the Lady and the Mayor and the Council

 At Monday’s Schenectady City Council meeting (March 12, 2018), the issue of Bringing Lady Liberty Home was the subject of my “privilege of the floor” comments to the Council and Mayor. The collage at the right of this paragraph is the handout that I gave to our elected representatives, to remind them that the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan they approved in 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206clearly included the return of the Statue of Liberty replica to her home at Gateway Plaza. There are no safety or financial reasons to alter that Plan. I basically told the Council: This is easy for you: Ask the Mayor to implement the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan as written — that is, with Lady Liberty brought back home. [For a full discussion of the issues, process, etc., see our prior post, “Bring Lady Liberty Home“, which has links to relevant documents and lots of photos; and see the actual Implementation Plan, the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza.]

 In the past, Schenectady Mayors have used experts — consultant engineers or Corporation Counsel (their in-house mouthpiece) — to justify going back on pledges to preserve parts of Schenectady’s history. Monday evening, Gary McCarthy repeated his refrain that “no final decision has been made yet”, but then added that the Gateway Plaza “design team” recommended not returning the Liberty Statue replica to Liberty/Gateway Plaza. Later that night, I wrote to the members of the Counsel to remind them:

GPPlanCover “The ironic thing about the Design Team excuse is that Mary Moore Wallinger, with her LAndArt Studio, has been the primary designer throughout this entire process; was author of the Implementation Plan; and is responsible for construction documents and construction administration. In 2012-2013, Mary never wavered, but showed Lady Liberty back at Gateway Plaza after construction, in every alternative presented to the Steering Committee, Public Design Workshops, and City Council.” [and, on the cover of the Plan; see detail to the left, with a blue asterisk placed above Liberty’s planned relocation.]

LibertyPark . . GatewayPlazaCollage26FebB

. . click on thumbnails above for collages of [L] Lady Liberty in 2016; [R] Gateway Plaza, March 2018 . .

The Lady Fits. When did the “design team” change its/her mind and start saying that Lady Liberty is too small to fit in, and is not contemporary enough to fit in, at Gateway Plaza? The following rendering of the proposed (and later adopted) view of the Plaza as seen from Washington Avenue and State Street shows, in my opinion, that Lady Liberty fits in well, giving us continuity with our history and a continuing message of welcome that is most relevant to our present and future. (click on the image for a larger version)

birdseye view (marked with blue asterisk) . . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

GPLady-NotTooSmall . . Not Too Small . .

The 100-inch-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty, sitting atop its base, is neither inadequate as a statue or sculpture, nor obtrusive in style, so as to somehow mar or overcome the “contemporary” feel now being stressed by Ms. Wallinger. The Implementation Plan she authored in 2012 and promoted to City Council in 2013, declared that Gateway Plaza is meant to “celebrate the City’s past, present and future.” Our Statue of Liberty does that in a timeless style and dauntless spirit — a spirit of welcome and inclusion that more than ever needs to be highlighted, and a spirit of freedom that is always fresh and yet always needs to be renewed.

A few salient points:

  • Riggi. At the March 13 City Council meeting, Councilman Vince Riggi (Ind.) pointed out the appropriateness of having Lady Liberty in a Gateway welcoming people to Schenectady, just as the original Statue of Liberty has welcomed tens of millions from its perch in New York Harbor. The National Parks webpage on the Statue of Liberty states: “The symbol of American freedom and opportunity, Lady Liberty has long been a beacon to those seeking refuge on our shores.” Riggi also reminded the Council that he was assured that the Statue would be returned to her original home after construction just seven months ago, by the City’s Commissioner of Operations.

  •  History. Lady Liberty would be the only vertical (above-ground) element in the Plaza Plan that refers to Schenectady’s history. The two historic markers [out of seven] that have been salvaged and returned to the Park are recessed in the sidewalk, hard to find and difficult to read. (see the greenish marker in the photo to the left) And, the “Historic Railroad Pedestrian Way” included along the east side of the Plaza refers to an “underground railway” of short duration that may be little-known because of its historical insignificance, and is to most residents a minor curiosity.
  • Porterfield: At the Council Meeting on March 12, Council member Marion Porterfield stated the City should listen to those who live near the Park/Plaza, and noted that she has seen nothing indicating that the Mayor had changed the Plan regarding Lady Liberty; she also pointed out that this is not a matter of favoring one neighborhood over another. [Ed. note: Last year, when City Council voted to alienate a piece of Riverside Park for use as a pumping station, it “substituted” land at Gateway Plaza, tying the Stockade even closer to that new Park.]
  • Gillen: Has the Mayor made a final decision? On February 26, 2018, Ray Gillen, Chair Metroplex, wrote in response to an email asking about the markers and monuments that had been in Liberty Park that, “The Statue of Liberty is being relocated by the City and will likely be located in a another City park in the spring.” The finality of that statement should be a reminder that those opposed to the exile of Lady Liberty must speak out now and loudly.

My message to the Council on Monday is not a new one: Your Resolutions need to be implemented and the Council needs to fulfill its oversight role to see that the Executive Branch of City government follows the policies made by the Council.

  •  Sunshine Week. As the Gazette‘s opinion page editor, Mark Mahoney, has been reminding us, we are currently celebrating Sunshine Week. We need open government and the people need to know that they have access to information that will shed light on the workings of their government and leaders. When thinking about the importance of following through on the treatment of Lady Liberty in the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, I hope our Council members and our Mayor, along with the Plaza design team, will ask themselves “What good are sunshine laws and policy if an open design process, with community input and support, and approval by City Council, can be undone secretly a few years later by the Mayor, just before an Implementation Plan is completed?”

Raise Your Voice. So, please, if you agree that Lady Liberty belongs back home at Gateway/Liberty Plaza, let Mayor McCarthy and the entire City Council know you have neither seen nor heard anything that justifies not following through on the original, adopted Implementation Plan, which made so much sense and was fully supported at the Public Workshops. The Mayor and Designer Mary Wallinger have misled the good folks who support a Veterans’ Memorial at Steinmetz Park, by acting as if Lady Liberty’s future in Schenectady had not yet been decided; they need to come up with a suitable alternative at Steinmetz Park for the values and history represented by Lady Liberty.

  • Mayor Gary McCarthy –
  • Ed Kosiur –, City Council President
  • John Polimeni –,
  • Leesa Perazzo –, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas –, chair of the Council Planning and Development Committee
  • John Mootooveren –, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield –,
  • Vincent Riggi –

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newspaper follow-up (March 21, 2018): Yesterday afternoon, at the Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society, I found a few items in the Schenectady Gazette I want to share:

  1. In his Tales of Old Dorp column (April 22, 1986), historian Gary Hart wrote: Larry Hart wrote in his Gazette column in 1986: “By the way, the green triangle was named Liberty Park after the monument.” (emphasis added) This really is Her Park.
  2. At the time the final Plan was being put together an article headlined “Schenectady’s Liberty Park seen as gateway, college area,” (Bethany Bump, June 13, 2012, B3) reported: 

    “Residents, on the other hand, expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty.

    “The Lady Liberty replica that has sat on its pedestal in the park for 62 years would still remain. But it would likely move closer to the State Street border.”

  3. LibertyTorch And, in an article titled “Passing the Torch” (by Jeff Wilkin, Oct. 27, 2002), I learned that Schenectady Boy Scouts and area Veterans’ groups held annual rededication ceremonies at Lady Liberty in October for decades. A National Boy Scout of American leader is quoted saying that very few cities hold rededication ceremonies and he was very pleased with Schenectady’s efforts. An primary organizer of the events noted that they were held to help commemorate Schenectady’s immigrants, whose first sight of America so often was of the original Lady Liberty in New York Harbor.

Bring Lady Liberty Home

IMG_2267 Summary: Unless the Mayor of Schenectady, Gary McCarthy, is convinced to change his mind, the Statue of Liberty replica erected in Liberty Park in 1950, donated by a local Boy Scout troop, will not be returned to her home, the new, renamed Gateway Plaza. Instead, Schenectady’s “Lady Liberty” will be getting a different “Foster Home” elsewhere in Schenectady (apparently, as part of a Veterans Memorial at Steinmetz Park). The original Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was natural, popular, and adopted by the City in 2013, was to bring Liberty back to Her Home, in a visible new location, once Park reconstruction was completed. We should insist that this piece of the Park’s history, and our history, be restored to  a place of honor in her Park, and the City’s promise be kept, especially because there is no safety or budgetary reason to exile Her. Click the following link for an “advocacy collage” arguing that we must Bring Lady Liberty Home, and particularly that (contrary to current excuses) she is not too small or too old-fashioned to serve the goals of Gateway Plaza. Full discussion below.

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. . and, for and updated summary, see “The Lady, and the Mayor, and the Council” (March 14, 2018)

  . . 

 Above: [L] Lady Liberty in Liberty Park shortly before being put into storage for the Gateway Plaza reconstruction project (Sept. 2016); [R] detail from a rendering in the final Implementation Plan (Nov. 2012) showing Liberty relocated closer to State St. and the CDTA bus shelter. Right: a collage showing Lady Liberty in her Park on September 15, 2016 (please click on the collage for a larger version).

   Until very recently, there seemed to be no reason for members of the public to doubt that Schenectady’s replica of the Statue of Liberty (a/k/a “Lady Liberty”), which had stood in Liberty Park from 1950 until autumn of 2016, would be returned from storage to the Park, after its reconstruction and expansion into Gateway Plaza. But, now, the opposite is true, and Liberty will end up elsewhere in Schenectady, if we do not quickly persuade City Hall, Metroplex, and/or LAndArt Studio (the project’s designer and administrator), to restore our small version of the Statue of Liberty to its original home, as promised.

The Gateway Plaza project has as a major goal: to “Celebrate Schenectady’s past, present & future”. Gateway Plaza’s clean, modern design points to the City’s vibrant present and hopeful future. But, in fact, there is and will be little tangible and readily visible “celebration of its past” without Lady Liberty continuing to grace the scene.

  •  If you are not yet familiar with the newly-opened Gateway Plaza, click on the collage to the right for a quick visit. For a more comprehensive introduction, check out “first look at Gateway Plaza“, at suns along the Mohawk, our sister website.  You will find about 30 photos taken on Feb. 26 and March 3, 2018, along with a brief summary of the goals of the Project, as stated in the Final Report City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (November 2012, 119 pp. pdf.).

Where did Schenectady’s Lady Liberty come from, and why should we care about her fate? As explains, in part:

Statue of Liberty Replica -Schenectady, NY

In Liberty Park, a small triangle of land in downtown Schenectady, NY, there is a replica of the Statue of Liberty. It also has the same five pointed star base as the original. 

In 1950, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 40th anniversary, with the theme Strengthen the Arm of Liberty, by donating approximately two hundred 100-inch tall, 290 lb. replicas of the Statue of Liberty. [click for a list of locations] They were given [through contributions by local Scouts] to communities in 39 different U.S. states and several U.S. possessions and territories. Of the original copies, approximately 100 can currently be located. These copper statues were manufactured by Friedley-Voshardt Co.

In a 2012 Schenectady Gazette article, the story of our Lady Liberty is told through the eyes of several local Boy Scouts from the troop that met at St. Anthony’s Church, and worked to save up the $350 to purchase the sculpture in 1950. “Lady Liberty replica has 62-year-old story to tell” (by Bethany Bump, Jan. 15, 2012).

It was an endeavor that dovetailed nicely with the Scouts’ basic mission: prepare youth to be responsible and participating citizens and leaders. And there was no better symbol of leadership and American citizenship than Lady Liberty.

. . .  Just like the 305-foot-tall national monument in New York Harbor, Schenectady’s lady offers an inspirational message: “With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this copy of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty.”

At the Wikipedia page for the Boy Scouts’ Strengthen the Arm of Liberty program, we are told (emphasis added):

The classical appearance (Roman stola, sandals, facial expression) derives from Libertas, ancient Rome’s goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny. Her raised right foot is on the move. This symbol of Liberty and Freedom is not standing still or at attention in the harbor, it is moving forward, as her left foot tramples broken shackles at her feet, in symbolism of the United States’ wish to be free from oppression and tyranny

detail of Phase 1 & Phase 2 sketch

Throughout the planning stages that yielded the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (November 2012), documents shown to the public and Steering Committee depicted Lady Liberty back in Gateway Plaza at a prominent spot near its original location — closer to State Street, between the existing great maple tree and CDTA Bus Plus structures. See the rendering at the top of this posting (which is a detail from this view of the Plaza), as well as the sketch immediately below of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Gateway Plaza project; its Legend shows item #6 (at the top, near State Street and a CDTA shelter), as the “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica”: 

  . . click on image for a larger version.

 Indeed, every single depiction of options for the planned Gateway Plaza presented for its Public Design Workshops showed Lady Liberty relocated to that spot; e.g., sketches of so-called Concept A and Concept B; and, a Birdseye View of the project. Also, workshop materials showed Liberty as a primary example of study area history. [See Implementation Plan, Appendix G, Public Workshops and Meeting Minutes]

. . annotated detail from Birdseye rendering. . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty


  1. Every public comment about the Liberty statue was positive for keeping her at the Plaza (App. G, at 94, 110), with notable support to make Her more prominent, keeping Lady Liberty at her original location in the renovated “urban plaza” area.
  2. The Minutes for the Workshops contain no indication of any reservation by the designers or Steering Committee to place Lady Liberty elsewhere in the City.
  3. Through its City Council, the City of Schenectady adopted the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan “as an official document”, on August 12, 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). The only Plan submitted to the Council included bringing Lady Liberty back to be relocated in Gateway Plaza. 

Only six months ago, on August 14, 2017, City Councilman Vince Riggi responded to constituent inquiries about whether Lady Liberty would be coming back to her old home, by sending a text message to Paul LaFond, the City’s Commissioner of General Services.  Mr. Riggi asked, “is the Statue of Liberty going to be returned to Gateway Park after construction.” Commissioner LaFond replied less than an 90 minutes later: “Yes when the park is complete.” [see screenshot to the right]

Lulled into an unusual complacency regarding Schenectady City Hall and the preservation of Schenectady history, the author of this posting missed the Gazette article “Statue of Liberty replica will find new home: It was 1 of just 6 erected in New York state communities” (Daily Gazette, Dec. 14, 2017, by Bill Buell). The article, which also tells of the Time Capsule placed under the Statue, states:

Due to construction in that area of State Street, across from the former YMCA, the replica has been put in the city garage on Foster Avenue for safekeeping. But Mayor Gary R. McCarthy expects it to have a new home soon.

“Potential sites are being evaluated, and I’m sure we’ll find a place for it soon,” McCarthy said. “One scenario has it back in Liberty Park, and other possibilities might be near the police station, the train station or somewhere along Erie Boulevard.”

Note that Mayor Gary McCarthy calls the City-approved and promised return of Liberty to Gateway Plaza merely “one scenario” being evaluated, but he did at least suggest that the return home was still under consideration. [Keep reading and form your own conclusion.]

 On February 24th, however, I was jolted out of my complacency when I saw the item at the head of this paragraph on page A3 of the Albany Times Union.  It is merely a photo with a two-sentence caption; there is no explanatory article. The headline says “Symbol heading to a new home.” That’s Schenectady’s Director of Development, Kristin Diotte, with Lady Liberty, in a storage area on Foster Avenue. The caption states: “It’s destined for a new home, most likely Steinmetz Park on the city’s north side in Schenectady.”

 Soon after seeing the Times Union item, I wrote to Mary Moore Wallinger, who is the principal in the design firm LAndArt Studio, which has been responsible for design, construction documents and construction administration of Gateway Plaza. Mary has been a lead actor in the design and execution of Gateway Plaza from the beginning, when she was employed by Synthesis Architects, LLP. Mary is also the chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission. The Planning Office staff is directly under Kristin Diotte, Director of Development. Thus, I was fairly sure Mary Wallinger would know the status of Lady Liberty’s planned location and the reasons for the changed Plan. My email to her included the Gateway Landing photo collage posted above, and also asked why the Liberty replica was not being returned home. Here is Ms. Wallinger’s entire reply:

On Mar 1, 2018, at 8:37 AM, Mary Moore Wallinger <> wrote:

Hi David,

Thanks so much for sharing this [a collage of Gateway Plaza images] – you made my morning!

In regards to the statue, there is a plan to include some sculpture in the park at some point, but the Statue of Liberty is actually quite small and would look very out of scale in that location. She worked there originally because all of the berms and plantings helped to exaggerate her scale, but as you know, visually secluded areas in public parks are a safety concern and it was critical to open up the visibility in this location.  I have been working with the City and a group of local residents and I think we have found a very exciting new home for her where she will continue to be enjoyed by residents and visitors and be greatly appreciated and loved, while continuing to inspire all those around her. There have been a few interested parties with various interesting proposals for new locations and I know the City is contemplating the different options, but I expect they will be making an announcement soon and something will likely happen in the spring. She cannot really be moved until the ground has properly thawed out and a proper footing put in place. The good news is that she is well loved and there are lots of good ideas circulating for her placement in the city, as well as a commitment to seeing this happen once weather permits.

Have a wonderful day and thank you again for your photos!

Best regards,

There is no mention that the long-standing Plan to return Lady Liberty has been reversed. Instead, two reasons are given for sending Lady Liberty to what I call a Foster Home:

  1.  “there is a plan to include some sculpture in the park at some point, but the Statue of Liberty is actually quite small and would look very out of scale in that location.” My response:
    1. The statue would not be there as sculpture, but as a part of the City’s history (and future).
    2. Lady Liberty is the same size as when Mary oversaw plans to bring her back to the Park/Plaza. And, the Lady’s scale looks fine in the rendering showing her at the planned relocation spot. [image at right] Some might say the original location, with the giant maple and other trees and vegetation, plus surrounding berms, in some ways made Lady Liberty look smaller.
  2. visually secluded areas in public parks are a safety concern and it was critical to open up the visibility in this location”. 
    1. The berms and most vegetation have been removed and visibility is good
    2. The Planned relocation spot is very visible, and not secluded, without the statue being so large as to block views of the Park.

The reasons given for failing to return Lady Liberty to her home are (euphemistically) very weak.

Lawrence on the ground with Stockade resident Peter Delocis

As a statue, the Liberty replica is certainly not too small to have an adequate and appropriate impact. As I have written back to Mary Wallinger, the Liberty replica is 100 inches tall, 8′ 4″. The Stockade’s famous and beloved statue of Lawrence the Indian is 67 inches tall, a mere 5′ 7″. That is almost three feet (and 33%) shorter than Lady Liberty. At that smaller size, Lawrence nonetheless commands his space in an open traffic circle (in color or b&w):

..  ..   

 As a piece of sculpture, the best comparison I can find is the only comparable sculpture shown in the Gateway Plaza renderings: Venus de Milo on the Pedestrian Way. See the image to the right, which is a detail from this rendering. That Venus sculpture appears to be the same size as the original: 6′ 8″, twenty inches shorter than Lady Liberty, and holding her own.

2Wizards-img_8116 BTW: At 8’4″, Lady Liberty is significantly taller than the Edison and Steinmetz sculptures, which were ensconced in May 2015 at their Memorial pocket-park, on the corner of Erie Blvd. and So. Church Street. According to the Memorial’s primary midwife/godfather, Brian Merriam, the life-sized sculptures present Edison at 5’10” and Steinmetz at 4’6″.

Fire Sta. #2: plans/schmans

 What are we to make of such lame excuses for once again reneging on a development plan that included preserving an important or well-loved piece of Schenectady’s history? How can we not think about the façade of the IOOF’s Temple, the loss of the Nicholaus Building, or the fate of and sad replacement for Schenectady’s Old Fire Station #2?  The Fire Station #2 tale is instructive for many reasons, one of which is that the Planning Office staff decided that proposed changes in the approved plan were “minor” and did not have to go before the Planning Commission or the public, leaving us all in the dark until the actual construction of a building that looks like an auto mechanic shop. (Take a look at the Story Collage to the left of this paragraph, if you do not recall the sad precedent.) Of course, we do not know when or by whom the decision was made to exile Lady Liberty from her Park, but the decision was certainly not done in public nor brought to City Council.

The three tarnished examples mentioned in the last paragraph at least had last-minute “engineering studies” or money-saving business imperatives to “justify” them. Here, we are left with asking:

 “Which important persons did not like Lady Liberty or her aesthetic or unfashionable effect on the Plaza, or liked her so much they asked the Mayor to send her to their part of town?

Wallinger-pylon follow-up to the above question (March 6, 2018): This afternoon, Mary Moore Wallinger responded to 93-year old Stockade resident Jessie Malecki, who wrote supporting the return of Lady Liberty to her home. Mary’s reply avoids the “too small scale” notion, and confirms my suspicion that the Liberty replica is simply not modern enough for Ms. Wallinger. She wrote to Mrs. Malecki:

 “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. As per the Route 5 Transit Gateway Study, the park has been redesigned as a new gateway to the City and is intended to have a more contemporary feel that celebrates the future of our great city.

In her email on March 1 to me, Mary Wallinger said:

I have been working with the City and a group of local residents and I think we have found a very exciting new home for her . .

Well, she certainly has not been doing this in a way that would have alerted members of the public who were at the Gateway Plaza Workshops, or those who actively promote our Heritage, or are part of the Stockade community, which the design was supposed to attract and embrace.

Please Speak Out: What are we to make of Lady Liberty being sent to a Foster Home? I think we should make a lot of noise; make use of the short time we do have before Spring temperatures allow her to be re-erected anywhere; and make sure Mayor Gary McCarthy [email:], Mary Moore Wallinger at LAndArt Studio [email:], and the local media [e.g.] know how and what you feel about the secretive and unjustified change of plans, and the importance of preserving important pieces of our history, such as Lady Liberty.

. . above: Bring Lady Liberty Home advocacy collage; click to enlarge; you may copy this summary, if desired, to help this campaign . .

GPLady1.jpg update (March 6, 2018) See “Dispute brewing over city park site for Schenectady’s Statue of Liberty” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, posted online March 6, 2018; newsprint screenshot at left). The article starts:

Schenectady’s Statue of Liberty appears destined for its new home in Steinmetz Park as part of a planned memorial for military veterans who lived in the Goose Hill neighborhood.
And while Mayor Gary McCarthy said it’s not set in stone, the idea isn’t sitting well with Stockade resident David Giacalone, who has mounted a Bring Lady Liberty Home campaign to return the statue to Lower State Street and Washington Avenue.


And, ends: “I’m sure whatever decision I make that Mr. Giacalone will be opposed to it,” said the mayor, adding he will soon make his final decision public.” In between, it fails to say why I characterized the Mayor’s reason for not returning Lady Liberty home as “asinine,” although I did tell him why. If you’ve read this far, you do not need additional explanation.

  • TUletterLiberty23Mar2018  update (March 23, 2018): Click the thumbnail to the left to see a Letter published in the Albany Times Union today (click for online version).


p.s. By the way, the originally planned location for Lady Liberty in Gateway Plaza is still available for her; photo to Right taken March 3, 2018.

 GP-Rendering-ViewWash-State . . the Lady is Just Right!

follow-up (March 14, 2018): See “the Lady, the Mayor and the Council” for an account of the Lady Liberty issue being raised at the March 12, 2018, City Council meeting. Mayor McCarthy passed the buck to the “Design Team.” His four-sure-votes said not a word on the issue. This being Sunshine Week, the posting also asks what good sunshine laws and policy are if an open design process, with community input and support, can be undone secretly a few years later, just before the Plan’s is completed. 

Other Voices on Lady Liberty . . check out:

J. MaleckiGazette-Malecki-Liberty

GazLTE-Moorehouse-Lady . . S. Moorehouse;

Gaz-DICRISTOFARO-Lady . . R. Dicristofaro . .

. . above: Letters to the Editor in the Gazette (click on each to enlarge)


Rivers anniversary hoopla yields so-so results

front page Gazette ad

 You have probably seen or heard the newspaper and digital advertising blitz and all the media coverage the past couple of weeks for the 1st Anniversary of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. [click on image to the right for a sample] The Anniversary occurred on February 8, and is being celebrated at the Casino throughout February, with drawings for free cars, special entertainment, and more. Yesterday afternoon (Friday, Feb. 16), I checked the NYS Gaming Commission website to see if promotions for last week’s big Anniversary-cum-weekend have meant better gaming revenues for Rivers for the week ending February 11. After its disappointing shortfall from projected GRR in its first full year, the ability to create some Anniversary excitement might suggest whether our municipal leaders are correct about the coming of a better year.

 The total Gross Gaming Revenue for the week ending last Sunday was $3,232,728. That makes Anniversary Week the 5th best week since the opening of Rivers Casino. Naturally, its owner-management, Rush Street Gaming, will say they are delighted with that figure, even after considering all the promotional and entertainment expenses. To me, the results seem rather “so-so” [“mezza mezza”] as Celebrations of a treasured community asset go. Underwhelming. [update (Feb. 23, 2018): GGR for the next Anniversary week, ending 02/18/2018, went down slightly, amounting to $3,221,484, making it Rivers’ 6th best week in Schenectady.]

To put a $3.2 million Anniversary Week into perspective:

  • Averaging $3.2 million over all 52 weeks would yield $168 million total GGR for the year.
  • $168 million is only 83% of the $201.9 million Rivers Casino projected as its base first-year estimate for GGR. (see “Casino bets are off the mark”, Albany Times Union, by Lauren Stanforth).
  • $3.2 million is $600,000 less that the Casino’s best week ($3,882,454) which ended on July 16, 2017. [It would take 52 $3.88 million weeks to achieve the base year projection of approximately $202 million.]

 Was It the Weather? Rush Street Gaming can’t blame weather for its Anniversary Week results. It was a normal-moderate Schenectady early February week, with one snowfall of 7 inches starting on February 7, but streets cleared by early on the 8th, and moderate weather through the weekend.

 Meanwhile, how did the new competition in the Catskills — Resorts World Catskill in Monticello,  NY — do in its “soft” opening week? RWCatskills had an early, soft opening on February 8, to prepare for this weekend’s celebration of Chinese New Year, with its hopeful influx of high-rollers from the other Far East. According it its NYS Gaming Commission Financial Report: the total for its 4-day first week was $3,403,955. Over its first 53 weeks, Rivers Casino in Schenectady has had only 4 weeks better than RWCatskills’ first, four-day week.

  • We will report back at the end of next week on RWCatskills’ second week, which will include three days of the Chinese New Year celebration. [see next bullet note]
  • RWCatskillsChineseNY update re Chinese New Year (Feb. 23, 2018): Resorts World Catskills has announced that it will hold its Chinese New Year Celebration on September 25, 2018.  Its press release describes aspects of the Celebration, and also its attempts to serve the Asian gaming market, as well as the multi-cultural communities in New York City (with many bus lines offering service to the Catskills Casino from NYC locations).  More information is available on the RWCatskills Facebook Page.

.  If you’d like to see why many observers say that the new Catskills Casino has a “wow factor”, including a 19-story hotel that serves as a palette that reflects its changing surroundings, that sets it apart from Schenectady’s casino, check out’s “Exclusive behind the scenes video tour of Resorts World Catskills” (Feb. 6, 2018, 8 min.).

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just another February 8

. . this time last year I declared February 8 to be “a date that shall live in infamy in Schenectady“, given the 1690 Schenectady Massacre and the 2017 opening of Rivers Casino on that date, with a graphic depiction of the infamy notion:

 This year, on February 8, 2018, I thought I’d get a photo of Rivers Casino and its LCD screen’s 1st Anniversary image, to use in an anniversary posting. The result was an interesting adventure, but not a great photo-shoot. [See, e.g., the photo at the left, necessarily taken from a block away.] You see, as described in the Collage below (click on it for a larger version), I got the bum’s-Rush off the premises. Casino personnel were, however, polite, although insistent that no photos were permitted from Casino property and, furthermore, that the corner of Rush Street and Front Street was casino property, calling it their “walkway”.

. . above collage: the story of My Casino Anniversary Visit . . 

 Back at home, I emailed SPD Chief Eric Clifford asking that he let the Casino know that the Front Street sidewalk was part of the City right of way. But, the Chief wrote back that night that he believed the Casino was correct, and even the Front St. sidewalk was casino property. Naturally, I was puzzled and disappointed, and was glad I had not forced Casino Security that afternoon to call SPD, if they wanted to remove me from a City street. Happily, as he promised me he would, the Chief inquired of the City Engineer the next morning and was told: “the city now assumes control of the sidewalks.” (Earlier that morning, Councilman Vince Riggi had sent me a copy of the September 12, 2016 Resolution authorizing the Mayor to accept the roadways in Mohawk Harbor back from the developer.) The Chief called Kyle Bond, head of Rivers Casino Security, with that message, and Mr. Bond then phoned me to apologize. I assured him that his men had behaved politely.

 The Casino’s 1st Anniversary Wheels Or Fortune contest, began on February 1, with patrons able to earn points toward contest entries. I’m not sure if the Contest brought in additional gaming revenue, but the Rivers GGR for the week ending February 4 continued to be mediocre, a mere $2,738,900.

This morning (Feb. 10, 2018), the Times Union reported online on the first full 12 months of revenue at Rivers Casino and at del Lago and Tioga Downs the two other commercial casinos granted licenses . “Casino bets are off the mark” (by Lauren Stanforth):

The year-end revenue totals for the state’s first resort-style casinos, del Lago, Rivers and Tioga Downs, show they were $192 million off the projections they made when applying for their state casino licenses in 2014. . . .

Rivers in Schenectady did better [than del Lago, which also opened in Feb. 2017], but was still about 30 percent off its projection made four years ago — with total revenues of $141 million as of Feb. 4, compared to a base first-year estimate of $201.9 million.

More February 8 Bad Luck for Schenectady?  Again this year, February 8 might yet mean more misfortune for Schenectady, or at least its Tax Coffers. Like our weblog, the mainstream media has mentioned over the past few weeks that the February 8 opening of the billion-dollar Resorts World Catskills Casino [moved up to attract East Asian high-rollers for Chinese New Year, on Feb. 16] might mean that even more prospective Schenectady Casino patrons will choose to stay away — especially those who live closer to the new Monticello Catskills Casino, or those wanting a true tourist or gambling destination.

In approaching Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on Feb. 8 for my aborted photoshoot, I was again struck by how unattractive and uninspiring Schenectady’s Casino building is when entering the compound. On arrival at its main entrance from Rush Street, a visitor sees a two-story branding wall with large LCD screens and bright “yellow brick” trim, flanking a nondescript entryway. If you come in from the southwest, you see that the branding wall is a fake wall, adding to the lack of awe. I’ve said it before: Schenectady could have and should have demanded more, especially from an Applicant that boasted of creating destination locations and casinos.

. .   . . 

. . above: approaching Rivers Casino . .

CatskillsCasinoRend2 Taste is, of course, very subjective. But, I’m willing to bet that a far broader and deeper demographic would be more likely to choose Resorts World Catskills Casino as a special destination for gaming or as a tourist than Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. And, would be more likely to return to it. Here are two recent photos of of the approach to the Catskills Casino [see many more images here]:

. .   . .  

. . above: approaching Resorts World Catskill Casino . .

 Two-thirds of a Casino.  Earlier this week, we reported that Rivers Casino had a Patron Visits shortfall as severe as its revenues shortfall, achieving (according to its numbers) only 67% of its projection. This does not bode well for the Casino having a significant ripple effect across Schenectady businesses and attractions; but, does increase the worry that Mohawk Harbor and its Casino might be cannibalizing the leisure and entertainment dollars of our local existing businesses.

 From a less serious perspective, compare the Rush Street/Galesi depiction of their prospective patrons shown, in a Site Plan rendition, at the entrance to Rivers Casino [below L], with the actual folks leaving on its 1st Anniversary, February 8, 2018 [R]:

. . 

Rivers Casino Visitation is another shortfall on the Mohawk

67%red update (Feb. 5, 2018): The Schenectady Gazette reports this evening that Rivers Casino has released a set of statistics for its operations in 2017 at Mohawk Harbor. Included was the statement that “More than 1.5 million patrons entered the casino” in 2017. See “Rivers Casino counted more than 1.5 million guests in year one” (by John Cropley, online, Feb. 5, 2018). The article notes that:

“A 2014 consultant’s report prepared in support of the casino’s license application projected 2.5 million to 3 million patron visits per year. That would come once the casino achieved “stabilized operations,” the report stipulated, presumably not in its first year.”

RiversProjections Since the Gazette did not put the 1st vs. Stabilized Year projection into context, and by implication downplayed the shortfall, we will add context.  The projection of 2.5 million to 3.0 million visits in its first “stabilized” year was for 2019.  Rush Street consistently projected its first-stabilized-year numbers in its Application by adding 10% to its projections for 2017 (or vis versa) [For example, click on the image to the right, showing Rivers projections for gross gaming revenues, food and beverage sales, and hotel revenues. That 2014 submission to the Location Board can be found in full here.]

The Casino’s middle or base case projection for 2019 was 2.75 million patron visits.  Therefore, if 2017 had been a full year, the projection would be 2.5 million visits in 2017. Because 2017 ended up being only 47 weeks of operation (90% of 52 weeks), we should subtract another ten percent for a fair comparison to actual 2017 operations: That makes a 2017 base case (middle) projection of 2.25 million visits.

67%purple One and a half million patron visits to the Rivers Casino is therefore, only 67% of the number projected by Rush Street Gaming. It is easy to understand why a Casino Applicant wants to project as large a number of gaming and tourist visits as possible. As explained, below, the number of visitors attracted to Rivers Casino has important implications for gambling revenues generated, and also for the sales, food and beverage taxes, and hotel occupancy fees, paid at the Casino compound. But, also greatly impacts the promised “ripple” effect, if any, on the rest of the City and County’s businesses and attractions, as well as the feared “substitution/cannibalization effect”, whereby local leisure spending goes to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino, and not to other businesses.

BTW: Rivers Casino operated about 330 days in 2017. The 1.5 million patrons figures means that the average daily patron visitation at River Casino was about 4600. Of course, not all came to gamble, and some entered more than once a day, increasing the total.

treasurehunter Naturally, there are many questions about the 1.5 million number (beyond  how it was compiled), including how many were day-trippers, who are more likely to spend their entire Schenectady visit within the Casino or perhaps Mohawk Harbor, rather than spending time and money elsewhere. The Gazette notes that neither the state nor county will quantify sales tax and hotel occupancy tax revenue generated by the Casino, “out of consideration for the business strategies of those collecting.” That suggests that the  media needs to do some digging — beyond the self-congratulatory fog to be expected from the Chamber and Metroplex — to see how businesses outside of Mohawk Harbor are faring.

original posting

“Rivers Casino is estimated to attract more than 2.5 million visits to Schenectady and the downtown area, as discussed in the Gaming Market Assessment (Exhibit VIII.A.3.). This substantial visitor volume is expected to benefit local businesses, as has been experienced in numerous gaming jurisdictions across the country.” [at 29]

“As discussed in the Gaming Market Assessment (Exhibit VIII.A.3.), gaming visitation at the Rivers Casino is estimated to range from 2.5 million (Low Case) to 3.0 million (High Case).” [at 36]

. . . Rush Street Gaming, Economic Impact Analysis, June 2014

 When it applied to the NYS Gaming Commission Location Board in 2014, hoping to eventually operate Rives Casino in Schenectady, Rush Street Gaming estimated that the Casino would attract about 2.8 million “gaming visitations” in 2019, its first stabilized year of operation.  See Economic and Community Impact Analysis, Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor: Schenectady, New York (prepared for Rush Street Gaming, LLC, by The Innovation Group (June 12, 2014), at 7; see quotations above. [Note: the figures given by Rush Street for its 1st stabilized year were only 10% higher than it used for its first year of operations projections, not the amazing increases wistfully suggested by City Hall when asked about the disappointing 2017 numbers.]

As Rush Street’s Impact Analysis suggests, the number of visitors attracted has important implications for much more than gambling revenues generated. Of course, the sales, food and beverage taxes, and hotel occupancy fees, paid at the Casino compound, are directly connected to the number of day-trip and overnight visitors. But, so is the “ripple” effect, if any, on the rest of the City and County’s businesses, and the feared “substitution effect”, if local leisure spending goes to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino, and not to other businesses.  This website and its proprietor have been asking local media outlets to look into the Casino and Tourist Visits Issue for several months. To date, we have seen no media analysis of the issue. And, we have had no response from the Racing Commission to our request for gaming visitation statistics.

Today, Sunday Gazette reporter John Cropley has two articles looking at the first year of operation of Rivers Casino. “Rivers Casino raking in cash, but where’s tax cut?” and “Casinos’ impact on state still up for debate” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, February 4, 2018). The “Casinos’ Impact” article has only a momentary, and somewhat misleading, mention of tourist projections by Rivers Casino. In a list of projections given by Rush Street in its 2014 application, the article includes:

  • Projected 80,000 tourist visitors per year.

Rivers Casino did not bother to respond to the Gazette as to its various projections, so we do not know whether it believes it hit that 80K figure. In 2014, the 80,000 tourist visitors projection was, it appears, used in explaining the viability of a casino hotel. The 2.5 to 3.0 million “casino visitation” figure is the far more significant number when attempting to gauge the overall direct and indirect effects of the casino on the community.

  • A Casino Visitation is a trip to the casino by an individual, whether or not for gambling. As you can see in the two quotes at the top of this posting, Rush Street blurred the notion of casino visits and visits to Schenectady and its downtown. Overnight visitors/tourists to Mohawk Harbor seem more likely than day-trippers to make it out of the compound and head downtown, but even that is not a certainty. Eighty thousand is only about 3% of 2.5 million.
    • SpendLess To understand factors influencing Casino Visitation, see “Consumer Behavior in the Gaming Industry” (Dec. 2014), by The Innovation Group, which had produced Rush Street’s Economic Impact Analysis for its a Schenectady Casino application 6 months earlier, projecting the 2.8 million range. In this study, the generations were broken down into four groups: Millennials, GenX, Baby Boomers, and Matures. Among the findings:
    • “Ultimately, the trends we are seeing show a waning visitation and spend for older generations, which currently generate the majority of gaming revenue. Younger generations tend to be increasing casino visitation, but are not necessarily attending for gaming purposes.” [at 11]

    • “Proportionately, Millennials and GenX spent less than 60% of their day trip budget on gambling, while older generations spent over 75% of their day trip budget on gaming. Throughout the survey it was abundantly clear that the younger generations not only spend far more on non-gaming amenities than the older generations, but it was the non-gaming amenities that attracted them most to the casino.” [at 6] Thus, “More than half of Millennials mentioned they had visited the casino and did not gamble, comparing to only 15% of Matures who made that same indication.” [at 7] And, “the amenities that motivated the younger generations were much different and focused more on the following: • Nightlife; • Live entertainment; • Variety of table games; • Spa facilities; • Shopping; • Family attractions; • Number of bars & lounges; and • Free or comped alcohol.”

Don’t these findings suggest that actions a casino makes to attract younger consumers may help its bottom-line without a proportionate increase in the gambling revenue taxes communities were counting on?

The Gazette article does not speak of the “SubstitutionEffect” directly, but the notion was implicit in a statement that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli emailed to The Daily Gazette on Friday:

 “The new casinos may have some near-term positive impacts, including creating some new jobs. However, those gains can be expected to be offset by losses elsewhere, as people spend money in new casinos rather than in existing gambling venues or on other consumer purchases. The impact of the new casinos on New York’s economy remains to be determined.”

With the Schenectady County Tourism Bureau, the regional Chamber of Commerce,  and our Metroplex leadership focusing so much on helping Mohawk Harbor and the Casino, we need the press and broadcast media to ask just how the rest of our businesses are doing. City Hall did not do its Homework on the Substitution Effect Issue. The “Downtown leaders” most vocally in support of the Casino Application ended up being partnered up with Galesi and Rush Street, and surely can count on financial benefits from the operation of Rivers Casino. What about the rest of our businesses and business centers? For example, we need to see how sales taxes, food and beverage, and room occupancy receipts, did net of activity at he casino compound. And, ask what sales taxes would have looked like without the spike in one-time construction materials for Mohawk Harbor. As the Times Union has consistently done, the new leadership at the Schenectady Daily Gazette must do some digging and true investigative reporting, if our community is ever to know the true costs and benefits of the Rivers Casino. The Gazette needs to be focused on the Community’s needs, not the Casino’s needs.

  • This posting will be augmented as we learn more about the actual size of “gaming visitation” in 2017 at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, and the number of “tourist visits” the Casino has attracted. Rivers Casino touted its vistor numbers its first day or two in operation, but has not mentioned gaming visitation or tourist visit numbers since then.

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The people of Hamilton Ontario [CA] successfully fought a downtown casino. Here are two samples of their graphics and posters: relating to the Cannibalization or Substitution Effects:


the graph is prettier than the casino revenue numbers

A helpful friend used the weekly Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor gambling revenue figures from the NYS Gaming Commission, plus Exel software, to create the above graph. The only patterns I can see are long periods of mediocre revenues. There certainly was no noticeable improvement when The Landing Hotel opened on July 23, 2017.

do low gambling revenues mean fewer problem gamblers?

 Schenectady Gazette columnist Sara Foss has been the Capital Region journalist most consistently concerned about the potential for the Schenectady Casino creating more problem gamblers in our community. Her January 13 column continues that theme. See “Foss: More problem gamblers seeking treatment“; and her prior opinion piece, More resources needed for problem gambling” (Feb. 5, 2017).

For her recent column, Foss again spoke with Philip Rainer, the chief clinical officer at Capital Counseling, the non-profit agency that runs The Center for Problem Gambling in Albany. And, tells us:

 In the 11 months since Rivers Casino in Schenectady opened, Rainer has seen a steady uptick in the number of people seeking treatment for a gambling addiction from his organization.  . . .

When I caught up with Rainer last week, he spoke about the casino’s impact in the same matter-of-fact tone he did last year, only this time he was armed with hard numbers that suggest the new casinos have led to an increase in problem gambling.

In February 2017, there were 34 people enrolled in the Center’s gambling-treatment program. By December, that number had risen to 54 — a 60 percent increase.

Sara correctly notes that, although those numbers might not sound huge, “they represent a significant increase for a program that has been pretty stable, in terms of the number of individuals served, over the years.” But, apparently believing that lower GGR will mean fewer problem gamblers, Rainer told Foss that “the shortfall in gaming revenue and gamblers doesn’t trouble him one bit.” After noting that New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady has not yet seen an increase with its new gambling-only program, Sara concludes on a hopeful note:

I’m with Rainer: There is an upside to lower-than-projected gaming revenues, and it’s that there are likely to be fewer people battling gambling addictions.

Which is a good thing, even if it hurts the casinos’ bottom lines.

CasinoFeverLogo Sorry to say, I am not at all convinced that the experience at Capital Counseling gives us a complete picture of the extent of Casino-created problem gambling issues in our community. And, I cannot be as optimistic as Sara Foss that the significant shortfall in Gross Gambling Revenues generated by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is likely to mean fewer problem gamblers, or that the existence of trained counselors will be sufficient to solve the problem.  For one thing, gambling becomes a problem for gamblers and their families, friends, colleagues, and the community, long before it rises to the level of a gambling addiction and referral to or seeking counseling available from professionals like the Capital Counseling staff.

Problem gambling” means gambling behaviors that result in serious negative consequences to the gambler, and his or her family and friends, employer, or community. It can affect people in any age, racial, or economic group, but youth (kidsadolescents and college students) and senior citizens are thought to be particularly at-risk.

Thus, frequent visitors to Rivers Casino may be nurturing a problem gambling crisis long before they seek help, if they ever do. Moreover, eleven months is not a very long time for a person gambling at Rivers Casino, or thinking about it, to discover he or she might have a Problem Gambling or Gambling Addiction problem, and then make the commitment to seek out counseling (including, finding out whether it is covered by their health insurance).

  • Sufficient self-discovery or commitment is very often prompted by family or friends seeing a pattern that looks like a problem and gaining the courage to bring up the subject, or intervene, in an effective way.
  • It also can be prompted by a drastic financial crisis caused by gambling, but such money issues, especially for those with credit cards, often take quite awhile to become too great to ignore.

Indeed, how widespread can the Aha “I need gambling counseling” Moment be, when the media in general, and local government in particular, have not helped to educate the public about the dangers of problem gambling? And, have instead been working to make going to Rivers Casino seem glamorous or normal. [e.g., Mayor McCarthy in a Billy Fuccillo ad. see image below] Surprisingly, private groups who we’d expect to promote Prevention Education — i.e., public interest and non-profits dealing with families and youth and the faith community — have not yet stepped up. In fact, even Schenectady County’s two largest health care institutions were caught up in Rivers Fever. See the sponsors in the Gazette ad to the right, explained in our Sept. 12, 2017 posting, “why are Ellis Medicine and MVP promotion Casino Gambling“.

My Comment at the Gazette webpage for Sara’ column, reproduced at the bottom of this posting, outlines my main reasons for being more worried than Sara is, despite GGR below projections. In particular, I fear:

  • It is almost certain that many Rivers Casino gamblers belong to demographic groups that are most unlikely to seek professional counseling for gambling issues, and do not show up in stats like those from Capital Counseling.
  •  Because 63.6% of total GGR in 2017 at Rivers Casino Schenectady was from slots and electronic table games, it seems very likely that a large proportion of the players at Rivers are older gamblers, susceptible to the Casino marketing, and  adverse to seeking mental health counseling. [See AARP Bulletin, Oct. 2016, “The Casino Trap: As the gambling industry booms, aggressive marketing targets older patrons”; and “Seniors and Problem Gambling“.
  • The low GGR numbers, and the almost certain low overall “visitation” numbers, mean that Rivers Casino is drawing almost all of its gamblers from a very small geographic area, and from repeat customers, many of whom are coming too often for the experience to merely be leisure entertainment.
    • While a manager at Rush Street Gaming’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse, the first general manager at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, Mary Cheeks, explained to the Pennsylvania gaming commission that they often had customers who came three or four times a week to SugarHouse. Casinos hope for such local repeat gamblers. They are the bread and butter of a regional casino not attracting the caviar set.

It seems most unlikely that significant numbers of people with problem gambling tendencies are seeking counseling. We cannot make believe that gambling addiction counseling will solve the problem gambling problem in our Community. We need both, but to deter the problems effectively, Prevention Trumps Counseling. As I argued in a posting for the 2016 Problem Gambling Awareness Month:

[O]nly organized programs specifically focused on problem gambling prevention, education, and treatment, with ongoing outreach activities, can hope to address the effects that a casino in Schenectady is likely to have on our community.

Comment of David Giacalone at the Gazette:

Thank you for this piece, Sara. I hope you are right that the increase in people seeking counseling corresponds with the actual increase in problem gamblers. A lot depends on the demographics of who is doing the gambling. Attitudes toward seeking counseling vary greatly among those most likely to be frequent casino visitors.
Also, the relative lack of revenue and of success drawing people from a wide area, not to mention high rollers, means that the “victims” are coming from a small, very local geographic area. Rivers has not shared with us how many visitors it has attracted, after predicting an unreasonable 2.8 million visitors a year. The smaller the number of visitations, the more likely locals are heading to the Casino more than tourists (and, incidentally, the smaller the impact of the boasted “ripple effect” on local businesses).
 My calculations show that total Slot & ETG Gross Gambling Revenue for 2017 at Rivers, $82.3 million, comprised 63.6% of total GGR. That is a lot of slot playing, and since slots and electronic table games are available at Saratoga Casino, that is predominantly local dollars and players.
Thanks, Gramps! Also, because Slot revenues are taxed at 45%, but table and poker revenues at 10%, slot players are transfering their money to the State, County and City to reduce our taxes. Indeed, about 89% of the gambling tax paid by Rivers Casino comes from slot dollars. If slots are mostly played by senior citizens, any local tax break is mainly being paid for by Grandma and Grandpa and Auntie Tillie.
Prevention Education to help people avoid problem gambling may be far more effective than counseling of those who admit they have the problem and have the means and commitment to utilize counseling. Schenectady County and the City sponsor no programs on Prevention Education, but instead leave this important social tool to the private sector, while glamorizing and normalizing casino gambling. See

Casino Projections vs. Casino Reality



 Year-end numbers are in for 2017, and the City of Schenectady has received approximately $2.1 million in gaming tax revenue as the Host City of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, based on the Casino’s Gross Gaming Revenue total of $129.2 million for the year. The County received the same amount. In its budget, the City had projected it would receive $2.75 million from distribution of gaming taxes in 2017, leaving a shortfall over $600,000. See “Schenectady loses bet on casino revenue” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 4, 2018). As the Gazette pointed out last November, “Rivers reportedly projected its first-year [Gross Gaming] revenue to be in the $181 million to $222 million range.” If we take the middle of that range, $201 million in GGR in its first year, Rivers Casino only achieved 64% of its first year projection.

  • Click here to see Rush Street’s 5-year tax revenue estimates, submitted in its Application to the Gaming Commission Location Board as Ex. VIII.B.4. It shows a base GGR for 2017 of $201.8 million. Its high and low figures were obtained by respectively adding and subtracting 10% to that figure, yielding the range given in the Gazette of $181-222 million. Because Rush Street anticipated opening on Jan. 1, 2017 when making this estimate, it used a 52-week period rather than the actual 47 weeks, which meant 10% fewer operating weeks/days.
  •  Note: In Ex. VIII.B., filed at the end of July 2014, Rush Street Gaming estimated that the County and City would together receive a total of $3.2 million in gaming tax revenues in Year One, increasing to only $3.6 million collectively in Year Five, and would share those amounts.  Those numbers are very different from the $5.7 million in annual tax receipts City Council said it expected in its resolution the month before.  I would have thought the communication between City Hall and the Casino Gang was better than that.

 In what is surely a causally related effect, Mayor Gary McCarthy stated for the first time, in his New Year address before City Council last week, that he expected the City would have a “small deficit” when all 2017 numbers were tallied for the City, giving no further details of the cause or the likely amount. Asked afterwards, new City Council President Ed Kosiur said the Mayor’s remarks were the first he heard of a deficit. See “Schenectady Casino Revenue Coming Up Short of Expectations” (Samantha Beckett,, Jan. 5, 2018). Regarding the Upstate casino shortfall in general, see “He nailed it: An analyst’s 2014 report predicted Upstate New York casino woes”, by Don Cazentre, Jan. 18, 2018).

 Click on the image to the left to see a week-by-week display of Gaming Revenues generated at Rivers Casino in 2017, plus totals.

The Stabilization Hope. Our City and County leaders keeping saying we can expect much better results once the casino’s operations and revenues have stabilized — as if Rush Street and its expert analysts are not competent to make first-year projections. But, in its Application to the Location Board, Rush Street Gaming estimated stabilized revenues in Year 5 to be only 10% more than its Year 1 figures. For more information on Rush Street’s revenue and tax projections, see the Applicants’ Economic Impact Analysis.

 Remembering the 18% property tax reduction City Council claimed it expected in a Resolution passed just before its vote to approve the Casino Application in July 2014, many residents are unhappy with the 1% reduction in the current City budget, and many are “roiled” over the water and sewer fee increases announced this week, which will offset the 1% reduction. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (Times Union, by Lauren Stanforth, December 17, 2017); “Water, sewer rate increases roil some Schenectady residents” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 5, 2018).

 Are things likely to get better? Despite their Happy Faces, the City Council budgeted only $2.3 million in casino tax payments in 2018. Furthermore, Rush Street, City Hall and Metroplex have all pointed out for months that revenues are likely to rise due to the opening of Rivers Casino’s Landing Hotel, which had its first guests on July 19, 2017. (e.g., Times Union coverage; Gazette coverage) The week ending July 30 was the first full week with the Landing open. Despite the predictions of our Casino Cheerleaders, my calculations show that:

  • $2.7 million/wk. average for the 24 full weeks before before July 23
  • $2.6 million/wk. average for the 23 full weeks since the Landing opened

And, did you say “Resorts World Catskills Casino”?

Continue reading

TU compares revenue reality to casino projections

Lauren Stanforth has written a piece of investigatory journalism for the Albany Times Union, published yesterday at the top of the Sunday front page, on the dramatic shortfall of casino revenues from projections. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (December 17, 2017). It points out that only the Schenectady City Council put actual projection numbers in a resolution, with a stated expectation of $5.7 million in annual tax gaming tax revenues for the City, and an 18% property tax reduction.
 The City Council used NYS Dept. of Budget numbers for Regions, Counties, and Host Communities that were produced in 2013, announced in a press release (Oct. 2, 2013), to garner support for the Governor’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition, to permit non-Indian casinos. The numbers were, therefore, ginned up when the State did not know how many casinos there might actually be, nor where they would be located.
The Resolution stated, in part [emphases added]:
WHEREAS, as Host Municipality, the City of Schenectady is entitled to receive 5% of the gaming taxes paid by the Gaming Facility which is projected by the NYS Division of the Budget to be $5.7 million dollars annually; and
WHEREAS, a $5.7 million Host Municipality payment to the City of Schenectady would result in a reduction in real estate taxes of approximately 18%; . . . 
RESOLVED, that the Host Municipality payment received by the City of Schenectady will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes in the City of Schenectady.
  • At the time, we said at this website [in “Council ploy: all casino revenues will be used to reduce property taxes“, June 9, 2014] that “Th[e] Resolution is clearly meant to back the possible No Votes [on support for the Schenectady casino application] into a corner, by daring them to vote ‘no’ on a ‘tax reduction’.” In that context, using specific and huge numbers that appeared to come with the imprimatur of the State Budget office clearly strengthened the Mayor’s demand for Yes votes and the support in the very tax-conscious community for the casino. The Mayor was not able to convince Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi to vote for the Casino application, but they did agree that any tax revenues from the casino should be used to bring down real property taxes in Schenectady.
  •  At no time did City Council or the Mayor explain the tenuous connection between the DOB projections and an actual casino located in Schenectady, as opposed to a municipality with a greater potential to attract the public.
The TU article notes that the State’s 2013 projections estimated that the Host County in the Capital Region would receive about $11.4 million dollars annually (with the Host City getting half of that amount), but that the actual numbers for this year appear to be about $3.7 million, a shortfall of $7.6 million. It also stresses, regarding the Schenectady Casino situation:
“A casino was expected to bring in so much revenue — and the local government share to go along with it — that Schenectady would reduce property taxes 18 percent in the first year. Now, 10 months after the opening of Rivers Casino and Resort, the city is reducing taxes 1 percent.
“Schenectady County predicted a similar scenario, its legislature passing a resolution three years ago saying county taxes might be reduced 8 percent if a casino opened. County officials are now reducing taxes 1 percent.”
Reporter Stanforth interviewed local politicians, and informed us:
Schenectady officials say their tax reduction promises were not disingenuous because they based their statements on the Budget Division’s numbers — and that property taxes are still being reduced.
 But those who argued against a casino say the disparity between what was promised and the current reality reinforces their concerns that local officials had no intention of looking critically at information provided by the state or casino operators themselves.
“They did it in bad faith,” said Schenectady resident David Giacalone, who lives in the city’s historic Stockade neighborhood and was one of the most vocal critics opposing a casino. “They knew these numbers meant nothing.”

Catskills casino coming in 2018

County Legislature Chair Gary Hughes pointed out that the NYS Gaming Commission believes casino revenues will grow in coming years, but he added, “Is it someday going to be $5.7 million? I have my doubts.” I wonder if Mr. Hughes has considered, as the TU stated, that “revenue from the Resorts World Catskills [casino in Monticello] will likely top Rivers, as it will have almost twice as many slot machines and an 18-story hotel when it opens in March, as well as a golf course opening in 2019″. Indeed, about a billion dollars will be invested in the Catskills casino project, yielding a location that will actually look like a tourist destination. 

Perhaps City Council President Leeza Perazzo is giving up her hopes of being Mayor. She was remarkably frank with the reporter:
Schenectady City Council President Democrat Leesa Perazzo, who voted to support a casino, said the city included the revenue number in its June 2014 vote because the state provided it.
The resolution also said that the host municipality payment, “will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes.” However, city officials have already used casino revenue in settling fire and police contracts.
Perazzo said a resolution is not a law, so city officials are not bound by the tax reduction promises made in it.
Sadly, our City Hall has given us a Social Studies and Political Science lesson for the ages here in Schenectady. I wonder if this TU article has given the Gazette any ideas about doing a little casino-related investigation of its own. Perhaps a spotlight on the Applicants’ projection of 2.8 million visitors coming annually to Schenectady because of Rivers Casino needs a bit of investigation. More significantly, perhaps looking into the ways the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals have twisted (diminished? castrated?) our Zoning Code to please the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming might be more important in the long run.

Scratch-offs are poor stocking stuffers

 Last weekend, Schenectady’s Daily Gazette had a timely and important editorial aimed at folks looking for an easy gift to give to minors: “Scratch-offs are bad gifts for kids: Introducing them to children could lead to gambling addiction later in life” (December, 9, 2017, C5). The editorial has a litany of reasons for its message.

The core argument goes something like this:

The first message it sends to kids is that gambling is a game. For responsible adults who drop into the casino for a few hands of blackjack or a few spins on a slot machine, it can be just that.

 But kids’ brains don’t work that way.

 Physiologically, the part of the brain that allows adults to make responsible judgments isn’t fully developed in children and adolescents. . .

The risks they take with gambling at a young age could hurt them in the long run. Tons of studies back that up.

. . . the earlier children begin gambling, the more likely they are to develop gambling problems as adults.

If you don’t have Gazette online access, you can learn more on this topic, or get more ammunition for convincing well-meaning gift-givers, at the Holiday in Action webpage of the National Council on Problem Gambling. And, Click here for the World Lottery Association campaign brochure. This is the 4th consecutive year that New York’s Responsible Play Partnership (RPP), comprised of the New York State Gaming Commission, New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substances Abuse Services and the New York Council on Problem Gambling, has joined this campaign. 

Thanks to all the organizations, local, State, national, and international, who are working to prevent problem gambling among the young. Of course, we also need far more efforts targeting all the vulnerable groups in our society, and City, bombarded by pro-gambling ads and propaganda that attempt to make gambling/gaming seem normal, innocuous, glamorous, and even civic-minded.

a Long-shot at Rivers Casino?

 Last week, on December 8, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor announced its new General Manager, Rob Long. [Click for Times Union coverage, and the Gazette report.] Of course, Long cannot be expected to instantly bring in significantly greater revenue. But, his first week on the job must have brought some cold reality for Mr. Long, along with Schenectady’s first jolt of real winter weather. The week ending December 10, 2017 (see Revenues Chart at the Gaming Board) brought these milestones/millstones, although we had no crippling snowstorm:

  • Worst Table Game Drop figure ever [$3,362,547] – despite its Table Game seminars a couple months ago to lure players;
  • Worst Slot Machine GGR since June [$1,523,343];
  • 2nd worst total GGR since June [$2,388,276].

Neither the Gazette nor the Times Union, despite my sending them the information on December 8, has mentioned Rob Long’s record when he guided the development and opening of Rush Street’s very first casino, Riverwalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Gazette never mentioned that Long had been Manager of a Rush Street casino on a river in Vicksburg. But, as we wrote here in March of 2016, when opposing the naming of the main casino roadway in Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street”, Rush Street Gaming (with the same captains at the helm, owner Neil Bluhm, CEO Greg Carlin, and GM Rob Long):

 sold their Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., just four years after it opened, and after failing in their immediate request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment.

 Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin touted Rob Long’s “well-established track record.” All I know about Long at this time is that:

  1. the riverside casino he ran for Rush Street Gaming in Mississippi opened in 2008;
  2. shortly thereafter, it requested an enormous reduction in its real estate appraisal, which was not granted; and
  3. it was sold in 2012 to Churchill Downs.

By the way, of the 19 Mississippi casinos located along the Mississippi River, Riverwalk was one of the only two facilities that were not forced to close in 2011 due to record flooding. Did Rush Street decide it would not press its luck?

  •  One more thing I did learn, Long’s Riverwalk Casino’s big fundraiser each year was “Bras for Breast Cancer”, which offered to pay a dollar for donated bras and strung the bras across the Old Highway 80 Mississippi River Bridge, with a special section featuring creatively decorated bras. Hey, we have a nearby bridge! 

QQ: Rush Street Gaming will not tell us, nor will Rob Long himself, but I sure would like to know what options the company discussed with its GM when planning for the near-future at Rivers Casino in Schenectady. When will they start considering jumping ship along the Mohawk? Not to mention, how happy is the landowner, Galesi Group, that they “designed” the Schenectady casino to be just boxes next to boxes, so the facility could easily be converted from a casino to just about anything?


BZA’s pylon flip-flop – a change from 221″ wide to 220″ wide!


30ftPylonCompare This evening (Thursday, Nov. 16), with virtually no discussion among themselves, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals granted Mohawk Harbor’s request for a large, strip-mall style pylon sign, 30’ high, 220″ wide, with a 6′ x 12′ LCD screen and 22 lighted tenant signs. Brendan Keller, the Board member who had moved its rejection on October 4, moved its acceptance this time, noting that bigger [than the 22′ pylon approved on November 1] was better and that it was “not a significant” variance. The Code of Signage Regulations calls for a limit of 7′ h on a freestanding sign, with an area of 25 sq. ft. if the parcel is not a shopping mall, and 75 sq. ft. for a shopping mall.

This renewed Application was virtually unchanged from the October 6 version — except:

  1. It went from 221″ wide to 220″ wide [Really! Click on image to the Left above];
  2. The Applicant gave up wanting only a 1′ setback from Erie Blvd., rather than the required 3′ setback in the Zoning Code [which, of course, assumes a much-smaller sign so near a road]; and
  3. The Applicant now claims the LCD screen, which it pointed out would be clearer and brighter, would be “dimmable” [There is no promise of whether or when it would be dimmed or what its normal illumination will be; and, no explanation of why the prior, high-tech and surely expensive version would not also have been dimmable. Mr. Fallati mumbled so much that I could not hear most of his presentation to the Board. But the Minutes of the meeting state: BZA Member “Connelly asked if the previously approved electronic message board could also have an adjustable screen. Mr. Fallati responded that he is not certain if the smaller screen is available in the higher quality.” Ignorance is bliss around BZA.]
  • Neither the setback nor the dimmability issue were mentioned by the Board on October 6, when the original 30′ pylon was rejected. The focus on October 6 was the size of the pylon structure and the brightness and glare of the screen and lighted signs.
  • By the Way: Using the Applicant’s figure, BZA called this a 265 sq. ft. sign each time it was before the Board.  The actual dimensions of the sign portion of the structure (without its base) suggest, at 27′ and 18′ 4″, an area of 495 square feet. [see discussion at the bottom of this posting on computing the Area of a Sign under the Schenectady zoning code.]

update (Nov. 18, 2017): This morning’s Gazette article  (“30-foot sign approved for Mohawk Harbor: Detractor cites city code, fears distracted motorists”, p. A1, by Stephen Williams) has a pithy summary of the decision (emphasis added):

honest Zoning Board Chairman James Gleason said the application was modified from the one the board rejected on Oct. 4, and the board collectively determined the variance was not significant. Board members who opposed the sign in October were primarily concerned about its size, according to meeting minutes.

update (Nov. 19, 2017) BZA Minutes: Much more quickly than usual, the Board has posted the minutes for the November 16, 2017 BZA Special Meeting to review Mohawk Harbor’s pylon sign Application. (E.g., the Minutes for its Nov. 1, 2017 regular meeting are not up as of this morning, Nov. 19.) I’d like to make a few points about this summary of the Special Meeting:

  1. The is no mention that the “prior variances” permitting a 22′ h structure, 122 sq. ft., with an 8′ LCD screen took place only 15 days earlier (Nov. 1, 2017).
  2. There is no mention that a virtually identical 30′ pylon was requested and rejected by BZA only 6 weeks earlier, on October 4, 2017).
  3. There is no mention of the significant discussion in my submitted Comments of the Traffic Safety Issue and Lack of Evidence of Safety, and of the Self-Created Hardship issue, or my summary of them at the meeting.

Here are the conclusions in the Minutes, which I believe should embarrass each member of the Board of Zoning Appeals:


Mr. Keller stated that he believes that the bigger sign looks better and is more in keeping with the scale of its surroundings. Mr. Connelly and Mr. Gleason agreed.


NoEvil-see Motion by Mr. Keller, seconded by Ms. D’Alessandro-Gilmore, to approve the Area Variances based on the following findings of fact:

1. No undesirable change will be produced in the neighborhood.

2. The benefit sought by the applicant cannot be achieved by another method.

3. The variance is not substantial.

4. There will be no adverse effect on physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood.

5. The alleged hardship is not self-created

To use a legal term I remember from law school, these findings are a joke. They surely do not pass the “blush test” — whether an assertion can be made without blushing. Of course, the scariest thing may be that the members of this Board and of the Planning Commission in Schenectady can no longer blush when asked to ignore the law and common sense by a special few members of the business and development community.

This quote from Wikipedia on “Variance (land use)” is a good summary of the variance issue:

     In either case [an area/dimension variance or a use variance], the variance request is justified only if special conditions exist on the lot that create a hardship making it too difficult to comply with the code’s normal requirements. Likewise, a request for a variance on a normal lot with no special conditions could judiciously be denied. The special conditions or hardship typically must arise from some physical configuration of the lot or its structures. The financial or personal situation of the applicant normally cannot be taken into consideration. Under most codes governing variances, approval of the variance must not result in a public health or safety hazard and must not grant special privilege to the property owner. In other words, when a variance is granted, any other property owner with similar site conditions should be able to obtain a similar variance; this criterion is often addressed by citing precedent.

There are many other points that could and need to be made, but I will stop now by citing interested readers to the Zoning Board of Appeals guidelines published by the NYS Department of State (2005, reprinted 2015), and reminding BZA of this quote (at p. 19, emphasis added):

Minimum variance necessary

The statutes codify what the courts had previously held: When granting either a use or an area variance, a zoning board of appeals must grant the minimum variance that it deems necessary and adequate, while at the same time preserving and protecting the character of the neighborhood and the health, safety and welfare of the community. Thus, the board need not grant to an applicant everything he/she has asked for. Rather, the board is required to grant only the approval that is absolutely necessary to afford relief.

. . . and this passage from page 18 (emphasis added):


percentsignBlackRed It is difficult to quantify “substantiality.” The board should, however, make a reasoned judgment as to whether the nonconformity being proposed is too great, as compared to the lawful dimensions allowed by the zoning law. Some courts have looked favorably upon a board’s application of a simple mathematical analysis. In Heitzman v. Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals , the court upheld the 67 denial of a variance based in part on the showing that construction would have exceeded the allowable lot coverage by 15%.

[original posting continued]

Just seventeen days ago, after virtual begging by Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen, BZA granted a variance to permit a 22’ tall, 122 sq. ft in size, at the same location, in a spot where the City’s Sign Regulations limit such signs to 75 sq. ft and 7’ tall.

The motion to grant this newest application states that the variance is not significant. Other businesses in Schenectady may take this as a good precedent for larger, more distracting signs, with larger and brighter LCD screens.

Only Paul Fallati, on behalf of Mohawk Harbor, spoke in favor and, only I [David Giacalone], spoke in opposition. I started by reminding the Board that the Intention provision of our Signage Code, §264-59, states that the article is intended:

“to reduce sign or advertising distractions and obstructions that may contribute to traffic accidents, reduce hazards that may be caused by signs overhanging or projecting over public rights-of-way, provide more visual open space and improve the community’s appearance.”

I also pointed out:

  1. the rendition board displayed by Mr. Fallatti showed the LCD screen much duller than it will be when in use, reminding them of the Lighthouse screen at Freeman’s Bridge and the LCD screens on the Casino.
  2. the total lack of evidence presented by the Applicant to show that such a large and bright sign so close to Erie Blvd., placed there to attract the close attention of motorists, will not be a safety hazard.
  3. that Mohawk Harbor is promoted as an up-scale, planned community and neighborhood, not a shopping mall, and there are many better ways for the public to learn about the bars and restaurants and shops that are along a City street than slowing down on a busy road to check out the tenant signs and the show on the LCD screen
  4. this is a “self-created” problem, with Mohawk Harbor’s owners knowing very well the limitations on signage in the Code, and this point further weighed against the Application.

This afternoon (Nov. 16, 2017), after receiving a copy of my Comments, Camille Sasinowski, President of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, sent the Board an email saying:

My neighborhood association is in complete agreement with Mr.Giacalone’s comments and recommendations.

I would also add that, now that the trees are leafless, additional bright and glaring light will further contribute to our neighborhoods further erosion. Perhaps the lighting should be planted nearer the new harbor housing. What kind of reaction would be expected? The tenants certainly would not tolerate such an intrusion. However, residents that have been paying taxes and keeping this City running are being treated like 2nd class citizens.

The breaks have to be put on.

Camille A. Sasinowski,President of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association.

By the way, this surprise “Special Meeting” of the Board was called with two days’ notice. Despite my prior significant interest and contribution in this matter, I was not given notice by the Board’s staff of tonight’s meeting, nor of the Nov. 1 regular meeting.

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-- follow-up re Area of the Sign (Nov. 16, 2017, evening): I started wondering this evening why the Board of Zoning Appeals, like the Planning Commission this summer, accepted the figure of 265 sq. ft. for the proposed 30′ tall pylon sign that was given to them by the Applicant, Paul Fallati for Mohawk Harbor.  Not counting its 36″ high base, the pylon is 27′ by 18′ 4″, which seems to yield an area of 495 square inches.  Click on the image to the right to see the sketch provided by the Applicant showing the dimensions; I have repeated the main numbers in red in a larger font to make them easier to read.

This is how the City’s zoning code defines the Area of a Sign, §264-60:

AREA OF THE SIGN The area of all lettering, wording, and accompanying designs, logos, and symbols, together with the background on which they are displayed, whether open or enclosed Where the sign consists of individual letters, designs or symbols attached to a building, awning, wall, or window, the area shall be that of the smallest rectangle which encompasses all of the letters, designs, and symbols. The structure supporting a sign shall be excluded unless the structure is designed in a way to form an integral background for the display. Only one face of a double-faced sign shall be counted as surface or area of such a sign.

The LED screen, called “ECM” by the Applicant, is of course a sign within the above definition.

Although BZA thought the variance it granted to be “not significant”, two hundred and sixty-five is significantly more than 75. And, 495 is, in my estimation, scandalously more than 75.

  • By the way, while checking the signage Code, I was reminded of the definition of a pylon sign: “PYLON SIGN — A sign that has a base that is a minimum of three feet wide and a maximum of five feet wide. At no time can the message portion exceed eight feet wide.” No further comment needed.


Luck Ain’t No Lady: 38th week the worst yet at Rivers Casino

LUCKNOLADYhonest  According to the NYS Racing Commission revenues page for Rivers Casino, its 38th week (ending October 29, 2017), was the WORST week yet for the Schenectady Mohawk Harbor Casino. That’s despite having the Ellis Foundation’s big Women’s Night Out “Luck Be a Lady” event there on October 26, preceded by a prep-day of Table Game education in September. Of course, we can only guess the effect of several weeks of Mayor Gary McCarthy appearing in ubiquitous (and, for many of us, tacky and dispiriting) Fuccillo Auto ads shot at the Casino. Nonetheless, last week’s, take, $2,039,456, was perilously close to dipping below the $2-million mark. 

plungegraphsmY DOLLARS. This comes after Gazette columnist Sara Foss called this week for a review of the inflated revenue projections we got from the three new casinos in New York State. While this site was temporarily called “Stop the Schenectady Casino”, we pointed out the practice of over-promising revenues. That included, as even the Gazette reported prior to endorsing the Casino, that “In Philadelphia, for example, SugarHouse was projected to generate $320 million in gross revenue its first year but only generated $212 million.” 

casinowalkers BODIES. We hope that Foss or another journalist will look into the promises Rush Street made about how many people the Casino would bring to Schenectady. It projected 2.8 million a year. The fact that we have never been given any attendance numbers past the first couple of days suggests that the projected body-count was another cynical exaggeration. 


red check For those readers who are wondering how, after the Gazette endorsement of Porterfield, Farley and Mootooveren for City Council, to choose between John Mootooveren and Mohamed Hafez when using their third vote, I’d like to point out the following, regarding each man and the Casino:

Incumbent Councilman John Mootooveren:

  • JMootooverenHas acted as if Schenectady were a Supplicant, and a Second-Rate City, during the casino license application process, and thereafter, rubber-stamping the Mayor’s Supine Schenectady position, giving the Casino applicants their every wish, while making no demands. In contrast, all other potential casino locations use their leverage, to assure additional income from the casino, including mitigating its added expenses for infrastructure, public safety, and social problems; seeking guarantees of minimum revenue payments; and demanding local preference for jobs, and a buffer period in which property assessments would not be challenged by the developer.
  • Never questioned any claim made by the Casino applicants prior to voting to approve their Application for a Casino License in Schenectady as to projected revenue and the absence of likely negative effects.
  • Never sought an independent study of potential negative effects and realistic benefits, despite his claims of financial expertise.
  • And, never questioned or challenged any of the drastic changes in our zoning ordinance, demanded by Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. As a result, the Council and the Mayor took away the guarantee of public access in perpetuity to enjoyment of the riverbank when the harbor was developed, and the requirement that 10% of residential boat dock space be reserved during the day for the public.

In contrast, Candidate Mohamed Hafez:

  • MHafez Was a leader in the Stop the Schenectady Casino campaign, pointing out the many problems raised by locating a casino in an urban area and the need to fully consider likely problems and realistic benefits.
  • Demanded over and over, at City Council meetings, and in writing to the press, that the City use its leverage to demand/negotiate the best possible agreement with the Casino to maximize revenues and local employment, and minimize and offset added financial and social costs.
  • Wrote a letter to the editor we reprised here: “wise words from Mr. Hafez“; and
  • Asked the Mayor directly about host community agreements at a City Council meeting on May 11th, and at subsequent meetings, leading to the Mayor writing a guest column in the Gazette debunking the notion of having an HCA or needing to ask for any moneys in addition to required taxes, and our responding at length at this website. E.g., “the Lago Casino HCA and the Mayor.”

Empty Chair. One final note about the two candidates: Mohamed Hafez, a registered Democrat running on the Republican and IndependenceParty lines, attended every candidate forum during the current City Council election campaign. John Mootooveren, the incumbent Democrat who is 1/4th of the Mayor’s 4-person rubberstamp majority on the Council, failed to appear at the League of Women Voters forum, the Gazette Candidate forum at Proctors, the Woodlawn neighborhood association forum, and the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association meet the candidates event.

despite Billy Fuccillo, no HUGE casino revenues yet



. . above: Billy Fuccillo & Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy in a Fuccillo Automotive Group tv ad from the Rivers Casino, and Gary and Billy saying “H-u-u-ge!” . . 

September should have been a huge month for revenues at the Schenectady Rivers Casino, due to all the developments, hoopla and free press all summer, and a big push from extra-huge car salesman Billy Fuccillo since late August. The revenue stream should have been surging all September, given:

  • the mid-July opening of the Casino’s Landing Hotel (first guests arrived July 19), with lots of publicity for the Grand Opening, including the Vegas-style magical illusions of Steve Wyrick
  • arrival of the first “live-and-play here” tenants at River House
  • Billy Fuccillo getting the Keys to the City on July 20, and about a month later starting a series of ubiquitous tv ads, and related promotions, located at Rivers Casino and its The Landing hotel
  • the end of the Saratoga Racing season and any resultant loss of casino gambling in Schenectady
  • a sold-out first boxing event on September 23rd
  • the insistence of Rush Street officials and local political leaders that all of the above would result in greater revenues after the summer doldrums. See, e.g. the Times Union article “Schenectady still hopeful casino will pay off” (by Paul Nelson, Sept. 24, 2017)

 Nonetheless, despite that confluence of reasons to expect a great September, revenues declined all month — four weeks in a row, according to the Gross Gaming Revenues statement submitted yesterday (Oct. 7) to the NYS Racing Commission by Rivers Casino. [click on image to the right]

The actual revenue numbers did not prevent (or maybe they inspired) most candidates for the three contested seats on the Schenectady City Council to remind Gazette Forum audience that it takes three years for a casino’s revenues to stabilize and to make projections more accurate. [They do not say whether industry experience suggests the trend is for a higher or lower level of revenue stabilization after three years.]

 If you haven’t done so already, please see the two Times Union Sunday articles on disappointing casino revenues, published on September 24, 2017: Lauren Stanforth’s “Some bets are off at New York casinos: State’s three new gaming centers millions of dollars behind their first-year revenue projections”; and Paul Nelson’s local focus article (referred to above).

 Of course, David Giacalone, his friends and like-minded folk are not the likely targets of Rivers Casino promotions and ads. Nonetheless, I have to wonder how the Rush Street folks could think that opening their tv onslaught early this year with a Russian-mob impersonator, and now counting on Billy Fuccillo (who I have grown to value over the decades for his auto ads, but not for lifestyle advice) to broaden their appeal. Adding the un-telegenic presence of Hizzonner Gary McCarthy also seems unlikely to help turn Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor into a regional (much less national) tourist destination.

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  •  Food For Thought (Regrets Category):  Have you noticed how much money nearby counties are getting without having to deal with the problems of having an urban casino in their midst? Or having the fear of their casino failing, or the embarrassment of their politicians bending over backwards to please the Casino or find misleading reasons for optimism? Those of us who thought the risks of an urban casino were too great to warrant gambling that a Schenectady casino would yield the promised revenues would be pleased to merely take the trickle-down payments given to nearby counties.

     Thus, even with the disappointing revenues to date, Rensselaer County had already received $403,750 by the end of July — approximately what Schenectady County would have received already, since it has a very similar population. And, if the Casino had gone to the much more deserving Howe’s Caverns applicant in Schoharie County, Schenectady would have been the closest significant source of employees, and the State would have a commercial casino sans the extra risks that urban casinos bring.  Here’s a look (from the August 21, 2017 Gazette) at how much Rivers Casino has meant to local municipalities from its state gaming tax dollars through July, according to state Gaming Commission numbers:

    • Education: $17.9 million
    • City of Schenectady: $1.1 million
    • Schenectady County: $1.1 million
    • Albany County: $770,388
    • Fulton County: $140,630
    • Montgomery County: $127,178
    • Rensselaer County: $403,750
    • Saratoga County: $556,148
    • Schoharie County: $82,936
    • Washington County: $160,092

BZA denies variance for oversized Harbor pylon

variance denied, then allowed

update: After Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen literally begged them for “a favor”, they changed their mind: “BZA’s pylon flip-flop – a change from 221″ wide to 220″ wide!” (Nov. 16, 2017).

Yesterday evening, October 4, 2017, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals denied the request of Mohawk Harbor’s Paul Fallati for a variance to permit a 30-foot-tall pylon sign alongside Erie Blvd, at Mohawk Harbor Way, that had a large LCD screen and 22 lighted “tenant signs”. BZA did grant a variance for a “monument’ sign at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor, on the south side of the intersection. The variance is needed because the Zoning Code only permits freestanding signs 7′ tall in the C-3 Waterfront district for signs that are not casino-related. 

For more details and discussion of the issues see our earlier posting “updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs“.

update (Oct. 5, 2017): According to the Daily Gazette, “The board rejected the plan for the 30-foot sign by a vote of 4-2, said Avi Epstein, the city’s zoning officer.” In addition:

The proposal was denied because the board felt it would cause an undesirable change in the surrounding neighborhood, and that the applicant could achieve the purpose of the signage through another method, City Planner Christine Primiano said.

great news about the Old Pump House

  . . . 

Yesterday (Friday, September 29, 2017), several representatives from the Stockade neighborhood, including Stockade Association president Carol DeLaMater and Schenectady Heritage Foundation chair Gloria Kishton, met with Mayor Gary McCarthy, Operations Director Paul Lafond, and members of the Pump Station engineering and architectural design team to learn about the latest design of the North Ferry Street sewerage pump station project. In the meeting, they were told and shown that the new plan includes preservation of the Old Pump House, and that the NY State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is in fact requiring that the historic 1913 building be retained and reused.

blue skies for the Old Pump House

 As recently as this Spring, I was told by a high-level City Hall official that the City had no plans or funds for maintaining or converting the Old Pump House, and that perhaps “preservationists” could find the necessary money. It appears, once again, that concerted effort by Stockade representatives and residents — fueled by passion, focused lobbying, and research — can turn around or motivate City Hall to protect important buildings and parks-capes, and listen to genuine neighborhood opinions. Of course, we also first need to be informed in a timely manner, to do our homework, and then to find people in the Administration and on City Council willing to listen with an open mind. 

Thanks are warranted to the core Stockade Pump House Gang (which also included Larry Schmidt, John Samultulski, and Suzy Unger), who “worked” the Mayor’s office, City Council members, SHPO, and others to help preserve an important part of the Stockade and Riverside Park scenery and history. Similarly, input from SHPO, and openness and flexibility on the part of the McCarthy Administration, Mike Miller and the CHA engineering and entire design team, and City Council are much appreciated.

As I said last July, in a posting here titled “questions about the future of the old pump house“:

To me, it is a unique sight from the river and the park, beloved by many (some of whom do not even know what purpose it serves), and is a special structure from a time when industrial architecture had style.

I also noted that “Some of my favorite photos include the old pump house.” This collage contains quite a few of them. Enjoy.


  •  Of course, Constant Vigilance is nonetheless a very helpful state of mind, and I am quite pleased we have that symbolic cannon to help protect the Old Pump House from future threats, whatever the source.
  • Speaking of vigilance, and its handmaiden, public participation, the City will soon set a date for an Open House to be held in October to unveil the new pump station design, including a 3D model, present information, answer questions, and solicit input.

guardrails to boulders: a bad process leaves many concerns

The Boulder Bunch Design Committee

BoulderGate! BoulderDash!  Frankly, I’ve been virtually seething over the process used by the officers and board of the Stockade Association [SA} to achieve the replacement of old metal guardrails with boulders where Riverside Park meets the dead-end parking/turn-around areas of three Stockade streets. The deliberate decision* of SA leaders not to inform members and neighbors of the boulders-for-guardrails project, specifically because they expected strong opposition, shows a great disrespect for the Stockade community, and disregard for their obligations.

*follow-up clarification (Sept. 23, 2017):

  1. red check SA President Carol DeLaMater sent me an email yesterday morning (Sept. 22), saying “David, very disappointed in your assumption about Board behavior regarding support for a proposal to improve the area at the end of North St.  It had none of the deliberate motivations you describe.” Please Note: My information on the reason the Board failed to inform the community comes from a person who attends SA Board Meetings, has no apparent axe to grind, and who I have always found to be most trustworthy and reluctant by nature to foment controversy. The account also rings true, because Board fear of opposition to the boulders is about the only reason that seems to explain the failure to request or allow “outside” input over perhaps a period of two years. I do not believe that responsible Board members and officers considered this major change in the appearance of the Park and streetscape to be too trivial to bring to the membership.
  2. SpySept2016p7 In addition, SA Recording Secretary Suzy Unger wrote yesterday evening (Sept. 22) to myself and the 400+ members of the Stockade Yahoo email list, to point out that, in the September 2016 Stockade Spy, in the section with the minutes of an August 3, 2016 SA Board meeting : “The boulders and the letter to the city are referenced, clearly contradicting David’s assertions.” I, of course, checked out Suzy’s claim, and discovered that the Spy states, regarding the boulders: “Board approved . . . letter to City requesting replacing battered guardrails with decorative boulders at end of North St. and others ending at Riverside Park.” (screen shot of page at left) After considering that fact, I replied to Suzy and the Yahoo email list, thanking her for the clarification, and noting that:

checkedboxs “(1) The Board acted to ask the City to replace the guardrails with boulders without first informing the membership or neighborhood about the issue. And, (2) Although the initial request to the Board by residents was only about North Street, the letter expands the request to other streets along the Park, without notifying residents of the other streets.” 

back to Original Posting

Perhaps more importantly, the failure to inform members and the community about the requested boulder project demonstrates why any substantial proposal needs the input of “outsiders” (people other than the proponents of a plan and their close friends) to assure that significant concerns are raised, unintended consequences pointed out, alternatives offered (and expensed), and the thoughtful wishes of the neighborhood heard. Nonetheless, I am attempting to write in a civil tone, and keep my sense of humor (see the Boulder Bunch Design Committee, to the right of this paragraph).

  • There may be reasonable responses to the concerns discussed below, but we were never allowed to raise the issues or test the responses before 110 tons of rock were deposited in Riverside Park.
  • Why am I so upset at the process?  To better focus on facts, research, and common sense concerns relating to the use of the boulders, I expand on my reasons at the foot of this posting*. I also explain why even non-members of the Stockade Association have the right to be concerned and to point out failures in the process and outcome.
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In case you are not aware of the situation at Riverside Park, here are some images (and, note, none of the photos has been staged; I found the situation and snapped the picture):

  . . 

. . above: [L] a car parked at North St. boulders; [R] a toddler about to climb a boulder at the end of Governor’s Lane . . 

. .Also, a portion of the end of North Street near the playlot, showing the old guardrails:


. . and, the same portion with the new boulders: 

For a fuller picture at each location, click on the collage thumbnails below to see both the prior green guardrails and the new boulders at the end of Ingersoll Avenue, North Street and Governor’s Lane:

 . .North Street

 . . Ingersoll Avenue

 . . Governor’s Lane

  •  CONDITION of GUARDRAILS: I have no argument with the assertion that a sufficient number of the green metal guardrails are old, dented and rusted to warrant replacing all of them. The question, of course is “replacement with what?” (see below).City Engineer Chris Wallin told the Times Union last month that the price for removing the guardrails and purchasing the gray limestone boulders was $16,000. We have no idea what other options might have cost, because they were never pursued
  • Google Map North Street 2011

    NORTH STREET Focus: To simplify the discussion, this posting will focus on the situation at the end of North Street. According to SA President Carol DeLaMater, it was North Street residents who first suggested replacing the old green, bumper-high metal guardrails with large rocks or boulders, where the street dead-ends at Riverside Park, in a small, circular, paved area used for parking and turn-arounds. The street is one block long starting at Front Street, north to the Mohawk River. There is only one travel lane, which must be used by two-way traffic, making turn-arounds important and requiring the accumulation of snow at the dead-end or the Park. The Park’s playlot, aimed at young children, and almost totally renovated by the City in November 2016 for safety reasons, is located about 25′ from the parking area.

North St. parking area seen from Playlot (Aug. 2106)

  • Repair/Replace ASSUMPTIONS. We Stockade residents are used to the principle that you replace things in a historic area with something as close as possible to the original material and without a drastic change in appearance [e.g., Sch’dy Code. §264-76]; that more and bigger are not always better; and that maintaining longstanding streetscapes, park-scapes, and scenery are important goals that should only be circumvented or ignored for very good reasons.  Such principles may not be a legal requirement in this instance, but they reflect important historic district values and expectations. Here, no alternatives were discussed (for example TimBarrier LotGard), and no reason given for the drastic change, other than “the old guardrails are ugly”, “the boulders are beautiful and natural”, and “the City has a grant.” Others boulder supporters have waffled a bit, “we only asked for lower, large rocks, wanting them to be smooth and useful for seating, too.”


When replacing a utilitarian element like guardrails, we should probably start by asking what purposes the guardrails serve, whether they have been serving those purposes well, and whether some performance factor can be improved at a reasonable cost. We surely need to ensure the replacement situation is just as safe and effective, and hopefully adds no new maintenance worries or costs.

  • CompPlan2020-ParkPlan Note, however, that in support of his boulder proposal for North Street, Dennis Meyer told the Times Union that “boulders would also satisfy the city’s 2020 comprehensive action plan to “remove guardrails from parking areas and install a more appropriate barrier”. That, of course, begs the question of what constitutes an appropriate barrier at the particular location.


As Parking Barriers: NEEDS of DRIVERS When PARKING

No driver that I know of has ever been intimidated by bumper-high metal or wooden guardrails. It seems, however that a significant number of drivers fear getting too close to the Riverside Park boulders when parking:

  • boulders are unforgiving. they will beat your doors, fenders, bumpers and side-panels every time you engage them. also their non-uniform shape means you cannot always tell how far away the vehicle is from the boulder merely by seeing its top.
  • the boulders are much higher than passenger car bumpers. drivers backing in have to worry about being able to open their rear doors.
  • parallel parkers very much need to have full control of their doors when exiting and returning to the vehicle.

 . . 


Because drivers often do not park as closely to the boulders, there is considerably less space to maneuver when pulling out of a parking space or turning around at the dead-end.


We know how the guardrails serve snow removal needs, but we have to wonder how  major snowfalls will be handled, and what major accumulations will mean. Guardrails permit some snow to be pushed under them and are low enough for plows to dump snow over them.  Boulders seem to have neither characteristic. One SA officer wrote that snow can be pushed between the boulders. Maybe by hand, but the suggested process seems to be a great way to break a plow blade or push boulders onto the park lawn.
It seems highly likely that small children will be attracted by the boulders, which do not offer the foot and hand holds of artificial climbing boulders certified for playgrounds. Instead, these unpainted, rough limestone boulders have many sharp edges, and splinters chipping off, and those falling will not have the required surfacing found on playgrounds (which mandate 6′ of such buffered ground around the entire climbing element).
Even with a parent readily at hand, small children will likely have mishaps, and older ones will challenge each other and themselves in hazardous ways. It seems clear that the City, especially where it has put boulders between parking and the playlot only 25 – 30 feet away, may be liable for creating an “attractive nuisance.” For example, see this legal discussion:
An “attractive nuisance” is any condition on someone’s property that would attract children, who are fascinated by it but don’t understand its dangers. If a child is injured or killed by an attractive nuisance, the property owner could be held liable for damages in a personal injury case.


The Parks Department appear to have ignored basic elements for safe installation of boulder, making them dangerously unstable. For example, see Vehicle Barriers: Their Use and Planning Considerations (USDA Forest Service, June 2006):

  Construction techniques: Bury one-third of the rock for stability, anchoring, and a more natural look. [see sample sketch]

Similarly, a Best Management PracticesToolkit for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has a number of pointers related to Parking and Vehicle Barriers. Included are (emphases added):


    Parking barriers shall be treated as potential visual features and shall have consistency with neighborhood and regional character and with other landscape elements such as lighting, adjacent building details, and street furniture.

    Cluster and stagger boulders to mimic natural conditions.


     TahoeAnchorBoulders Boulders shall be greater than 3 feet in diameter and be keyed in to the soil a minimum of 6 inches. [see figure to the left, which suggest that one-half to one-third of the boulder should be below the surface]

    Shrubs and vegetation can be used as parking barriers.

  • INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE:  Ensure parking barriers are sized and spaced correctly so they remain intact. Yearly maintenance may be necessary to repair damage from snow removal activities.


DSCF3363 According to Paul Nelson’s Times Union article,  “The city engineer said he is not overly worried about the rocks being spray-painted because they can be power- or sand-blasted without being damaged.” (“Boulders make a big difference at Riverside park in Stockade neighborhood,” August 16, 2017) . That seems rather optimistic. The rocks are already flaking away; they are soft, limestone. Also, they are oddly-shaped, not smooth granite-type rocks, or already painted, and are not securely anchored. Because there are so many crevices, the idea of power cleaning, especially near parked vehicles and playing children, seems unrealistic.


 We know the guardrails stay put in a flood. Can we say the same for the poorly anchored boulders? Where might they end up if there is a flood? What about with ice-jam-related flooding? A FEMA training material states that flash flooding can move very large boulders, and then states (at 2-9).


North St. boulder

 Flooding caused by ice jams is similar to flash flooding – the formation of a jam results in a rapid rise of water both at the point of the jam and upstream. Failure of the jam results in sudden flooding downstream.


Many in the Stockade community appear to disagree with the notion that the boulders are “beautiful” and look “natural”. Aesthetics are a matter of subjective evaluation, but the opinion of a significant, and perhaps majority, element of a neighborhood should not be ignored, and should at least be solicited. That is especially true when several years ago a similar boulder proposal for the Park inspired strong opposition when presented to an SA membership meeting.

When we are dealing with Riverside Park, which has been called “perhaps the finest thing of its kind” by the editor of Architect Forum, “nice”, “I’ll learn to live with it,” or “better than those old, dented guardrails”, is simply not good enough.

IMG_4341 . . beautiful and natural?

The Forest Service Vehicle Barrier Guide also states in its section on the use of Large Rocks and Boulders (emphasis added):

How to use: Mimic nature by planting rocks in clusters of one to five and varying space between the rocks and the clusters. 

Where to use: Use where large rocks occur naturally. If large rocks are not common, do not use them; they will appear out of place.

  • Furthermore, I have not been able to find even one example of analogous boulders of similar size being used as barriers along parking spaces — that is, none are in places where drivers must pull or back up to a boulder to park. The City Engineer told the Times Union last month that the rocks in the Stockade are similar to the ones in found in Collins Park in Scotia and Indian Meadows Park in Glenville. My investigation suggests the contrary.
  1.  I could find only one “boulder” in all of Collins and Freedom Park, and it is nowhere near a road or parking space.
  2. DSCF3395 There are many boulders at Indian Meadows Park in Glenville, but not one is next to a parking space and, especially, none are along the parking spots at the playground. Also, the Glenville boulders, which are really homely when in large groups, are there to keep vehicles off of the lawns, and have plenty of open space available nearby for depositing plowed snow.

DSCF3384 . . IndianMeadows1 . . DSCF3374

above: Indian Meadows boulders: [L] none are near the parking spaces for the playground; [M] used along no-parking road to keep vehicles off lawn; [R] along driveway to Park Dept. garage to protect lawn. [click on an image for larger version]

Glenville follow-up DSCF3423 (added Sept. 26, 2017): While leaving a medical appointment at Socha Plaza today, I noticed how they use boulders at that parking lot. The decorative boulders are quite a bit smaller than those at Riverside Park, preventing visual assault, and present none of the parking issues caused at our Park. With the boulders set on medians, there are curbs and additional space between vehicles being parked or driven in the parking lot and the boulders. (see photo at right and collage immediately below)


I hope the main points made above will help ensure a far more open process within the Stockade Association, and may help the City decide to find a better solution for the Park and a more appropriate home for the costly boulders.

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why are Ellis Medicine and MVP promoting Casino Gambling?

 Have you seen this ad, which has been appearing recently in the Schenectady Daily Gazette?

As you can see above, Rivers Casino is offering hour-long “Gaming Lessons” for those wanting to “Learn Table Games: Craps, Roulette, Blackjack, Poker.” That is, of course, not at all surprising. Nor, despite its motto “reinvent your life,” is it surprising that 50+Living, a Gazette subsidiary, is “presenting” the Gaming Lessons Program, and featuring it on their website. (The Gazette has been part of the Casino’s primary cheerleader squad since our City Council voted to approve the application of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group for a gaming license in 2014.)

 What is both surprising and rather sad, however, are the other pillars of our community that have apparently joined the Casino’s harem: There are only two other Sponsors for the Gaming Lessons in addition to Rivers Casino: Ellis Medicine and MVP (f/k/a Mohawk Valley Physicians’ Health Plan). That’s right, Schenectady County’s two leading health care institutions are lending their reputations and stature, and their reach into the community through affiliated physicians and other practitioners, thousands of employees, and hundreds of thousands of patients/subscribers, to the promotion of gambling in Schenectady.

LessonsSponsors15SepPG-LessonsAdCollage  update (Sept. 15, 2017): The ad for Gaming Lessons in today’s Daily Gazette has removed the Ellis Medicine and MVP Health Care logos from the sponsors section of the ad. See the detailed update at the bottom of this posting.

 It seems fair to ask, “What ever are they thinking?!”. And, giving them the benefit of the doubt, what kind of pressure have MVP and Ellis received from the City, County and Metroplex to enhance the Casino’s status in our community, and perhaps bolster its flagging revenues? It seems unlikely to me that sponsoring gaming lessons is an initiative that originated within Ellis or MVP’s hierarchy or health care staff.

Organizing “Gaming Lessons” was not exactly the sort of education we had in mind during Problem Gambling Awareness Month, earlier this year, when we wrote at this site:

 Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope was that community education and prevention activities might be in operation prior to the Casino’s opening, in order to help inoculate the population of Schenectady against the anticipated tsunami of publicity for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its resulting Casino Fever.

As expected, in addition to the Casino’s own advertising and promotions, publicity for the Casino has included government and media cheerleading, as casino “gaming” is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity.

      Our goal was, and is, not to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create an informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than an acceptable high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.

Unfortunately, in the past year, our local government leaders have not stepped forward to put Problem Gambling Awareness [“PGA”] programs into place in time to inoculate our community from casino fever.

 . . click for Sara Foss’ Gazette column (Feb. 5, 2017)

For two years, I have been waiting for Schenectady’s public and private sectors to start making problem gambling prevention a serious priority, through educating the community (and not merely settling for feeble intervention efforts at the Casino itself). Given the explicit commitment of both Ellis and MVP to Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health promotion and MEB disorder prevention, sponsorship of Problem Gambling Prevention Education seemed like a likely path for both institutions. 

  • MEB [Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral] health disorders include but are not limited to: substance use disorders, mental illness, suicide, and problem gambling.

 Just last month, MVP appointed a new Vice President for Mental Health in order to “further MVP’s commitment to more holistically integrating behavioral health into traditional medical models and creating the best possible outcomes for MVP’s members with behavioral health diagnoses.”

 More specifically, in response to Schenectady County’s highest in the region male suicide rates (2nd highest for females), and highest in the region Emergency Department visits and hospitalizations for mental disease and disorder, Ellis has announced, as a cornerstone element of its Prevention Agenda, an “Ellis Implementation Strategy . . . with a simultaneous emphasis on suicide prevention and on broad support for Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health services.” See “New York State 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment and Improvement Plan and Community Service Plan for Schenectady County”, at 30. 

“A friend in need”- C.M.Coolidge.

 Furthermore, according to its Alliance for Better Health Care project workbook, Ellis Medicine also aims to “Participate in Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health promotion and MEB disorder prevention partnerships.” That includes efforts to “Support collaboration among leaders, professionals, and community members working in MEB health promotion to address substance abuse and other MEB disorders.” Prominent sponsorship of Gaming Lessons may be a community partnership, but it does not appear likely to advance Ellis’ stated MEB goals. 

 Certainly, the leaders of the Ellis and MVP organizations are aware of the issue of Problem Gambling, and especially its increased prevalence when an urban community gets its first casino, making repeat visits much easier, and social pressure to participate stronger, as casino gaming is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity. [For a discussion of the issues and research, with links to many programs and resources, see our posting at] Rather than helping to combat problem gambling before it infects a gambler and family, by sponsoring training to familiarize and glamorize casino table games, MVP and Ellis seem to be casting an aura of good health upon Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. What are they thinking?

  •    50+Living has a catchy tagline, “reinvent your life.” But, the meaning of that phrase seems compromised when its website has a large ad for the Gaming Lessons program at the top of every page, in its right margin, with a link to its registration form. We might even wonder just what that woman is wishing for when she blows the seeds off a dandelion. Retirement, aging, and loneliness can often amplify the risk of gambling becoming a problem that upsets the lives of many seniors and their families. Shouldn’t 50+Living use its forum to help its target audience avoid those risks? See, e.g., this Guide for Older Gamblers.

“Problem Gambling” means gambling behaviors that result in serious negative consequences to the gambler, and his or her family and friends, employer, or community. [See New York Council on Problem Gambling] In additional to its impact on the gambler herself or himself, problem gambling can especially affect the gambler’s family and friends. It can affect people in any age, racial, or economic group, but youth (kidsadolescents and college students) and senior citizens are thought to be particularly at-risk. [click on each topic link for a brochure prepared by the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)]

If Ellis Medicine, MVP, and 50+Living would truly like to help our community’s education regarding the existence of a full-service casino in our midst, they should take advantage of an impressive trove of materials already already in existence about preventing and treating problem gambling, and nurturing healthy attitudes and low-risk behaviors relating to gambling. For example:

  1.     Click the thumbnail on the left for a full-page pdf poster created for physicians and other health care providers by the National Council on Problem Gambling, suggesting three simple questions to ask a patient to help determine if there might be a gambling problem, with contact information for resources.
  2.  The New York Problem Gambling Council has put together a very useful Toolkit, with helpful one-page Action Sheets for Youth, Parents, Senior Citizen Caregivers, School Personnel, and School Administrators to assist in “having the conversation” with friends, employees, family, etc., about problem gambling. See and download the Have the Conversation Toolkit.
  3. Youth are thought to be particularly at risk of developing problem gambling disorders. And, Rush Streets seems particularly interested in attracting younger gamblers. See our posting,“what will the casino mean for Union College students?“; and a Union College handout on college students and gambling. Both MVP and Ellis should consider joining forces with the New York Council on Problem Gambling, with public school districts in the City and County, and with Union College to utilize existing materials aimed at adolescents and youth, or to create programs tailored to the Schenectady area and Capital District.
  4. And, click these links to find more problem gambling resources, on this website, “snowmen at the gates,” and on Facebook: NYCouncilonProblemGambling,  KnowTheOddsYouthDecideNY

If you feel that our community deserves more appropriate action by Ellis and MVP with regard to gambling education and partnerships with Rivers Casino, please let them know. You might ask whether they have better ways to spend their resources and lend their reputations.

To Contact Ellis Medicine, click here; to contact MVP, click here; and to contact 50+Living, click here.

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Postscript By itself, the decision by the Foundation for Ellis Medicine to hold its 2017 Women’s Night Out celebration dinner at Rivers Casino & Resort may be harmless, even if the “Luck Be a Lady” slogan is a bit condescending. However, in conjunction with the Gaming Lessons project, this “premier networking environment” among Schenectady’s upper crust, seems like an unnecessary additional signal that the Rivers Casino is a glamorous and civic-minded part of our community.

deskdude Update (September 15, 2017): Around noon today, I sent the following email message to Capital Region Media members and others interested in the topic, relaying the good news that Ellis and MVP were no longer listed as Sponsors of the Gaming Lessons project at Rivers Casino.

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Gazette covers half-year Casino revenues

Today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette has an informative article headlined “A look at Rivers Casino’s gaming numbers 6 months after opening” (by Brett Samuels, August 21, 2017). It includes a “look at how much Rivers Casino has paid out to local municipalities in state gaming tax through July.” For Casino Realists like myself, here’s the core of the article:

 If business continues at its current pace, the city and county would each get a little more than $2 million in gaming money at year’s end. As has been the case from the start, the casino appears poised to fall well short of what was expected by each government entity.

In budgeting for 2017, the city and county both used the low-end projection from the casino’s application and pro-rated it to a March opening. That leaves each government expecting about $2.75 million in gaming revenue for 2017. Gaming revenue is expected to stabilize by 2019.

 Of course, we need to ask: “Stabilize” at what level? And, we might also ask what Schenectady County spokesman Joe McQueen means when he says that “thanks to the infusion of casino money, . .the county is now expecting to see about $855,000 in annual savings.” Is this figure based on some sort of “netting out” of revenues received due to added expenses and reduced receipts from other sources, such as sales or property taxes because of the Casino’s Substitution Effect?

  • As we wrote here more than three years ago, research by the successful citizens’ group “No Downtown Casino” in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, led them to conclude in their Position Statement

    Greater negative financial impact on nearby businesses – the good numbers go down.

    Studies show that property values near a casino decrease by 10% or more once the casino opens. Part of the reason for that is because the casino never closes. It operates 24/7. Commercial buildings, apartment buildings, condominiums, etc. decrease in value which means over time they pay lower property taxes. Research also shows that 60% of businesses that existed before the casino opens, go out of business within 2 years of the casino opening. Lost jobs. Lost taxes. Failed entrepreneurs. Empty storefronts.

It may be too early for such effects to be apparent in Schenectady, but we need to be vigilant when speaking about how much the Casino has enhanced our tax coffers.

updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs

questionmarkkeyoverRed BZA follow-up (November 16, 2017): Click for a copy of David Giacalone’s Comments to BZA regarding the Special Meeting today to review another Mohawk Harbor variance application for a 30′ pylon. What happened this evening? BZA approved a pylon virtually identical to the one they rejected on October 4, 2017. See “BZA pylon flip-flop“.  Short URL:

(November 15, 2017): I learned today that on November 1st, 2017, Board of Zoning Appeals granted Mohawk Harbor variances that would permit it to install a pylon sign 22′ tall and 122 sq. ft., at the location involved in the discussion below. The Zoning Code permits a sign 7′ tall of 75 sq. ft. at that location. Had I known of the application, I would have strongly opposed it as presenting the same problems as the 30′ pylon rejected by BZA on October 6, 2017.

  • Mohawk Harbor was apparently so shook up by the rejection on October 6, that Galesi sent Big Guns, to literally beg BZA to permit the pylon application. Dave Buicko, Galesi Group CEO and Ray Gillen, Chairman of Metroplex, came to press the Board members. I am told that Mr. Gillen said, “I have never asked you for a favor, but please, please, please grant this variance.”

disbelief-foreheadsmack Moreover, I learned late yesterday afternoon (Nov. 14), thanks to TU reporter Paul Nelson, that BZA had announced a special Meeting to be held tomorrow, November 16, in which Mohawk Harbor has resubmitted its previously rejected application for a 30′ pylon of 265 sq ft. The only difference is that it has given up asking for a 1′ setback instead of the required 3′ setback from the right of way. Click here for the Resubmitted 30′ pylon application.

Original Posting

 post BZA update (10 PM, Oct. 4, 2017)This evening, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals granted a variance for a “monument’ sign at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor at Mohawk Harbor Way and Erie Boulevard, but denied the request for a variance to permit a 30’ tall pylon sign along Erie Blvd, that had a large LCD screen and 22 lighted “tenant signs”. [But see, “BZA pylon flip-flop“.]

 . . variance denied . .MH-pylonrenderingOct2017

  • MH representative Paul Fallati had asked BZA to allow a 265 square foot pylon sign, with a height of 30 feet, a message board 12 feet wide, and a 1 foot setback from the NYDOT right-of-way. 
  • A variance was needed because the sign schedule in the City Zoning code for the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District only permits a 75 square foot sign, with a height of 7 feet, a message board 8 feet wide, and a setback of 3 feet. (Larger sizes are permitted for Casino-related signs but not for non-casino signs.)
  • The Board found that the requested variances were significant, not justified, and could adversely impact close properties.  BZA refused to merely accept the Planning Commission’s actions in support of a 30′ design. Click to see the odd and inadequate Variance Application for the Pylon Sign; also, the Variance Application for the Monument Sign, and a Site Plan illustration of the signage location and setbacks.
    •  A co-owner of Sev’s Luxury Used Car, located directly across the street from the proposed pylon on Erie Boulevard, pointed out to the Board the potential negative effects on nearby properties that desire to upgrade to more attractive uses, and asked if the large cement wall behind the proposed pylon was meant to protect Mohawk Harbor tenants from the glare of the bright pylon lights and screen.
    • deskdude David Giacalone, proprietor of this website, stated that BZA should have made its own independent review of variance issues before the Planning Commission spent two months helping MH design a 30-foot sign for a 7-foot sign location. He also stressed that (1) Mohawk Harbor is asking for a shopping-mall-style sign despite touting the development as an upscale mixed-use residential and commercial neighborhood; he presented a collage (seen below) to make the point; (2) a large, bright sign so close to a busy, complicated roadway presents many safety issues, including distracting drivers (intentionally) and creating major glare; and (3) the Applicant could not show that its difficulty under the zoning code is not “self-created”, because Mohawk Harbor was intimately involved with drafting the revamping of the C-3 District rules two years ago, and specifically left the original C-3 signage limitations for non-casino signs.  These and additional issues are more fully discussed below.
  • update (5 PM, Oct. 5, 2017): According to an article in the Daily Gazette posted this afternoon,The board rejected the plan for the 30-foot sign by a vote of 4-2, said Avi Epstein, the city’s zoning officer.” In addition, “The proposal was denied because the board felt it would cause an undesirable change in the surrounding neighborhood, and that the applicant could achieve the purpose of the signage through another method, City Planner Christine Primiano said.”

MH-pylonOct2017 [Earlier] BZA Update (October 4, 2017): This follow-up relates to the requests by Paul Fallati, on behalf of Mohawk Harbor, for area variances to permit the two signs at the Mohawk Harbor Way entrance to the complex. The matter is before the Board of Zoning Appeals for the first time this evening, October 4, 2017. (Click to see the Variance Application for the Monument Sign, the Variance Application for the Pylon Sign, and a Site Plan illustration of the signage-intersection location and setbacks.) The issues are basically the same as discussed below regarding the appropriateness of the sign for the location, but the Board of Zoning Appeals should, I believe look closely at the statutory and code requirements for granting an area variance, and not let the Planning Commission preempt variance decisions, which places BZA in a rather awkward position.

 The PYLON VARIANCE PROPOSAL: On behalf of Mohawk Harbor PAUL FALLATI requests Area Variances for 220 Harborside Drive located in the C-3 Waterfront District 

  • to allow for a 265 Square foot pylon sign, with a height of 30 feet, a total width of 18′, and a message board of 12 feet wide , with a 1 foot setback, 
  • where a 75 square foot sign with a height of 10 7 feet is allowed, and a minimum setback of 3 feet required. [Ed. Note: And, when the Schenectady Zoning Code defines a pylon sign as having a base no more than 5′ wide, with a message board no more than 8 feet wide. Code §264.]

The Application for the Pylon Sign in no way meets the criteria for granting a variance.

As in my August 2017 letter to the Planning Commission, a key issue is whether a giant pylon sign is appropriate, given the goals of the C-3 Waterfront District and the claims of the developer that this is a unique and upscale mixed-use residential-commercial neighborhood. As this updated collage suggests, the 30′ pylon, with its 22 lighted tenant signs and large LCD screen along a busy road is far more appropriate for a strip mall or shopping plaza. (click on the collage for a larger version)


This this update will be completed after this evening’s BZA meeting.  Until then, please  Click here  for an 8-page set of Comments submitted on August 16, 2017, to the Planning Commission by David Giacalone regarding the Mohawk Harbor signs, which starts with the following summary: 

 SUMMARY: First, the proposed signs are far larger than permitted for non-casino signs in the C-3 zone, and area variances must be obtained.  On the merits, the placement of a large LED screen so close to a busy intersection and complicated roadway system is particularly worrisome from a safety perspective [from driver distraction and confusion, and glare], and the use of a shopping-center/strip-mall type pylon is contrary to the stated upscale aspirations of the developer and the goals of the City’s Waterfront zoning provisions. It cheapens the image of the Harbor Area, lessens the quality of life of residents in the vicinity, and reduces the attraction of adjacent property for higher use.


 BELOW is a set of Updates to our post on August 4, 2017, “another sneaky pylon ploy“, on the proposed Mohawk Harbor pylon-style sign (14′ W by 32′ H, with an LED screen on top, 12′ W by 6′ H) and monument sign (40′ W by 10′ H), which are on the Schenectady Planning Commission agenda for August 16, 2017. In the Aug. 4th post, I argue that the signs are too large to be allowed in the C-3 district, because they are not casino-facility-related, and must comply with the normal regulations of Article IX of our Zoning Code. . .

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 Commission Meeting Follow-up (Aug. 17, 2017): Important points, in addition to delaying making a decision until next month:

  • As expected, the Commission declared itself the Lead Agency for purposes of SEQRA environmental review and adopted a negative impact statement.  Interested Federal and State agencies, and the public may comment — e.g., statements about the impact of the signs on traffic safety, and nearby residents — over the next 30 days. In addition, the Commission correctly demanded detailed renderings showing the appearance, exact location, and orientation to the roadways, of the signs.
  •  Despite the statement to me by the Principal Planner earlier this week, Mohawk Harbor did not reduce the size of its proposed signs in deference to the need to seek a variance for each, which State law says must be the minimum increase required to meet the valid needs of the applicant. More worrisome, no Commission member spoke of the need for a variance, nor reminded Mohawk Harbor that only casino facility signs were exempted from the Zoning Code’s Article IX restrictions on the size of signs.
  • Paul Fallati of the Galesi Group stated that one reason for such a large monument sign was to help screen out the sight of STS Steel.
  • Commissioner Bradley Lewis correctly pointed out that the proposed large pylon does not actually have the name Mohawk Harbor prominently displayed, so as to alert drivers they are approaching the development.
  • CrosstownPlazaSign-Aug2017

    Crosstown Plaza pylon

    David Giacalone [proprietor of this website] stated that variances were needed, and that a large pylon with signs for 22 tenants would make upscale Mohawk Harbor look like any old shopping mall. [image to the right is Crosstown Plaza’s sign; with $480 million to spend, I am pretty sure the Lupe family would have developed a very tasteful plaza at Crosstown.] Giacalone reminded the Commission that they need to consider the safety elements of having a large LED screen, plus the lighted tenant signs, just a few feet from a busy road.

    • To my argument that the miSci sign on Nott Terrace is adequate as a branding sign at 12′ W by 10′ H (see discussion and images below), Mr. Fallati said the traffic is much faster on Erie Blvd. so drivers could not see 22 little signs on such a small structure. See “Decision on Mohawk Harbor signs put on hold” (Gazette, by Brett Samuels, Aug. 17, 2017). He apparently missed my argument that we do not need to have a cluster of tenant signs at all, and that 22 tenant signs would not be very informative no matter how large the pylon is — i.e., the Crosstown Plaza pylon is 14′ W and 50′ H (grandfathered in at that height) and passing traffic surely does not become well-informed about the tenants..



Schenectady’s Principal Planner, Christine Primiano, gave me some helpful information this morning (Aug. 11, 2017), with a quick reply to a few questions about the Mohawk Harbor signs and process. She wrote that “The signage below the LED screen [on the proposed pylon] are panels with the business names and they will be lit. The LED screen will change message, advertising events and businesses within the MH complex.” Individual products or sales will not be advertised on the screen. In addition, Ms. Primiano wrote that “The [monument sign] is intended to name the complex and provide some visual screening of the STS Steel site, however, they are already talking about making it smaller because there are size and setback issues.”  Christine also wrote that:

  • On 8/16 the Planning Commission will declare Lead Agency for the SEQR review which starts a 30 day window for interested parties (i.e., Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway) and involved agencies (NYSDOT and Sch’dy BZA) to comment on the proposal. 

  • The Planning Commission will not take any other action on 8/16 other than to give their feedback on the design. 

  • It’s anticipated that on 9/20 the Planning Commission will take action to either issue denial or conditional approval of the proposal. If they issue approval, it must be conditioned upon approvals by NYSDOT and Sch’dy BZA.
  • 10/4 Board of Zoning Appeals to review the area variances needed to allow the signs.

DSCF3299  . . DSCF3294

. . above: proposed locations on either side of Mohawk Harbor Way at Erie Boulevard for the proposed monument sign [L] and pylon sign with LED screen atop. Click on each  image for a larger version. Click here (for the Monument Sign) and here (for the pylon sign) to see the two Special Use Permit applications.

  MHMonumentSketchDetail . . . MHpylonsketchAug2017  For additional details, please see our Pylon Ploy posting about the two MH signage applications, including the submitted sketch images of the Pylon and Monument signs, and legal discussion of the need for variances due to the excessive height and square footage. The Planning Commission staff appears to agree that variances will be needed unless there are significant reductions, and is therefore contemplating referring the final proposals (relating to allowable dimensions) to the Board of Zoning Appeals for variance review, with possible action by BZA in October.


Here is the Schedule I list of signage regulations in the various districts. Mohawk Harbor is, of course, in the C-3 Waterfront Mixed Use district, and Schedule I and all Article IX provision on Signs apply to the applications before the Commission, because they are not covered by the 2015 Amendments, which exemption granted to casino-facility-related signage.



SIZE & STYLE: Given the City of Schenectady’s goals for its mixed-used waterfront district, how much leeway should Mohawk Harbor’s owners have when it comes to the size and design of its freestanding roadside signs?

Here’s how Mohawk Harbor describes itself on the homepage of its website:

Mohawk Harbor is a 60 acre master planned community that integrates luxury living, high-tech offices, restaurants and retail along one mile of the Mohawk River. When complete, Mohawk Harbor will consist of over 1 million sf including 206 apartments, 50 condominiums, 15 townhouses, 2 hotels, 100,000 square feet of harborside retail/dining, 74,025 SF of Class A Office space, and  one of New York State’s 1st licensed casinos, Rivers Casino & Resort.

And, River House, the residential element of the project, is said to offer, “a new style of living in the Capital Region with its a one-of-a-kind, resort-style residences. ” And,

 Situated along the new “Mohawk Harbor”, the Riverhouse provides a unique urban lifestyle that is one-of-a-kind in Upstate New York. Featuring 206 waterfront apartments that overlook the Harbor, it provides the perfect balance of serenity and vitality with its scenic river and mountain views in combination with the vibrant energy of downtown Schenectady


MHpylonrequest . . . close to River House and future homes

MHpylonsketchAug2017 Given its stated aspirations and pretensions, it is difficult to understand why Maxon Alco Holdings LLC would want to put what is basically a “shopping center” pylon on Erie Boulevard as its branding sign, with twenty-two internally lighted tenant signs shown in the sketch submitted to the Planning Commission. The following collage (click on it for a larger version) asks: If Mohawk Harbor is an upscale, mixed-use “neighborhood”, why does it need a mall-style pylon with tenant signs and large LED screens?


Of course, such things are a matter of taste, but in my experience, it seems that the most “tasteful” shopping plazas and galleries, and mixed-use developments (such as Wisconsin Place, in Chevy Chase, MD, a couple blocks from District of Columbia’s northwest border) do not place tall tenant signs, much less huge LED screens, along their entrances. A kiosk inside the complex is far more palatable.

miSciPylon How large does an effective Branding Sign have to be, especially for a destination-establishment that constantly receives boatloads of free media exposure, for the entire complex and for each new “tenant” business? MiSci, the Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science, gets far less publicity, but its branding pylon sign on Nott Terrace seems to do the job well, at 12′ W and 10′ H, with an LED screen about 9′ W and 3.5′ tall. See the image at the right. The following collage shows what a Mohawk Harbor sign of the same size might look like at miSci’s Nott Terrace location, and what it would be like at the 32′ by 14′ dimensions requested the the Applicant, including a 12′ by 6′ LED screen. [click on the collage for a larger version]


Similar questions need to be asked about the appropriate size of the monument sign at the entryway to Mohawk Harbor. Just a block to the east, on Nott Street, the Golub Corporation has its headquarters, for its Price Chopper and Market 32 chains of supermarkets, in a building developed and owned by the Galesi Group. As you the see in the next collage, it does rather well making itself known to passersby with a freestanding branding sign no larger than 8′ H by 18′ W.


The desire of Mssrs. Galesi and Buicko to block the view of STS Steel is silly and inappropriate, and the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals should say so, especially given the brazenly excessive application for a monument sign that would be 40′ W and 10′ tall. For many of us, the STS Steel factory and complex is at least as attractive as most of Mohawk Harbor (especially its boringly ugly Rivers Casino neighbor), and symbolizes much of what was best in Schenectady’s history and desired for its future. The Planning Commission cannot simply trust the taste and good intentions of the Applicant. It must do its job, along with BZA, to assure that the size and design of Mohawk Harbor is consistent with the goals of the C-3 district, and the best interests of our entire community. That includes people who will soon be living at Mohawk Harbor or across the Boulevard in new homes, and those investors the City hopes to entice to take a chance on new businesses across from Mohawk Harbor.

One final thought: We are well past the time when the Galesi Group or Rush Street Gaming can be allowed to rush applications past our City officials and boards with exaggerated deadline claims. The Planning Commission, and then the Board of Zoning Appeals, must demand detailed descriptions and renderings of the proposed signs, especially the pylon that will be tall, very close to Erie Boulevard, and topped by a frequently-changing, high-intensity, LED screen. Crucially needed is a precise description and depiction of the location of the pylon and its orientation to the road and to residences in Mohawk Harbor. [Please see our discussion of safety issues relating to the use of electronic message displays along urban roadways at]