan Review of casino signage by the Planning Commission.  Thus, as amended, §264-14(H) states:

“Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”

Protestations by Commissioners and the Planning Staff that their “hands are tied” regarding the size and design, much less the location, of the pylon have no basis in the law, and frankly stoke the fear that applying a rubberstamp and rushing through Rush Street’s requests have become the modus operandi of the Commission (even if not the personal preference of individual members). As stated in Comments to the Commission on June 17, 2015 (by this site’s editor):

Even if the Applicantʼs pylon proposal is within the C-3 pylon height and signage maximum limits, this Commission has the authority and responsibility when performing a site plan review (under Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq.) to assure:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

The two-sided pylon signage structure proposed by Rush Street Gaming for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is:

  • too large in both height and width, with an LCD message screen far too big and bright, to be so near crucial intersections, including the planned new (and unique for Schenectady County) traffic rotary, and the entranceway and exits of the Casino compound and Mohawk Harbor; see our discussion and outline of the electronic message screen safety factors at tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors
  • too close to residences (e.g., East Front Street homes and Union College’s largest dormitory a block away, as well as condos, town-homes and apartments planned at Mohawk Harbor)

Thorough and objective application of Schenectady’s Site Plan standards should, we believe, require the Planning Commission to reject the proposed pylon or approve it with adequate and specific restrictions as to size (both height and width), brightness, proximity to roadways and residences, and use and size of LCD displays. Refusing to approve the pylon as proposed is particularly appropriate, given the failure of Rush Street to provide renditions of the structure showing its precise location in relationship to roadways and the rest of the casino compound and other Mohawk Harbor buildings, parking lots, etc. Furthermore, with no Visual Impact Analysis, including a line of sight survey, indicating where and how the pylon sign will be visible in the day or the night, the Commissioners do not have sufficient information to make responsible decisions about a monumental sign that would dominate our skyline and surely become the symbol of Schenectady to the rest of the world.

– share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/PylonPrecis

red check For amplification of the points made above, see the postings and materials listed in the Pylon Directory at the top of our Pylon Envy posting.

how big is 80′ x 38′?

 The short answer is “too damn big”, but many people have no idea just what those dimensions look and feel like in the actual world, and we want to offer more than a conclusion about the size of the proposed Schenectady Casino pylon signage.  Luckily, here in Schenectady, we have a well-known structure right on State Street at Erie Boulevard that helps put the monster pylon into perspective. It is the former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street, which is now the home of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council. To sum up the comparison: the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than the Masonic Temple.

The following collage shows and tells the tale (click on it for a larger image), including showing how huge the electronic display will be:

Around this website, we’ve been tired of the Pylon Tall Tale told by Dave Buicko and Rush Street to try to justify an outsized casino sign with no precedent that they can point to or that we have found. However, the ever-credulous Gazette news room repeats Rush Street’s STS-Pylon-Excuse in today’s Sunday newspaper, “Casino builders tout river views, huge revenues“, by Haley Vicarro, A1, July 13, 2015), repeats the STS excuse without qualification and makes the pylon sound like another Done Deal:

But unlike Pittsburgh, Schenectady’s casino will include an 80-foot-tall entrance sign, one developers say is needed because of how the casino is tucked into the old Alco property.

DesPlaines68 Rush Street’s Rivers Casino in Des Plaines has the only similarly wide-and-tall casino signage that we have been able to find online.  It is another reason we feel certain that the proposed Schenectady pylon is too big. The Des Plaines pylon is “only” 68′ by 25 ‘, and yet by any reasonable standard, it is objectionably large and looming and luminescent. See our posting “shrink that casino pylon“.

third time is a bore

AOA-rivers_casino_schenectady_rendering_v3_back Rush Street Gaming released its third design proposal for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor this morning and it is, frankly, a bore. (Image at the left is a view of the riverside patio and the Casino hotel). The Gazette and the Times Union’s Business Buzz Blog only have two images to show us. The TU post pairs the peek at the 3rd version with similar images from the 2nd version. (click for our post on the 2nd Design) There is apparently no broad rendition of the entire casino facility or compound available, which seems to be one more slight for the public. Here is the front entrance to the Casino as released today:

AOA-rivers_casino_schenectady_rendering_v3_front

 And, here’s an Open Letter to the Gasino Gang from a disgruntled resident of Schenectady and its Stockade District [me]:

Dear Mr. Galesi and Mr. Bluhm:

We want Mohawk Harbor to be pedestrian-friendly, but we don’t want the design to be pedestrian.

“Schenectady” does not mean “doormat” or “dustpan” in the Mohawk Language. Treat us with a lot more respect, please.

s/ Man on the Street and on the Web

Haley Vicarro at the Gazette referred to the above design as “the third and presumable final draft of the Rivers Casino.” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, “New look for Schenectady casino revealed“, July 9, 2015)  Rush Street has consistently believed and acted as if the public’s input is irrelevant; sadly, so has City Hall. I hope there will be another groundswell of opinion, keeping in mind that:

More commentary is surely to follow. Please leave a (polite) comment with your opinion or suggestion.  update: Michael DeMasi at Albany Biz Journal uses his headline to tell the story; see “New Schenectady casino design: how “brick” became a four-letter-word” (July 9, 2015). And, thanks once again to All Over Albany for providing high-resolution versions of the new renderings, plus encoring the earlier versions.

– additional media reaction well worth a look: (1) Sara Foss in the Sunday Gazette, “casino drawings speak volumes“, July 12, 2015; (2) a Sunday Gazette editorial, Casino design is better, but public needs to see more” D2, July 12, 2015; (3) Chris Churchill’s frankly insightful Sunday column in the Times Union, “Let’s be honest about the (redesigned) Schenectady casino” (July 12, 2015);

p.s. VegasCompareCollage2 The Casino Pylon: Wrong Size/Wrong Place. Please don’t forget to check out our campaign to topple (before it gets built) the 80′ x 38′ eyesore and safety hazard Rush Street wants to erect, looming over Erie Blvd. from the corner of Front & Nott Streets. Links to relevant posting can be found at the top of “pylon envy?“.

follow-up (Thursday eve., July 9,  6:30): Could Rush Street have done any less work re-designing this facility (or spent less time and money)? Actually, they were honest, they just “tweaked” it.

detail2ndDesignEntrance . . . casino3rdDesignEntrance

– – the fake second story wall and support for the sign were removed from the 2nd design and colors were changed.

 – Casino2ndDesignRearPatio – – The tweaking in the rear patio was even less significant.

more follow-up (July 10, 2015): Demographics: Commentors at various sites and others chatting about the new renditions have noted that all of the Casino customers are thin, young, hip, white. How does Rush Street plan to make a profit without the Granny Buses rolling in and poor folk spending rent and food money?  Carl Strock (we miss him here in Schenectady!), after pointing out his opposition to casinos as an economic development tool, opines at his TU Blog, “Fantasy customers for Sch’dy casino(July 10, 2015):

Look at them. Look how trim they are. Look how well dressed, the men in dark suits, the women in skirts and heels. All of them looking like they just stepped out of a Fifth Avenue shop window. I would say to the project developers, if you can guarantee us a crowd like this, I don’t care how you design your casino.

PYLON DIRECTORY/Envy

 
Casino#3Pylon

July 2015 version

 Pylon Directory:  Here is a list of our posts and Comments discussing the proposed 80′ x 38′ Schenectady casino pylon and its digital display:

 .
Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon” at the League of Conservation Voters forum (September 22, 2015)
.
bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015) suddenly we have a v-shaped pylon with an LCD screen on each wing.
.
– “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015). And, the pylon will be bulkier, brighter and wider than expected.
 .
– click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015
 .
– “the Commission should require a better pylon” (July 20, 2015) The Planning Comn has the power to insist on a safer and better-looking pylon.
.
– “a Pylon Precis: too big, too bright, too  much” (July 16, 2015): a pithy summary.
 .
– This posting “pylon envy?“ (see below): compares the Sch’dy pylon to classic Las Vegas signs and a massive new sign in Cincinnati; it also compares the signage rules that apply to all other businesses in Schenectady but not to the Casino
.

– “phony pylon excuse“: uses photos, maps, and other images to explain why the excuse that  the STS Steel Building blocks the view of the casino is simply untrue

– “shrink that Casino pylon“: explains why the proposed pylon is the wrong size at the wrong location; looks at the Des Plaines Rivers Casino, which is too large and too bright at night although “only” 68 ft. tall; worries the Schenectady pylon would become an inappropriate symbol of Schenectady

– “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?” (July 12, 2015), which points out that the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street.

– other pylon-related materials: (1) Comments submitted to the Planning Commission June 17, 2015, which stresses the inappropriate height and width and the serious traffic hazard from the huge digital display. (2) a discussion of variables for evaluating the safety of roadside CEVMS (digital variable message displays). (3) The Casino’s Visual Resources Assessment submitted by the Mohawk Harbor applicants as part of its environmental impact assessment, concluding that the project would have no negative visual impact on the City or any historically sensitive areas.
.
original posting:
PYLON ENVY?
GlitterGultch Right after giving the Planning Commission the easily-refuted excuse (see our posting “phony pylon excuse“) that they needed an 80′ pylon because the STS Steel building blocked the view of the Mohawk Harbor’s 71-foot tall casino, Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko assured them it would be “classy”, not gaudy. Sitting in the small Commission meeting room that evening, I remember smirking over what Mr. Galesi, Rush Street’s Neil Bluhm, or Gaming Industry folk in general might think of as “classy”.

Fremont+Stthe+Nugget+Apache+Pioneer+MUST

above & Right: photos of the 1960’s “Glitter Gulch” from the Classic Las Vegas website. For more images and history see InOldLasVegas.com.

If you are an East Coast Baby Boomer like myself, it was classic images of the Las Vegas Freemont Street district and The Strip from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s that created the vision of what a casino “should” look like. Many Americans back then apparently did consider Las Vegas to be classy. One thing for sure (especially for inhabitants of relatively low-rise Upstate New York cities), we thought of all those casino signs, competing for attention among the many gaming and recreation options, as very big and very bright. That’s why I was surprised to discover this past week how relatively modest in size iconic Las Vegas casino signs were compared to the monumental pylon proposed by Rush Street for Schenectady. For example, see the tale told by this Schenectady-Sands comparison:

Compare-Schdy-Sands-Pylons

 By the way, as explained at the Classic Las Vegas website, “The Sands Hotel, probably more than any other, came to symbolize the Las Vegas of our collective memory. It was here that the color line was finally broken, . . . It was where glamour and glitz met in the Desert and it helped propel tourism in the small desert mecca like no other. . . The result according to author Alan Hess was the ‘most elegant piece of architecture the Strip had ever seen’.”

In fact, the Classic Las Vegas piece continues:

SandsNightDetail The crowning glory though was the roadside sign. It was a departure from the usual sheet metal and neon displays that beckoned road-weary travelers to stop and stay. [Architect Wayne] McAllister designed a 56-foot (the S alone was 36-feet) tall sign, by far the tallest on the highway at that time. With its elegant modern script, the sign blended with the building to create a mid-century modern paradise. The sign and the building had motifs common to both. The sign was fabricated by YESCO. With its egg crate grill, cantilevered from a solid pylon, it played with desert light and shadow. In bold free script, it proclaimed “Sands” in neon across the face. At night, it glowed red when the neon spelled out the name.

The sign Mssrs. Bluhm and Buicko want to plop down in Schenectady will never be mistaken for elegance. There will be no playing with light and reflections off our lovely Mohawk River.  Instead, a solid wall 38′ wide will call to mind supersized versions of monument signs straddling huge shopping center parking lots, or maybe a gaudy mausoleum.

The proposed Schenectady pylon casino sign also dwarfs other iconic Las Vegas signage, from the friendly 40′ cowboy Vegas Vic waving from atop the one-story Pioneer Club, to the imposing 35′ Sultan on the similarly one-story Dunes Casino, to the famous and much slimmer pylon sign of The Mint, which (without counting the star on top) was no taller than the Rush Street pylon proposal for Schenectady. The next two collages compare the classic Las Vegas signage to the aberration that our Mayor, City Council and Planning Commission so blithely told Galesi and Rush Street they were welcome to erect in Schenectady. [click on each comparison collage for a much larger version]

VegasCompareCollage1

. .  . .

VegasCompareCollage2

SchdyPylonSketch2-006 One particularly worrisome aspect of the comparisons above is that the 32-foot-tall electronic display screen on the Schenectady casino pylon monument, with its intense LCD lighting, is itself about the same size as the behemoth Dunes Sultan, giant Vegas Vic cowboy, and elegant Sands “S”, which were all created to be impressive giants.

What kind of corporate or personal narcissism seeks to impose a massive, obtrusive and uninteresting monument on the City of Schenectady that is so much larger than the classic giants of Las Vegas’ classic era? What kind of civic insecurity would allow such a structure to mar a city’s streetscape and skyline?

CinciHorseShoeSignageComparedA Modern Comparison. A contemporary casino sign of massive size in Cincinnati should also give our Planning Commissioners a lot to contemplate as they decide on the appropriateness of the proposed Rivers Casino pylon for Schenectady and consider the kind of design that might fit in with and enhance the Schenectady scene. Richard Unger, a city planner who recently moved to the Stockade from Florida, set out to find large casino signs in existence that might offer Schenectady some useful ideas on the design and dimensions of the main freestanding sign for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. In his search, he located only one casino sign that was a large as 80′ tall. It is the massive marquee sign for the Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is also 80′ tall.

The 80′ Horseshoe sign was endorsed by community groups in Cincinnati. (e.g., see “Cincinnati casino goes all-in with giant sign“, Cincinnati.com/Gannett, Oct. 26, 2012). It should not be surprising that prior to persuading community leaders to embrace its massive marquee, the casino developer engaged in a dialogue with the community. Even less surprising, the casino-community dialog was nurtured because City Government commissioned a large study and set up a nonprofit organization, Bridging Broadway, “whose mission is to maximize the new casino’s positive effect on Greater Cincinnati . . . as a catalyst for improving the quality of life for downtown Cincinnati, its businesses, and neighborhoods.”  As a result, the 150-page “Broadway Commons District Plan” was created. Click here for a half-dozen select pages from the Executive Summary and Introduction to the Study, and from the Plan’s Primary Implementation Recommendation: A Community Benefit Agreement.

A brief Aside: The Broadway Commons Plan has this to say about local official and CBAs (at 69):

  As stewards of the community trust in accountable development, local officials play a critical role in developing these agreements. . . . When a local authority has leverage to approve requests from the developer, these officials should represent the community’s interest. In recent years, many local officials have used this leverage to require that the developer negotiate and sign a CBA.

Beyond the process for achieving community backing for a large casino sign, here are practical reasons why the 80′ Horseshoe Marquee was far more appropriate than the huge pylon proposed for Schenectady:

  • Cincinnati is a “high-rise” City. Its highest building is 660 feet, and it has 25 buildings taller than 250 feet.  (See Wikipedia) In contrast, Schenectady’s tallest building is Summit Towers, at 148′, which architects would call “low-rise” residential. The next two tallest are The Lottery Building at One Broadway Center [111′] and the Parker Building next to Proctors at 99′).
    • Three other building that Schenectadians consider to be quite tall are in the same ballpark as the proposed Mohawk Harbor Casino pylon: Both Golub Headquarters and MVP Health Headquarters are 86′ tall, and the Wedgeway at Erie Blvd. and State Street is 76 feet tall. Because they are not quite as tarted up as the Schenectady Pylon will be, they all would seem quite demure in comparison. [follow-up: the sign is taller and wider than the old Masonic Temple at 302 State St., corner of Erie Blvd.]
  • No Digital Message Board. The Horseshoe Marquee has no digital message board with text and images to distract drivers. It merely has a 3D animated horseshoe rotating on its top, far above street level. [For a discussion of the safety hazards and factors to be considered when digital signs are displayed near roadways, see our commentary at http://tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors]
  • A slender shape. The Cincinnati Horseshoe sign is not at all shaped like the proposed giant hulk at Mohawk Harbor, which is 38′ wide for the first 60 feet above the ground, and 30′ wide for the next 14.5 feet.   The Horseshoe marquee is about 33′ wide in a narrow strip near the top that names the casino. At the base, it is about 12 feet wide and stays that size for more than a dozen feet up the column. This slender silhouette greatly reduces the bulkiness of the Horseshoe sign.
  • Lower Profile.  According to Cincinnati.com, “The sign would be placed on Gilbert Avenue, away from the sprawling casino’s front door along Reading Road. Although the sign is tall – nearly twice the height of the Genius of Water sculpture at Fountain Square – its placement will be on the lowest point of the casino site, about 55 feet below the street level of Reading Road.”
  • The Cincinnati sign looks like a casino sign, not a wall with a big LCD screen.

In case our local officials are afraid to say no to the Rush Street pylon request because they fear the casino really does need the colossal sign to succeed, we note that Rush Street claims to be doing just fine in both Pittsburgh and in Philadelphia, and have no giant pylon at either location.

Exempted from the “normal” Signage Rules. Another way to look at the appropriateness of the proposed Schenectady Casino pylon is to compare it with the rules that govern every other location and business in the City of Schenectady.

Continue reading

phony pylon excuse: STS Steel is simply not in the way

STSSteel5Jul2015a

STS Steel Building – 49′ tall

 The only “justification” that Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko and Rush Street representatives have given for needing a monster 80′ pylon — beyond their always implicit and winning argument “because we want it” — is that the STS Steel building blocks the view of the Mohawk Harbor Rivers Casino, so that the pylon is needed to let people know Schenectady has a casino and where it is.  Despite the fact that the STS Excuse is very easy to refute, no one on the Planning Commission or in the Mayor’s Office, or among the majority of Yes-Persons on City Council, have pointed out that the assertion is simply not true, much less asked obvious follow-up questions such as:

  • How does a 49′ tall building block the view of a 71′ tall Casino that is sitting on land raised a few additional feet above the floodplain, which could also have a roof sign?
  • Why did you choose to place the casino partially behind the STS Steel building, if that is a big concern, when you have over 20 acres to choose from?
  • Casino-STS-PieChart When the entire project, river-side and street-side. is taken into account, wouldn’t a Pie Chart show that STS Steel makes up a tiny sliver of the sightline into the Casino, and one could not get to the “blocked” area without passing by an area from which the casino compound is visible? [click on image at the head of this bullet point]  Also, will Rush Street put in a much smaller sign if it succeeds in pushing STS Steel off the old ALCO site?
  • Who is going to be in or near Schenectady when the Casino has opened who won’t know there is a casino here?
  • How will a giant pylon guide drivers (front- or back-seat) off exits and through the streets of Schenectady? And, won’t there be plenty of signs along the way on our streets?
  • How do we balance the aesthetic damage and traffic hazard of such a large and bright pylon sign, and its intrusion on the skyline of our low-rise City (becoming the new Symbol of Schenectady), against its minimal actual usefulness?

SchdyPylonSketch2 . . . STSSteel5Jul2015b

above: rendering of 80′ pylon [L] and 49′-tall STS Steel Building seen from Erie Blvd. 

To put it charitably, the STS Excuse is silly and the acceptance by City Hall and the Media irresponsible and embarrassing. This posting will use images, photos and words to rebut head-on the STS Steel Excuse for a monster pylon. There is no need to balance the benefits and disadvantages of the monster pylon, because the STS Steel Building is simply not in the way of viewing the casino.

For other factors causing us to oppose the Monster Pylon, see Shrink that Pylon, which looks at the safety issues and the lessons taught by the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines, and our “pylon envy?” piece, which compares the proposed pylon to signage at other casinos and to the rules that every other business must obey in Schenectady. And, see “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?” (July 12, 2015), which reveals that the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street.

– share this posting with the short URL http://tinyurl.com/PylonExcuse

CasinoAreaPlan-001

  • As can be seen on the Area Plan submitted in the Applicant’s Site Plan materials (above), even if the Casino building were not 20+ feet taller than the STS Steel Building (plus, on land raised a few feet to be above the floodplain), the locations and orientation of the two buildings means that STS Steel is not blocking the view of the Casino for traffic heading NE on Erie Blvd. (from I-90, State St. or Union St.), nor for traffic heading SW on Erie Blvd (from the Freedom Bridge or Maxon Rd. Extension) until a vehicle is actually alongside STS Steel.
    • Click here to see the Pie Chart above combined with the Casino Area Plan.

CASINOvSTSvPYLON2

  • Ironically (see mock-up above), the giant pylon would surely block the view of the Casino itself for those coming NE on Erie Blvd., or entering Erie Blvd. from Jay Street, to a far greater degree than the STS Steel Building does. With the removal of the Automated Dynamics Building along Front Street, the view from the block of Erie at Jay Street should be a large open parking lot that permits viewing of the Casino until the point where the pylon blocks the view.
  • viewfromNottStTrestleAnd, even directly across the street from STS Steel and Mohawk Harbor, at the SE corner of Nott St. and Erie Blvd. (under the railroad trestle), a driver should be able to see the top of the Rivers Casino and any rooftop signage over the roofline of the STS Steel Building. The constructed image to the right illustrates the likely view, which should signal even the most oblivious driver there is a Casino neaby.
SatelliteViewMohawkHarbor2

Google satellite view

There’s No View Even Without STS Steel. Finally, and perhaps most telling, due to the terrain, the orientation of the roads, and the existing obstacles, traffic coming northward on Erie Boulevard (from State St. or I-890), or toward Erie Blvd. from Jay Street or Nott St. could not, and should not expect to, see the Casino facility until within a short block of the Mohawk Harbor entrances, even if there were no STS Steel Building.  Click on the Google satellite screenshot to the left of this paragraph, and explore the corresponding Google Map page. Thus: Even with no STS Steel Building, you could not see the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor when driving north up Erie Boulevard (click on photos for larger versions):

. . from Union St.: ErieBlvdAtUnion

. . Erie@Green nor from Green Street, or Jefferson or Monroe:

 . . IMG_8302 . . IMG_8307 . . The Casino/Gaming Building is not in the line of sight up Erie Blvd. If no other structures are in the way, it will be the Galesi-Marina-Mixed-Use portion of Mohawk Harbor coming into view, not the Casino.  This shot looking south from the corner of Nott St. up Erie Blvd. shows that the street layout does not permit a view of the casino when driving north on Erie Blvd.:

IMG_8362-001

Similarly, vehicles coming toward Erie Boulevard on Jay Street could not see the Casino until reaching the RR underpass at Erie Blvd.:

JayStNearErieBlvd

. . Nor could drivers and passengers in vehicles traveling “west”on Nott Street toward Erie Boulevard see the Casino building if there were no STS Steel Building, as the line of sight takes you to the future location of a Casino Parking Lot, not to the actual casino facility:

NottSt-MaxonRd

Given the reality of the Casino “viewshed”, the only reasonable conclusion of those observing the zoning amendment and site plan process to date, is that there are but two reasons giant pylons were permitted in the C-3 Waterfront zoning district: (1) The Gasino Gang wanted them, and (2) no one at City Hall had the courage to do his or her duty and speak truth to power: that the proposed pylon was “the wrong size and wrong location, and the STS Steel Building is simply not a valid excuse”.

MakeBobble-poker

from MakeBobble.com

Like the majority party members of the Schenectady City Council, and the staff at the City’s Planning and Zoning Offices, Members of the Planning Commission are apparently so accustomed to simply nodding their heads in agreement and turning off their B.S. Meters whenever Dave Buicko, Rush Street representatives, Mayor McCarthy, or his Legal Department make an assertion, they failed to notice how silly the claim is that the location of the 49′ tall STS Steel Building justifies an 80-foot pylon monster looming over the intersections of Nott and Front Streets and Erie Boulevard. Of course, given the basic intelligence of the Commissioners and the rest of the City Hall Casino Cheerleaders, it seems far more likely that they simply feel compelled to nod “yes” and to hide behind phony deadline pressures for their Rush to judgment. Perhaps the firm MakeBobble.com (see sample of card player bobblehead at the left of this paragraph), could customize their dolls a bit further for us so that the heads only nod up and down and never shake a “no” reply. When reviewing the proposed amendments to the C-3 Zoning ordinance in early January, we wrote in “the House is already winning” that:

“By merely suggesting the possibility of an 80-foot pylon, Rush Street and Galesi Group demonstrate a brutish lack of sensitivity to aesthetics, safety, neighborhood traditions, and the image and reputation of the City of Schenectady — not to  mention the truth.”

Those strong words have not loss their significance, but it is tempting to be more antagonistic toward the Casino Gang half a year later, given the many half-truths and deceptive arguments they have made in their bamboozling and steamrolling of City Council and the Planning Commission and the public. 316-vector-no-evil-monkeysRNonetheless, it seems clear that the words are even more apt when applied to City Hall — the decision-makers in the Mayor’s Office, the Planning and Law Departments, and those whose votes on the Council and Planning Commission should and could have protected the City and its residents. (Perhaps, I’d substitute the more damning word “irresponsible” for the adjective “brutish” when targeting City Hall.)  Although deceptive business practices are unlawful in our legal system, we expect businesses to use sharp practices when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake and often wink at them. However, if our system of government is to work effectively, and ever hope to gain the confidence of the people, we cannot permit those who purport to be acting on our behalf and enforcing the letter and spirit of our laws to passively accept arguments and statements that have no basis in fact or law.

the Lago casino HCA and the Mayor

GMcCarthyMug In his June 19th Guest Column in the Schenectady Gazette, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy attempts to answer critics who have asked why he never tried to negotiate a “host community agreement” [“HCA”] or similar benefits package with Rush Street Gaming [“Rush Street”]. (Guest Column, “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) The issue was first raised at this website in late April, in the posting “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table“, with follow-up postings on May 18th, “Money on the Table, Part 2“, and May 27th, “Rush Street’s Giveaways“. Schenectady resident and business owner Mohamed Hafez, asked the Mayor directly about host community agreements at a City Council meeting on May 11th, and at subsequent meetings.

 Mayor McCarthy replied to Mr. Hafez that such agreements are not required here, as they are in Massachusetts, and are not feasible in New York, because gaming tax revenues are paid directly to the State which redistributes a portion to the Host County and City.  That attempt by the Mayor to excuse his failure to seek a community benefits package from Schenectady’s casino applicant led both this website and Mr. Hafez to refer the Mayor to the Host Community Agreement [“HCA”] signed last year by the Town of Tyre with Wilmorite, the developer of the Lago Resort and Casino, in the Fingerlakes County of Seneca New York (which is described in detail at the bottom of this posting).  On June 5, 2015, the Gazette published a Guest Column by Mr. Hafez explaining the need for a host community agreement in Schenectady, and describing aspects of the Lago HCA. “Schenectady in need of host deal for casino” (reprinted here). That column led the Mayor to ask the Gazette for an opportunity to reply. [To see David Giacalone’s Letter to the Gazette Editor in response to Mayor McCarthy, click this link: “Mayor missed point on casino package“, June 27, 2015, C5.]

Mayor McCarthy wrote in the resulting Gazette Guest Column that the casino deal Schenectady has with Rush Street Gaming is superior to the Lago-Tyre Host Community Agreement. The Mayor compares select figures from the Lago HCA and the Tax Accord between Lago and the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and declares the “Schenectady deal” (there is no agreement) to be better. That is apparently because Lago received tax incentives/abatements not granted by Schenectady or Schenectady County to Rush Street, and the projected annual share of gaming tax revenue for the City of Schenectady, $4.1 million, is larger than the estimate of $3.9 million for Tyre/Lago.

TyreLogo Comparing individual, selected pairs of numbers from Seneca County and Schenectady proves little when Schenectady, with a population of 66,000, has nearly 70 times more residents than Tyre, and Seneca County, at 35,000 residents, has less than a quarter of the population of our County. The important point is that both the Town and the County IDA decided to do their homework (i.e., learn what potential host communities have done elsewhere and what the Town’s legal rights are, while commissioning a study to identify likely impacts, and quantify costs and benefits), and then to actively negotiate with their suitors. As a result, they each believe they have negotiated very favorable terms with Lago.

For example, Wilmorite is investing $425M at Tyre (40% more than Rush’s plans at Mohawk Harbor); the jobs it brings will cut the County’s unemployment rate significantly more than similar numbers of employees could do here; and the sales taxes generated due to Lago’s construction and operation will be significantly more than the annual sales tax abatement it has been offered. Seneca County will also receive payments during the period of its IDA accord with Lago that will offset the mortgage tax abatement granted to Wilmorite.

ida-lago-cost-benefit-analysis-table11 The IDA’s Lago Cost/Benefit Analysis concluded that the benefits from Lago for the County will be 51 times greater than its costs (including tax abatements), without counting the enormous benefits of the largest construction project in the County’s history. [summary chart at left; click on image to enlarge] And, Tyre, by the way, is expecting about $4000 in annual gaming revenues per resident, whereas Schenectady’s share of gaming revenues will be about $62 per resident. Moreover, the millions in extra mitigation payments by Lago that are scoffed at by Mayor McCarthy will be about $500 per Tyre resident per year, while Schenectady won’t be getting one cent.

According to the Seneca County IDA (Q & A on the Lago Resort & Casino Tax Accord, Feb. 12, 2015; empasis added):

A study commissioned by the IDA estimates the project will have a $1.8 billion economic impact in Seneca County. The project would also generate $45.3 million in payments to Seneca County; the Waterloo Central School District; infrastructure improvements; and more over 20 years.

As part of the proposed agreement, Seneca County would receive $3.83 million more than it would expect thanks to efforts by the joint IDA and County project advisory committee. This level of payment would exceed the level that would be projected to be paid under the already available New York State statutory 485-b property tax exemption program that this project would qualify for. For nearly 40 years, New York State has offered this 50 percent property tax exemption to businesses that invest $10,000 or more per year on building enhancements.

All of this is in addition to the Host Community Agreement with the Town of Tyre that will generate a projected $10.5 million in payments over 20 years to provided additional services such as fire, ambulance, and sheriff.

This said, Wilmorite has applied for a tax agreement covering sales, mortgage and property taxes. These include $16 million in New York State, regional and local sales tax exemptions, and $3.35 million in New York State and Seneca County mortgage tax exemptions.

As part of the accord, the developer has committed to purchasing construction materials and supplies from Seneca County vendors whenever possible, offsetting the local sales tax exemption.

In addition, as part of the accord, Seneca County would receive payments in future years, offsetting the mortgage tax exemption.

. . . .

For the reader’s convenience, we are repeating below our lengthy discussion, from the earlier posting “Money on the Table, Part 2“, of the Host Community Agreement between the Lago Casino and the Town of Tyre.

.

 Lago at Tyre. More telling than Albany’s efforts to obtain a community host agreement is what happened with the Lago Casino & Resort in the Town of Tyre, a tiny agricultural community in Seneca County, NY, which was the eventual “winner” in the Finger Lakes Region. Although Tyre has a population below one thousand, its leaders had a thoughtful and thorough response when they learned that the Wilmorite Corp. [also known as Wilmot] wanted to put a casino on a parcel within the Town. Beyond getting itself good legal advice and keeping its residents fully informed and involved, the Town commissioned the study “Impacts of Wilmot Casino on the Primary Impact Area: Emphasis on Socioeconomic & Public Safety” (June 2014, 44-pages), which was prepared by the Center for  Governmental Research, in Rochester, NY. Tyre also requested Cornell University to review and summarize a compilation of Canadian studies on the impact of casinos, especially problem gambling.

The well-informed leaders of the Town of Tyre Board of Supervisors were, therefore, prepared to negotiate a Host Community Agreement [“Tyre HCA”, June 2014, ] with the Applicant. (The HCA notes on its title page that the Agreement constitutes a “Community Mitigation Plan, as Contemplated by the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013.”) The lengthy list of responsibilities accepted and covenants made by Wilmorite, the Tyre-Lago Applicant, is a testament to the thoroughness of preparation of the parties, and also to the strong desire of Wilmorite to secure the approval of the Town Board and be a good neighbor if it were selected for the Finger Lakes Region gaming license.  (For a good summary of the terms of the Tyre HCA, see “Details of casino host community agreement unveiled“, Finger Lakes Times, by David L. Shaw, June 13, 2014.)

 The Lago Casino owner-devloper agreed that, among other things, it would:

• Pay all costs and expenses incurred by the town for attorneys, accountants, engineers, consultants and others in connection with the casino review process.

• Pay the town $100,000 annually from 2016-21 for the purchase of development rights or other action related to the preservation of agricultural land in the town, to mitigate the loss of farmland.

• Preserve the graves in six known burial sites on the land.

• Pay for the training of a security force acceptable to the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office; for special training of deputies, as needed; and up to $100,000 a year for the anticipated hiring of an additional deputy because of the casino.

• Pay the cost of a new high-rise firefighting equipment for six Magee Fire Department firefighters and will pay the cost of a ladder truck for the department.

• Pay for any medical training required by North Seneca Ambulance personnel who respond to the casino for emergencies. If North Seneca handles a casino patient whose insurance does not cover the entire cost, the company will make up the difference.

• To fulfill a previous agreement with Seneca County Mental Health Department, pay for hiring one additional problem gambling treatment and one additional problem gambling prevention specialist. [Note: the protocol for setting up a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program looks like a good place for Schenectady County to start to construct its own program.]

• Pay all on-site employees wages no less than 75 percent of the national average for each occupation.

•  To mitigate impacts on town services, pay the town $750,000 in 2015, $2 million on Jan. 15, 2016 (prior to operation), and $2 million on Jan. 15, 2017. For 2018 and beyond, the impact fee will be at least $2 million and be adjusted by formula. Once it begins operation, the Casino will receive credit for Gaming Tax Revenues received by the Town. That is, the Casino must make a prepayment of the annual minimum Impact Fee each January 15, with the Town refunding to the Casino the amount that it receives as Gaming Tax Revenues each year.

• Construct, install, operate and maintain, a six-inch private-force sanitary sewer main from the casino to the existing Petro orRoute 414 pump station.  And, construct and install a new water-line connection to the existing 12-inch water line located on the east side of Route 414, and work to create or extend a water district that includes the casino site. [Note: as anticipated by the Location Board’s application form, the Schenectady casino applicant has stated it will make analogous necessary utility improvements.]

• Design a telecommunications infrastructure for the casino, with at least one strand of fiber-optic cable dedicated to the town and its residents.

  • Implement, at its sole cost and expense, all actions described in the Engineer’s Report prepared for the SEQRA review, and perform all other traffic improvements recommended or required by the New York State Department of Transportation. [Lago estimates that the traffic mitigation measures will cost $4,152,500.]

• Apply to the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes on property and other taxes. [In the resulting accord with the County IDA, Lago agreed to pay $45.3 million over a 20-year period. That amount, according to the Agency’s estimates, is $3.83 million more than Lago Resort would pay if the project were fully taxed under the New York State statutory 485-b exemptions (which have long been available to businesses that invest $10,000 or more per year on building enhancements). See IDA Press Release, Feb. 12, 2015.]

  • Recognize the right of property owners near the Project to continue farming consistent with past practice using good agricultural practices.
  • Limit its lodging facilities to no more than 220 rooms, unless the Company provides the Town with independent forecasts that demand exists in the area for additional rooms, in order to limit the impact on other lodging establishments in the region, during the first ten years after gaming operations open to the public.

• Take out a $4 million mortgage on the project to secure the company’s obligations to the Town and County. The town will be given first priority lien on the mortgage.

  • Engage in Periodic Review and good-faith negotiation to deal with additional payments for unanticipated or miscalculated impacts, up to $1 million per year.

In accepting the Tyre HCA, the Lago Casino developer acknowledged that construction and operation of Lago would have both direct and indirect impacts on the community. Unlike the Mohawk Harbor Applicants in Schenectady, who denied or trivialized any impact on Schenectady or nearby communities, Wilmorite signed an Agreement stating:

Direct Impacts. The Company acknowledges that the construction and operation of the Project will cause direct impacts on the Town and its residents, including but not limited to impacts on Town infrastructure, environment, public safety, emergency services, social and other impacts (“Direct Impacts”). The Company shall mitigate the Direct Impacts in the manner described in this Article III.

. . . [And]  Indirect Impacts. (a) The Company acknowledges that, in addition to the Direct Impacts described above, the Project will also have known and unknown indirect impacts on the Town and its residents, related to or indirectly resulting from the construction and operation of the Project from time to time (“Indirect Impacts”). Indirect Impacts include, but are not limited to:

(1) increased use of Town services;

(2) increased use of Town infrastructure;

(3) the need for additional Town infrastructure, facilities, equipment and employees;

(4) increased traffic and traffic congestion;

(5) issues related to public health, safety, welfare and addictive behavior;

(6) issues relating to quality of life; and

7) costs related to mitigating other indirect impacts to the Town and its residents.

Schenectady’s City Hall never demanded a benefits or mitigation agreement with Rush Street and Galesi.  Indeed, the Mayor and his Administration, Metroplex, County officials, the Chamber of Commerce, and hopeful casino vendors, have never admitted to any likely negative effects. As a consequence, the City never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib and facetious claims of the Schenectady Applicant that its casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, nearby neighborhoods or towns, or the County. This lack of vital information caused the only non-Democrat on City Council, Vince Riggi, to refuse to vote in favor of the proposed casino.

answering Mayor McCarthy on HCAs

mayorgarymccarthy2013bwWe’re pleased that the Schenectady Gazette Editorial Page allowed us to respond yesterday (Letter to the Editor,“Mayor missed point on casino package“, June 27, 2015, C5) to the Guest Column by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy panning the Host Community Agreement notion. (see “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) Due to space limitations, our Letter to the Editor was limited to 400 words. The longer 1st Draft follows. [Also see, “the Lago casino HCA and the Mayor”]

Lago Lessons the Mayor Missed

In Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy’s June 19th Gazette Guest Column, he answers critics who have asked why he never tried to negotiate a “host community agreement” [“HCA”] or similar benefits package with Rush Street Gaming [“Rush Street”]. (Schenectady Gazette, “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) It is gaming industry practice, and common sense, for a potential host community to use its inherent leverage to bargain for impact mitigation funds, goodwill payments, revenue guarantees, or other concessions. But, Mayor McCarthy has chosen to be chief cheerleader and backroom muscle for Rush Street, rather than chief negotiator for the people of Schenectady.

We pointed the Mayor to the Lago-Tyre Host Community Agreement to rebut his excuse that such agreements were not feasible in New York State, not to recommend slavish adherence to its particular terms. Rather than learn from the Lago example, McCarthy made a two-pronged attack on the HCA: (1) Dismiss the messengers as foes of the casino with an “ironic” new cause, and (2) stress cherry-picked and unexplained numbers. It is, of course, not at all ironic that those who opposed the casino due to its expected negative effects are taking the Mayor to task for leaving millions of dollars on the table that could have been used to mitigate those impacts and improve Schenectady. Casino supporters also expect the Mayor to maximize casino revenues, jobs, and community benefits.

HCAs are not cookie-cutter affairs, but are tailored to each community’s situation. Comparing selected pairs of numbers from Seneca County and Schenectady proves little when our situations are so different. Schenectady has almost 70 times more residents than tiny Tyre, and Seneca County has less than a quarter of the population of our County, and far less development momentum. Unlike Schenectady, both Tyre and Seneca County did their homework: They learned what host communities have done elsewhere, they commissioned studies to understand the impact of a casino and to quantify its costs and benefits, and they actively and successfully negotiated with their casino applicant.

TyreLogoB&W As a result, Tyre and Seneca County believe they have negotiated very favorable terms with Lago. For example, an extensive study by the County Industrial Development Agency claims that the benefits from Lago for the County will be 51 times greater than its costs. Wilmorite is spending 40% more developing Lago ($425M) than Rush is at Mohawk Harbor. And, the property tax accord will bring in $3.83 million more over the next 20 years than the County would have otherwise expected.

For a detailed discussion of the Lago agreements, see tinyurl.com/InfoLago .

In contrast, the Mayor’s approach has earned Schenectady not one penny more than the law will demand from Rush Street once its Mohawk Harbor casino is in operation, and nothing prior to opening. Moreover, Schenectady has no reason to believe Galesi will freely give up its scandalously low PILOT payments, nor that Rush Street is likely to give up its practice of challenging tax assessments and seeking every available exemption. More important, with no pressure from the Mayor and no cost analysis undertaken by the City, Rush Street has never stepped up, as Lago did, to acknowledge both the reality of negative impacts and its obligation to mitigate them with payments in addition to the gaming revenue taxes it must pay.

Schenectady could have done much better. Rush Street has offered each of its other existing and proposed casino locations various payments and community benefits beyond what the law requires, including millions prior to opening, millions in guaranteed annual revenues, large ongoing community benefit and mitigation payments, local job and vendor preferences, and more. It even agreed to guarantee waterfront access and build a Green Roof in Philadelphia, and to give Brockton a guaranteed $10 million a year in benefits, along with its beautiful casino design.

To see how generous Rush Street has been outside Schenectady, and what Mayor McCarthy might have achieved, go to tinyurl.com/RushGiveaways .

David Giacalone

Editor, StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com

Schenectady, New York

why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?


MinorLeagueSchdy  
I
t seems obvious that a “destination resort casino” should be designed to look and feel exciting and extraordinary.  The Gazette editorial board thinks so, and so does our Planning Commission.  Why, then, has Rush Street Gaming handed us two minor league designs, just boxes on boxes, and a casino complex easily relegated to the realm of humdrum regional facilities? It is not because Rush Street does not know how to put a little sparkle or class in a casino design. Click on the collage to the right of this paragraph to compare the two Schenectady designs with three others recently proposed by Rush Street. (You can also click the following links to see separate images of the gaming facilities in Worcester (also here and there), and Hudson Valley, as well as Brockton 1 and Brockton 2, and Millbury; also, see our posting “Schenectady casino redesigned“, June 4, 2015).

  • FallsView

    Fallsview

    A flashy digital brochure submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission, “The Companies of Neil Bluhm,” touts his having “developed and acquired over $50 billion in world class destinations,” his “Establishing international beacons to successfully attract the tourism market,” and “placing an emphasis on superior design” for his casinos. Unfortunately, instead of an “international beacon” like Fallsview Casino in Ontario, Canada, we get a design that reminds us Neil Bluhm “pioneered . . . the creation of urban shopping centers.”

  • According to the Worcester Business Journal (April 25, 2013), when Rush Street Chairman Neil Bluhm was unveiling their concept design for the 120,000-square-foot Worcester facility, he “called it beautiful and said it ‘will fit well with the surrounding area and enhance the neighborhood’.”
    • Bluhm was right to call the Worcester design beautiful, and we have to give him credit for not trying to tell us the same thing about either Schenectady design.
  • By the way, I wonder how much the architect bill was on each of the projects shown in the above collage. Considering they cloned the Des Plaines model for the 1st Schenectady design, and Rush Street CEO Jeff Carlin said the 2nd Schenectady design is just prefab modular that makes it easy to change, I bet the other projects were a bit more dear.
  • Share this posting with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/RushScraps

Our first guess as to why Rush Street does not try very hard for Schenectady is that it has had our “leaders” fawning over it ever since the first rumor of a casino was in the air early last year.  This morning’s Schenectady Gazette suggests another reason: As with the earlier zoning amendments, the normal Planning Commission process has been aborted (hijacked?), with the skids greased by the Mayor to make sure Galesi and Rush Street never have to wait very long to get their wish list fulfilled, and with public input stifled whenever possible.

Thus, the Gazette reported that “Schenectady Planning Commission held closed meetings on casino plans – State official: Sessions legal but ‘evasive’” (by Haley Viccaro, A1, June 19, 2015). Observers of Schenectady’s government in action are “seldom surprised, but often shocked” and disappointed. The revelation that our Planning Commissioners met in 4-person “subcommittees” with Rush Street Gaming and the Mayor to discuss the important issue of casino-design is not surprising.  By meeting short of a 5-person quorum, the Commission did not legally have to give notice or have the meeting open to the public.

Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, was probably correct that it does not violate the Open Meetings Law to hold a single non-quorum session on a topic, but that “it demonstrates a lack of transparency,” and might not pass judicial muster “If there is an attempt to evade the Open Meetings Law by ensuring that a series of gatherings will include less than a quorum.” Freemen bemoaned the fact, as do we, that the Planning Commission left the public in the dark about a major development.

A major problem with Planning Commission Chair Sharran Coppola having held the pre-Meeting sessions with Rush Street, is that she thinks those chats justify not discussing the design issues during the Public Meeting this week.  If you care about the design issue (much less good government), you are very likely to want to know what the Commissioners are thinking and suggesting about the need to re-do the redesign. Left in the dark, the public has to comment about their design wishes in a vacuum, mostly complaining about its overall reaction to the Factory-Retro second design, rather than saying what it likes and does not like about the new suggestions, and giving alternatives.  In other words, we will probably be facing a fait accompli on July 15, and be (sadly, as always) wasting our time addressing the Commissioners.

The following is an online comment left by myself (David Giacalone) at the webpage of this morning Gazette‘s article. It suggests that Rush Street be required to submit its redesign by Independence Day weekend, and it reminds the Gazette readership and the Commissioners that no one was excited about the first Schenectady design, and it should not become the fallback outcome by default.

Comment to the Gazette:

DesPlainesCasinoCollage

real photo from Des Plaines

By depriving the public of a discussion among the Commissioners, its staff, and the Casino, concerning the design of the Casino, the Commission has made it impossible for the public to make meaningful comments over the next couple of weeks about the design “retooling” and to have any significant impact on the final design. Saying what we don’t like about the 2nd design is not an adequate way to work toward a much-improved 3rd design.

Schenectady surely does deserve a spectacular design for its casino. From the start, many of us pointed out that Rush Street’s competitors understood that a destination casino must look special, while our applicant seemed to be willing to settle for a very modest “regional” casino look, and the City Hall yes-persons failed to ask for something better.

Prior to the release of the Factory-Retro red brick 2nd design, I saw and heard no praise of the first design. At best, when anyone pointed out how much it looked like a gaudy version of a 1970’s mall cineplex, and was a retread of the underwhelming, mid-West-snazzy Des Plaines Rivers casino, the reply would be, “gee, it’s not that bad.” It is my hope that the Planning Commission, Mayor and Rush Street do not simply return to the mediocre first design, adding some redbrick coloration here and there. We also should not fool ourselves that the constructed casino will look like the rendition. To see how reality differs from the Rush Street drawings in Des Plaines, go to http://tinyurl.com/DPClessons .

The Applicant should be required to submit its next design proposal before the Independence Day weekend, so that the public can give meaningful input prior to the Commission’s July 15 meeting. We deserve more than a Done Deal sprung on us at the last minute. And, because the deadline for opening the new casino is at least 26 months away (and Rush Street insists they only need 16 to 18 months for construction), the Commissioners should be willing to have a 3rd public meeting on the Site Plan in order to give it adequate review.

I’ve seen this Commission force “little guys” to come back two and three times over things as insignificant to the public as the color and shape of their tiny storefront sign. Mohawk Harbor deserves closer scrutiny than a two-meeting rush on something so complex and important. And, of course, the public needs to be in the loop, not out in the hallway due to some 4-person loophole.

shrink that casino pylon! (with updates)

 How Big? See “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?“, and click on the collage to the left. Yep, it’s bigger than the façade of Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple.

 casinopylonTree . . . update (June 17, 2015): Click for Comments to the Planning Commission regarding the proposed Casino Pylon (9-page pdf.). The submission collects, organizes, and amplifies points made below, arguing that the Pylon is the Wrong Size and in the Wrong Place. Rush Street’s argument that the pylon is needed because the STS Steel Building blocks the view of the Casino is rejected, and elements making this location highly hazardous for traffic are detailed. [a Wrong Size/Wrong Place collage, which is part of the submitted Comments, can be found at the bottom of this posting.]  Incidentally, the proposed location would require removing a large, healthy tree — probably the loveliest tree on the overwhelmingly barren Mohawk Harbor property (see photo at the left). Site Plan review factors include “the maximum retention of existing vegetation” [§264-89(G)]. We need a tree-hugger or two on the Planning Commission.

Haley Viccaro at the Gazette covered the Commission meeting in an article you will find here; the Times Union‘s Paul Nelson blogged about it here. The Gazette reported that East Front Street Neighborhood Association’s Mary Ann Ruscitto opposed the pylon, saying “We don’t want the giant big sign at the entrance to our neighborhood.”

– share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/RushPylon

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original posting:

Which sign would you prefer as the symbol of Schenectady?

GESign2

General Electric’s famous sign, atop historic Bldg. 37 

 . . . or

DPCpylon4border  . . .  DesPlaines68

. . . an even larger version of the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines IL, which is shown above and to the right of this caption.

Imposing as it is, the Des Plaines pylon would be the shorter little brother of its Schenectady sibling. If the enormous “pylon edifice” proposed by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is erected at the size and the location (close to Nott & Front Streets, and Erie Boulevard) requested by Rush Street Gaming and developer Galesi, it will almost certainly become the new symbol of Schenectady for all outsiders and newcomers, and soon local residents, too.  A few facts:

  • The Des Plaines pylon above is a mere 68′ tall, with a digital display about 25′ tall, plus an additional light-box taller than its digital sign.  When presenting their requested Schenectady zoning amendments earlier this year, David Buicko of Galesi Group said the Des Plaines pylon was similar to the one he was proposing for Schenectady. The slide showed to the Commissioners was a daytime photo of the Des Plaines pylon, in which the lightbox did not appear to be illuminated.
  • CasinoPylon-4Jun2015

    proposed pylon

    The proposed Schenectady pylon is significantly larger: It would be 80′ tall, 38′ wide, with a digital display 32′ high and 19′ wide, and it would have an edge design the entire height of the pylon that we presume is also a light-box.  The only explanation given for the increased size by Galesi Group COO David Buicko was that they needed it to be visible above the STS Steel Building so that the Casino could easily be found. The STS Building is, in fact, only 49′ tall. More important, it blocks only a fraction of the view from the street to the Casino, and none of the riverside view. Ironically, the tall and broad pylon will block the view of the casino for traffic heading east on Erie Boulevard far more than does the STS Building.

    • It was finally announced at the July 22 Planning Commission meeting that the “multisided” pylon will not simply have a message on the front and back. It will by “v” shaped, with wing of the vee facing toward Nott and Erie, and the other facing westward toward Erie and Jay St.
  • The GE sign’s giant letters are only 10′ tall, and its circular logo is 36′ in diameter, only 4 feet taller than the Casino pylon’s digital sign, and with a simple “message” considerably less distracting and less visually intense, due to the “dead space” between the illuminated portions of the logo. The GE signs sits upon historic Building 37 (site of the first corporate research facility in the nation), which is 73.89 feet tall, and sits far back from the street and from any residential or commercial neighborhoods.
  • The new Waterfront Zoning amendments allow the casino to have more than one 80′ pylon, with no stated limit.
  • Philadelphia has a lot of tall buildings that could block the view of a pylon or other freestanding sign. Nevertheless, in its Casino Zoning District, where Rush Street has its SugarHouse Casino, no freestanding sign may be taller than 40′. [Philadelphia Code, §14-405(8)] In addition, and also for safety reasons, the City of Philadelphia allows no digital displays within 200′ of an intersection. [Philadelphia Code, §14-904 (1) (b) Digital Display]

pylonrenderlocation

– above: location and size of proposed Schenectady Casino pylon –

pylontree2 . . . pyloncorner

– above (click on image to enlarge): corner where 40′ tree would be replaced with 80′ casino pylon, with Erie Blvd. a short block to the south; and see Pylon Collage 2, below –

ParkerBldg

How wide is 38 feet? It is the length of two large SUVs parked nose to nose. The Parker Building, next to Proctors, is only 24 feet wide. (For many decades the tallest building in Schenectady, it is 99 feet tall.) As mentioned above, the giant GE Logo is only 36′ in diameter.

  • For safety reasons, the NYS Department of Transportation cautions that off-site variable electronic signs should not be located so as to distract from nearby traffic control devices, nor be closer than 300 feet apart if more than one variable sign is visible to a driver at the same time. In addition, DOT requires that such digital signs appear no brighter at night than during the day, and no brighter than other signage such as billboards. See Criteria for Regulating Off-Premises Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS) in New York State (2014).

casino-accessplan-frontst update (June 15, 2015, 5 PM): A visit to review the site plan this afternoon at the Schenectady Planning Office confirmed that the proposed pylon would not be located within the Casino Compound, nor merely close to Nott St. and Erie Blvd. It would be at the SW corner of the intersection of Front St. and Nott St., a few yards down from Erie Blvd., on what must be the shortest block in Schenectady. That short, narrow block will also be the point where vehicles will be exiting the planned traffic rotary, with drivers craning their necks to read the messages on the giant digital display. The plat detail to the left of this paragraph shows the pylon’s location and proximity to Erie Boulevard and the Rotary. (And, see this annotated detail from the Site Plan.)

Moreover, Front Street will be extended across Nott St. into the casino compound, rather than dead-end at that point, as it does now.  The intersection of Nott and Front Streets will be busy, and particularly confusing to first-time visitors to the Casino, or to customers leaving under the influence of alcohol.

SchdyPylonSketch2

To the right is a sketch of the proposed Schenectady pylon from the Site Plan submission. (Click on it to enlarge.) It shows the color scheme and gives the dimensions of various portions of the sign.

Thanks to All Over Albany for linking to this posting and covering the re-design issue.

It is worrisome that our City’s planning and development staff are now in the position of supporting signage of this nature along such a busy and important stretch of roadway. In 2008, the proposed City of Schenectady Comprehensive Plan would have inadvertently required the GE Sign to be removed within two years, because rooftop signs are no longer allowed, and the Plan called for all illegal signs to be removed by 2010. They wisely ended up declaring that only illegal freestanding signs must be removed by 2010. Ironically, Schenectady chief zoning officer Steve Strichman stated back in 2008 that their goal was to remove “oversized signs that have been more recently installed in front of other businesses.” As the Gazette put it (in “Rule nearly brings down GE icon“, by Kathleen Moore, February 2, 2008):

Strichman aims to rid Schenectady’s streets of highway-oriented signs that are “out of pedestrian scale.”

If there were ever to be a freestanding, roadway-oriented sign in front of a business in Schenectady that is “out of pedestrian scale”, it would be the pylon monstrosity proposed for our Rivers Casino. casinotownlogo I’m hoping that Steve Strichman is as chagrined about the Rush Street/Galesi pylon proposal as we are. And, that Steve is pressing hard in the Planning Office to shrink that pylon to a manageable size. Of course, we cannot know what size is truly manageable without line-of-sight studies that have yet to be done. For additional discussion of issues raised by erection of the proposed pylon, see our recent post “lessons learned from the Des Plaines casino“; and, see our Pylon Collage at the bottom of this posting.

Symbol of Schenectady? In addition to the GE Logo Sign, Schenectady residents might prefer the Stockade’s statue of Lawrence the Indian (a mere 13 feet high, including base), the new, human-size memorial to Edison and Steinmetz, or Union College’s splendid Nott Memorial (103′) as Schenectady’s symbol.  Casino Town is, however, the wrong image for Schenectady, whether done in futuristic, shopping mall retro, or faux-factory style. We are a proud City preparing for a casino, not a desperate one willing to be branded a Casino Town. No matter what the Mayor, Metroplex or the Chamber of Commerce want us to believe about the Casino honoring our past and symbolizing our future, that pylon needs to be cut down to size and put in its proper place.

PylonCollage

-click on the collages above and below to enlarge the image –

PylonCollage2a