Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty

 . .

. . above: Lady Liberty and Mary Wallinger in silhouette during Plaza Tour . .

Mary Moore Wallinger

 This past Thursday, May 16, 2019, the group LocalXDesign sponsored a  Public Tour of Gateway Plaza in Schenectady, led by Mary Moore Wallinger, the chief designer and construction administrator for the Plaza, and the Chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission. The public was invited to “Come and learn how the design evolved from concept to reality!”

Although very curious about the devolution of several important aspects of the Park/Plaza from the approved Implementation Plan (see our pre-Tour “plans evolve” post), the author of this posting decided to have a low-key display of protest, rather than shadowing Ms. Wallinger to pepper her with questions during the Tour.  We therefore headed to the “central sculpture and seating display” at the upper, urban plaza portion of the Park, the approximate original location of Lady Liberty from 1950 to 2017.

. . .  

. . above: images during the Tour at the “central sculpture display”; its base is still empty and could readily become the re-location/return spot for Lady Liberty, pleasing many residents and visitors, and saving the expense of purchasing a new sculpture . . 

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Nonetheless, I did hear two relevant comments by Ms. Wallinger, one prior to and one after moving to the upper portion of the Plaza. Here are the two telling remarks by Ms. Wallinger:

  1. The Beer-Drinker Anecdote. Mary, early in her Tour presentation, told her audience just how dreadfully designed, over-vegetated and unsafe Liberty Park had been prior to its reconstruction [click on image to the right for photos taken September 2016, before the reconstruction started]. It seems that in 2015, Mary was at the old Park, taking photographs, when an apparently inebriated beer-drinker rose up from the vegetation to ask what she was doing. She told him she was the designer of the new Plaza, and he said he liked the privacy of all the bushes and trees. The beer-drinker then asked if he could make some recommendations. Mary’s reply was: No, we already have an approved Plan, so we can’t make changes. [paraphrased] Ms. Wallinger did not seem to see the irony of that statement, at least from the perspective of those protesting her significant changes to the approved Plan. ……………………………………………………….
  2. The REPLICA EXCUSE: When the Tour group was approaching the upper plaza, someone must have asked Ms. Wallinger about the protestors or the missing Lady Liberty, or she simply felt the need to comment. I heard Mary speak dismissively of significance of any dissent to her change in the Plan. Then, to justify the absence of the Statue, Mary added what was to me a new excuse for the exile of Lady Liberty. To paraphrase her explanation:

This Plaza is meant to welcome people to Schenectady and to symbolize its future. As a replica, the Statue of Lady Liberty is not an appropriate sculpture, given the location and purpose. The piece should be something original.

 

. . see #6 in Plan Legend, “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica”. . 

 Of course, I am not a certified urban planner, nor an architect or landscaper. But, I do wonder whether this No Replica Principle is widely accepted within the professional planning and design community, much less that it has been embraced by the American public. Our Lady Liberty Replica was known to be a replica, and called a replica, at the time Ms. Wallinger and her colleagues placed her in sketches, legends and renderings of the proposed Gateway Plaza. (for example, see image above this paragraph, and detail at left). This is surely not a situation where someone might confuse Schenectady’s 110″-high replica with the original Statue of Liberty. Like an adolescent who keeps adding (weak) explanations and excuses to justify a misdeed, Ms. Wallinger become less and less credible and trustworthy with each excuse.

By The Way, as for authenticity:

  • A rendering of the proposed Pedestrian Walkway used in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (and in prior drafts) shows what I assume is a replica of Venus de Milo, and not the original in Gateway Plaza. (See detail to Left.)
  • More apt, Mary Wallinger is the designer who waxed poetic about the symbolism and “story” to be told by a proposed Wind Turbine sculpture to be used at the Central Focal Point of Gateway Plaza – a reference to our historic technological innovations, future accomplishments, and ecological aspirations. Instead, with no chance for public input, she gave us as “modern urban sculpture”, three Cor-ten, fast-rusting, off-the-shelf pillars/girders, which do not seem to tell a story, but (intentionally or not) many folks in Schenectady believe may have been part of the destroyed World Trade Center towers. (see our post “pillaried at the Plaza“)

  

. . above: Tour group at the Plaza’s  “urban sculpture” focal point . . 

CRITERIA for CHANGING APPROVED PLAN? Of course, the biggest absence to date in the “explanations” from Mary Moore Wallinger, as both a prolific designer and Chair of the City Planning Commission, is any acknowledgement that there is a difference between plans changing from earliest concepts through drafts, steering committee sessions, and public workshops, and changes after official resolution and approval of a Final Plan by the City Council and Mayor.

By The Way, Resolution No. 2013-206, approved by City Council on Aug. 12, 2013 (and by the Mayor Aug. 14, 2013), stated (emphases added):

WHEREAS, three public meetings of this plan and a public presentation to the City Council have been held, and changes to the plan were made based on comments received:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT

RESOLVED, that the City of Schenectady adopts, as an official document, the “Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan”.

 Moreover, there is no indication from Mary Wallinger as designer or as Planning Chair, as to what the standard should be for changing a significant aspect of a “Final Plan” adopted after the formal planning process is completed. We also wonder what role renderings are meant to play that are submitted during the planning process and as part of a final draft. From years of observation, such changes are “justified” by citing engineering reports that claim serious safety or financial difficulties, necessitating varying from an approved plan; changes in a designer’s stylistic preferences do not warrant such changes.

  • Procedure for Alterations? Another important question, of course, is what the procedure should be for making any such changes after an implementation plan has final City approval. For example, what is the role of the “construction administrator”, Planning Department, Mayor, and/or City Council? What process is appropriate when there are no deadline pressures?

One More (Major) Irony: Before I list the excuses given by Mary Wallinger for her refusal to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park, there is one major ironic coincidence to mention about last week’s Tour of Gateway Plaza:  The Grand Opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum took place earlier that very day on Liberty Island. That’s right, despite claims to the contrary, Lady Liberty is so relevant to present-day America and its future, that $100 million was spent to create this museum that explores and celebrates the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. See “What does Lady Liberty stand for? A look at changing attitudes” (Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2019, by Harry Bruinius)

  • “Liberty Enlightening the World”. By the way, our Mayor and Planning Chair are quite enamored with the notion of a Renaissance in Schenectady. They could do worse than remembering that, beyond craft beer, revolving restaurants, and the casino of their “renaissance”, our City could use more stress on culture and Enlightenment. The Liberty Statue in New York Harbor was named “Liberty Enlightening the World” by its creator. One commentator had this to say in contrasting Renaissance and Enlightenment political philosophy:

The political philosophy of the Enlightenment is the unambiguous antecedent of modern Western liberalism: secular, pluralistic, rule-of-law-based, with an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. Note that none of this was really present in the Renaissance, when it was still widely assumed that kings were essentially ordained by God, that monarchy was the natural order of things and that monarchs were not subject to the laws of ordinary men, and that the ruled were not citizens but subjects.

.  . . It was the Enlightenment, and thinkers who embodied its ideas, like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, who were the intellectual force behind the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and who really inspired the ideas behind the great political documents of the age like the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

In this context, Lady Liberty seems, to most of us, an excellent symbol and reminder of our past, and bridge from our present to our future.

WHY EXILE LADY LIBERTY from HER PARK?

Below are the reasons that Mary Moore Wallinger has given for her feigned change of heart in refusing to return the Replica of Lady Liberty to the expanded Liberty Park, a/k/a Gateway Plaza. Many of us believe that none of these excuses would have been accepted — and most would have been ridiculed, or at least soundly defeated on the merits — during the actual planning process for Gateway Plaza. That might be why Ms. Wallinger never raised them at the time.

 . . too small? of course not.

  • The STATUE IS TOO SMALL, so that the Statue would be overwhelmed in the big Plaza.  [Response: Not in the scale rendering done for the Implementation Plan (see detail at right). In addition, Lawrence the Indian is almost three feet shorter and commands his Circle, as is Thomas Edison down at Erie Blvd. and S. Ferry. An experienced landscaper should be able to create a niche for the Lady somewhere at this large Plaza, honoring Her, without creating a space that is too-enclosed for safety.]
  • PLANS CHANGE“: In defending her wish to keep Lady Liberty out of the new Plaza and to send Her to Steinmetz Park instead, Mary told the City Council Meeting of March 26, 2018 that “Plans change,” giving the example that the design team had originally planned to have a road going through the Park. As discussed above, this justification for failing to return Lady Liberty ignores the distinction between the many stages of the planning process and the decision to change, without public input or return to City Council, a major aspect of a Final Plan that has been through public workshops and approval by the City Council. Neither Mary nor the Mayor claimed any safety or engineering issues for not returning Lady Liberty. (The presentations “from the floor” to the March 26, 2018 City Council Meeting are discussed more fully in the posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless“.)
  • NOT SIGNIFICANT PART of the PLAZA PLAN
    • [Response: Mary is confusing square footage with significance, and overlooking the clearly stated preference of the public for the Lady’s return. Returning Lady Liberty was fully supported by all commenters in the Public Workshop. As the Gazette reporter who attended the Public Workshops wrote on June 13, 2013: “Residents . . expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty. The Lady Liberty replica 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.”]
    • Wallinger also told City Council that only a few members of the public took part in the Public Workshops, which she noted were held because the State requires them when funding is requested. [Response: This is, for many obvious reasons, a scary argument for the Chair of our Planning Commission to make.]
  • GPPlanCover

    Cover of Final Plan

     NOT IN THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Ms. Wallinger noted in passing to City Council that Lady Liberty was not mentioned in the Executive Summary of the Final Implementation Plan. Given placement of Lady Liberty in renderings submitted with the Final Plan, and on the Cover of the Final Plan (see annotated image at left), and explicit discussion of the Return in the public workshop, leaving Her out of the Executive Summary looks like an intentional action, meant to foreshadow the future exile of Lady Liberty.

  • Goose Hill Petition

    NEGLECTED FOR FIVE YEARS in STORAGE. Mary Wallinger did not make this argument directly, but she let her friends and allies on Goose Hill make the argument in March 2018, and put it in their petition to City Council and the Mayor, seeking to have Lady Liberty sent to Steinmetz Park for a Veterans Memorial. Wallinger never corrected this misinformation, and did not advise City Council of the erroneous claim. As administrator of the construction plan at Gateway Plaza, Ms. Wallinger was well aware that Lady Liberty was not removed from Liberty Park until August 2017, and only to protect the statue during construction.

  • NOT CONTEMPORARY ENOUGH to fit in with the intended style of the new Plaza, which she insists is meant to “celebrate the future” of Schenectady. [Response: (1) That formulation truncates the original goal written by Wallinger in the Implementation Plan: the Plaza will “celebrate the past, present, and future” of Schenectady. And, (2) One is hard-pressed to find a “style” of design at the Plaza, and the well-known and loved appearance of Lady Liberty might take the edge off the mood set by rusty girders and light-sabers. In general, urban design that tries to seem contemporary often seems merely “temporary” and quickly dated.]
  • “SHE’D LOOK LIKE SHE’s CATCHING a BUS”. [Response: This flippant remark to a reporter is from the designer/planner who chose the relocation spot for Lady Liberty next to the bus stop, and (see image to right) insisted the Statue would seem grander there and have more exposure. At this website, we worried that CDTA buses would line up blocking out the view of Lady Liberty from State Street much of the day — another reason to return Her to her original location in the Park, now called the Central Sculpture Area].
  • The STATUE is VERY DAMAGED, VERY EXPENSIVE to REPAIR. [Response: This damage and expense were not mentioned until months after the decision to send the Lady elsewhere was made (she looked pretty good next to Director of Planning Diotte, in photo to left). Also, there has been no description of the damage, or apparent action to get an estimate, much less get it repaired and back in public view.  Some of the expense should have been part of the original Plaza budget, since the statue and base would have been slated for a least refurbishing, if Ms. Wallinger ever planned to return the Lady to Liberty Park. Also, the money saved by not buying a new sculpture for the Main Sculpture location should go toward any needed repair, followed by placing Lady Liberty at the main sculpture spot, approximating her original location.
  • IT’s THE MAYOR’s DECISION, Not MINE: [Response: Of course, the Mayor (or a City Council with backbone, or a court) can try to settle this, but there is no doubt that it was Mary Moore Wallinger who has spearheaded the notion of not returning the Lady. Mary’s failure to take responsibility suggests how weak the many arguments are underpinning her subjective desire to exile the Lady for Wallinger Plaza, and echoes her complaint to me that I was making her look like the “bad guy”. On the other hand, there is little doubt that Mary Wallinger, as the Mayor’s “Design Team” and his partner moving projects through the Planning Commission, could successfully lobby the Mayor to follow the approved Implementation Plan and return the Lady to Her Home, Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza.]
  • IT’S A REPLICA: [scroll back up this posting for commentary on this sad excuse for an excuse.]

A Final Thought: The UTICA EXAMPLE:

    . .  

. . above: [L] Schenectady’s Liberty Replica in warehouse storage room since August 2017; [R] Utica’s Liberty Replica in a workshop where She was fully restored, June 2017  

Our neighboring upstate City, Utica, New York, also received a replica of Lady Liberty in 1950, thanks to their local Boy Scouts. It is apparently two feet shorter than Schenectady’s and had deteriorated badly. Nonetheless, thoughtful people of Utica decided to pay for a complete restoration of their Liberty Replica (with donations to cover the $10,000 expense), to reestablish its grand presence on their Monument Parkway. See the May 17, 2017 Newsletter of the Central New York Conservancy.

 . .

. . above: Utica’s Lady Liberty at Monument Park [L] before and [R] after the restoration by Michael H. Mancini, MHM, Inc., of St. Johnsville . . 

  • Thank you for the heads-up from Gerald Plante, who featured Utica’s Lady Liberty replica at his Facebook Page, where he advocates for the return of Schenectady’s Lady.

ll-locationcompare . . mistreated

slots still the only bright spot for Rivers Casino gambling

 Slots play continues to be the only form of casino gambling that is increasing at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino since its first year of operation. Table game and Poker Table play are down. According to the Rivers Casino Monthly Reports submitted to the NYS Gaming Commission,

for the first four months of 2019:

  • Total Gross Gambling Revenue [GGR] was $53,686,129, up $2,925,831 from the first four months of 2018
  • SLOTS/ETG play was $37,627,968, up $3,686,342 from first four months of 2018
 As with the 2nd Full Year of Rivers Casino revenue, the increase in Slots gambling from January through April 2019 was greater than the total increase in GGR at the Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Members of the community who worry about Problem Gambling and its effects on the gambler, and his or her family, friends, job, and on the community, are concerned, because Slots is the most addictive form of casino gambling.
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AddictionByDesign-Schüll-Cover
Is this “slotsification on the Mohawk”, simultaneous with a reduction at the same location of table game and poker play, evidence of growing slots addiction in the mostly-local customer base of Rivers Casino? Perhaps the survey that the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services plans to start in January 2020, may give some answers.  See “Does New York have a gambling problem? Survey hopes to find out” (The Buffalo News, by Tom Precious, May 16, 2019) According to the Buffalo News:
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Bids for the gambling survey are due back to the agency on June 5. The group or firm selected will conduct surveys, in English and Spanish, of 5,000 adults broken down into specific regions of the state. Interviews will be conducted over five months beginning in January and a draft report on the findings is due in August 2020.
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As we have argued here often, proximity to casinos increases the prevalence of problem gambling, and we need to focus far more resources at preventing problem gambling, not merely treating it once its damage is apparent. See our post, “Slots and problem gambling prevention” (March 27, 2019) for discussion and suggestions.
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  • PeopleCounter Meanwhile, it appears that Rivers Casino has not yet publicly reported the number of its Visitors in 2018. Last year, they reported the prior year’s Visitation numbers in the first week of February. Rush Street is always happy to broadcast good news. If there were fewer Visitors at Rivers Casino in 2018, slots players with problem gambling issues may indeed be gambling more.

at Gateway-Liberty Plaza “plans evolve”

. . above: Liberty/Gateway Plaza on May 15, 2019; Lady Liberty still in exile

Plan rendering detail with Lady Liberty back

 This evening (May 16, 2019, at 6 PM), landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission and primary author of the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, is leading a Public Tour of Gateway Plaza. We are invited to “Come And Learn How The Design Evolved From Concept To Reality!” Naturally, I am quite curious to learn how the Implementation Plan has “evolved” since its approval by the Schenectady City Council in 2013. That approved Plan had Lady Liberty returning after construction; with a central focal point sculpture of a Wind Turbine; and attractive lamp-posts on the new pedestrian way. The current, “final” form of the new Plaza is rather different.

 

img_8575

Please stop by the former site of Lady Liberty this evening (Thursday, May 16, 2019), just before 6 PM, to join a friendly “rally for Lady Liberty“, similar to one we had last September. [see photo at right]

The Plaza has also, somehow, been renamed without the public having a chance to comment on losing the name Liberty Park. [see our posting “The name is Liberty Park”]

 In addition, the Plaza is about to have a new installation celebrating the LGBT movement, sponsored by Schenectady PRIDE, and located approximately where the Original Implementation Plan called for Lady Liberty’s re-location. See Schenectady’s Gateway design celebrates diversity but missing Lady Liberty” (by Paul Nelson, May 15, 2019); and  “Gateway Plaza installation in Schenectady taking shape: Construction likely to begin this week” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, May 16, 2019). The PRIDE cause deserves a place at the New Plaza; however, as the editor of this site said last November: “In my opinion, Schenectady PRIDE and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising deserve a much better design,” and, a process more in tune with good government. 

As for Lady Liberty, today’s Gazette article explains:

ll-locationcompareThe new installation comes as some residents are pining for the return of another piece of public art, a Statue of Liberty replica statue erected in 1950, but removed in 2017 as part of park improvements.

Since then, residents have jockeyed over where “Lady Liberty” should be relocated once retrieved from storage.

“Ultimately, the decision is not mine,” Wallinger said. “It’s up to the mayor to decide where it will go.

“It needs some work. It needs money and it needs some restoration.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy didn’t return a request for comment.

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AND, see our follow-upWallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty” (May 20, 2019),with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/WallingerExcuses

a bargeful of yellow bollards on the Mohawk

. . but, first, a Mother’s Day Bouquet for Mama G. :

2 of 180

 A Conversation We Might Have Over-Heard at Mohawk Harbor on Mother’s Day:

Q: “What are all those big yellow things called, Son?”  A: “Bollards, Mom.”

Q: “Why are there so many and why are they so tall?” A: “Only God, Ray Gillen, and maybe Mayor McCarthy, know”.

Q: “Weren’t they supposed to make Mohawk Harbor and the Casino a classy, attractive destination?” A: “That’s what they promised.”

Q: “Then, how the heck did all those yellow bollards get here?”

“They” — the Developer Galesi Group, Casino Owner Rush Street Gaming, the Planning Commission, Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Hall in general, Ray Gillen and Metroplex, and County government — could have and should have made this crucial project more attractive, to help bring in tourists and repeat business, and for the sake of residents who deserve a beautiful harbor district. Instead, there are, by my recent count, at least 180 bright yellow bollards (that is,15 dozen) surrounding Rivers Casino and detracting from its attractiveness.

The bollards are, in addition, taller than the average bollard (which is 3.5 ft., and not 4′, 5′ and 6′, as at Mohawk Harbor), increasing their visual impact.[see photo above] In the opinion of many folks in Schenectady, parking areas and pedestrian walkways should not be this pedestrian.

  • The Sentries assigned to protect Schenectady from harmful outsiders went on the day of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre instead went off to a Mill Lane pub for some brew, leaving behind snowmen and open stockade gates to greet French and Indian marauders from Canada. Sadly, it seems, weaponless and voiceless Snowmen have been appointed or hired to oversee design and implementation of Schenectady’s most important development of this Century. They’ve permitted a bumper crop of bright yellow bollards to sprout along Mohawk Harbor. For my taste, if they had spawned at least a few snowman-shaped bollards, we would have been better off.

You can see the results of the City’s planning and oversight omissions for yourself with a quick look at the next two collages; one shows bollards at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on the west side of the facility [L], and the other shows bollards along the east end and rear of the Casino complex [R].

 

 

 

 

. . click on either collage, or any image in this posting, for a larger version . 

What Is a Bollard and What Do They DO?

 A bollard is a sturdy, short, vertical post. The term originally referred to a post on a ship, wharf or dock used principally for mooring boats, but is now also used to refer to posts installed to control road traffic and posts designed to provide security and prevent ramming attacks, as well as provide a theme or sense of place. [see Wikipedia; Reliance Foundry; TrafficGuard.]

Bollards are available in many different sizes and styles, including removable or fixed versions, designed to evoke virtually any era or taste. The type chosen depends on the purpose of the bollard, and the location. For example, Reliance Foundry displays illustrations, specs, and prices for 143 bollard models at its website, including bollard covers in many styles and choice of materials. And, see: its Pinterest Creative Bollards display. Bollards can be serious or stately, artsy or whimsical. The style or mood can even be mixed on the same site or project.

 Bollards are not, therefore, merely practical, and definitely do not have to detract from a landscape or streetscape. Reliance Foundry notes that “Bollards enhance the visual quality of buildings and landscapes while providing visual and physical barriers for safer, more controlled environments.” And, relevant to our discussion of Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino:

 When used to complement new or existing architecture, bollards can create or reinforce thematic visual cues and enhance a sense of place within a neighborhood or community—and for approaching visitors. [click the collage at the head of this blurb to see samples of Reliance Foundry bollards] 

Despite the hundreds of bollard styles to choose from, and their coincidental nautical history, tall bollards with bright yellow covers are so ubiquitous on the lawns, parking areas, and walkways of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, that they are the most prominent architectural feature defining the otherwise uninspiring, and unnamable external design of the Casino complex.

Thus, whether you are . . .

. . entering the Rivers Casino parking lot from the west on Front Street:

. . coming from the east on Harbor Way:

. . . visiting next-door at STS Steel:

. . driving over the Mohawk from Glenville on Freeman’s Bridge:

 . . .

. . aboard your yacht on the Mohawk River:

 . . .

. . entering the ALCO Trail on foot from the west:

. . or, even checking out the ALCO Trail signage from your bike:

your first and subsequent views of the site at Rivers Casino are highly likely to be populated by an inert army of tall, bright yellow bollards.

WE DESERVED BETTER

In the posting “Why does Rush Street give Schenectady its scraps” (June 19, 2015), we pointed to the image created by the Applicants before the Location Board, when they sought a gaming license from New York State, and noted our disappointment in the eventual design of Rivers Casino:

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

Why did we get such a disappointing, second-rate design? I got no reply when I emailed the Schenectady Planning Office and City Engineer, on April 15, 2019 and asked, regarding the yellow bollards:

  1. Did the Applicant designate the color, style and size for its bollards for its Site Plan review? 
  2. Did the Commission either approve or direct such bright yellow bollards?
  3. Did Staff review this choice and okay it?

That leaves me to speculate on my own. In our June 15, 2017 “scraps” posting, we stated:

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

In their Casino License Application, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group were required to submit detailed renderings and sketches of the proposed Casino project. For example, the July 2014 Application included an overview sketch with the detail at the right of their west parking lot, the largest ground-level parking area.  [full sketch] There are well over 100 trees in the west parking lot in the submitted sketch. That presentation shows that the Applicants/Developer/Owners knew what a parking lot meant to attract and keep tourists and other customers should look like. If nothing else, the image should also have reminded the Planning Commission and planning staff what their goal should be regarding the landscaping and appearance of this prime location. Unfortunately, the public and perhaps also the Planning Commission never again saw such detailed proposals for the casino compound.

  • from 2nd Casino Design

    from 2nd Casino Design

    The limited 2nd design images submitted for public review of the Casino compound did not include the full parking lot, but still seemed to have quite a few trees. [See the image to the left.] The third design submitted to the public only revealed a tiny part of the front and back of the Casino, giving no parking lot views. Of course, nothing prevented, and their duty demanded, that the Planning Commission require more detail and allow more public comment; more important, their duty demanded the construction of far more attractive parking lots, especially given how much of the total footprint of the Casino Compound and Mohawk Harbor they would consume.

The the next four images below show the actual west parking lot, with its mere handful of trees along the rows. Click on a photo for a larger version.

IMG_9158 . . IMG_9150-001

. . photos taken, Nov. 4, 2018 [above] and May 4, 2019 [below] . . 

. .

You have to wonder: “What happened to all those trees?” Indeed, the Minutes of the July 22, 2015 Commission Meeting, which included the Casino Site Plan Review, have Commission Member (now Chair) Mary Moore Wallinger noting (at 5):

[T]hat she very much appreciates the detailed planting plan and that she feels that the applicants listened to the feedback from the Commission regarding the landscaping and pedestrian walkways and took it into account when revising the design.

What could Ms. Wallinger, a leading Schenectady landscape architect and designer of major municipal projects in the City and County, have meant, if the result is a swarm of yellow bollards that would seem to be the antithesis of good landscaping and site planning at an “international tourist destination” and unique, new, upscale neighborhood? The beauty and shade added by robust and numerous trees in a parking lot are, of course, much appreciated by urban designers, and by passersby, drivers, and passengers coming from near and far.

  • BTW: I recall being in the Commission hearing room when, at one point in the process, Ms. Wallinger spent a lot of time worrying with the applicant over the size of the parking lot tree beds. Did she have any follow-up with the Planning Office staff on this issue?

Throughout the Casino design and site plan approval process, this website and local media complained that the public and the Planning Commission were receiving far fewer and far less specific details about how the casino site would look as proposed by the developers than we would expect in even the most insignificant project. We were shown only incomplete “peeks” at segments of the proposed plans, often with sketches and not complete renderings, and the Commission never demanded more, despite the importance of this project and its clear authority to require more. Instead, phony deadline pressure arguments from the Applicants were accepted without complaint, and last-minute incomplete submissions were accepted. For example, see the limited-view renderings submitted for the rear (river-side) of the Casino and its Hotel on the Right for the 2nd Rivers Casino Design, and immediately below for the 3rd design.

 . . .  

By the way, despite their prominence on the actual constructed site, there are no yellow bollards in sight in either version of the rear of the Casino complex.

How could this happen at a project hailed so often as Schenectady’s premiere new, upscale location, and hope for its future? The City’s Planning Commission purportedly gave the Casino and Mohawk Harbor a full Site Plan Review (see our disappointed coverage). Site Plan review is not merely meant to make sure that all zoning laws have been followed. As we explained during the Site Plan process for the Casino complex in July 2015:

“[T]he commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.” [Gazette article citing Corporation Council Carl Falotico, Feb. 3, 2015.]

Also, see the section “What a site plan accomplishes” in the “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW”, by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, at 19.

    • By the way, at the end of the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, chair Sharron Coppola announced it would be her last meeting as chair, and that she would be resigning her position as Planning Commissioner. I certainly wish Ms. Coppola had written a Memoir of her time at the Commission, including the entire Harbor District zoning and Casino site planning experience.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS?

NotYellow-OrthoNY

at OrthoNY Liberty Street

Some of the most imaginative people I know have not been able to figure out or conjure up a justification for the excessive and near-exclusive use of bright yellow bollards at Rivers Casino Schenectady. In addition, in none of my readings have I found any indication that bollards need to be bright yellow in order to effectively serve their functions. My inquiry to City Engineer Chris Wallin about requirements that bollards by yellow in certain situations never got a reply. (Of course, in a location where one might not expect to find the protected item, a bright color to signal its existence does make sense, but that issue does not seem to warrant the ubiquitous choice of bright yellow at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.)

A Schenectady Tradition? No, it isn’t, despite their use to protect utility cabinets at recent projects downtown. City Hall, County, civic and business leaders are surely aware that there are other kinds of affordable and more attractive bollards, or similar security measures or screens available. A short outing around Downtown Schenectady should suffice to prove that proposition; here’s the result of my recent bollard tour:

at S. Church & State St. . .

Also, the first tenant at Mohawk Harbor, Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, did a nice job looking like a tasteful place to stay, without using even one yellow bollard to protect the building and utility units. Here are a couple of sample views of the Hotel; for more, click on the Collage Thumbnail to the head of this paragraph.

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Unfortunately, Marriott’s example did not rub off across its driveway at Galesi’s Harborway Drive office-retail buildings.

A Rush Street Gaming Branding Tool or Trademark? And, No, bright yellow bollards are not a design theme uniting all Rush Street Gaming properties. The collage below (on L) has images compiled from an extensive on-line Google Street Map tour of the exterior of Rivers Casino at DesPlaines, Illinois, which has a design similar in many ways to Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, but without yellow bollards. Similarly, the collage on the Right shows exterior scenes from Rush Street’s Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, where yellow bollards are also absent and do not appear to be a design element for exterior spaces. Similarly, Google Images we located of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh contain no yellow bollards.

SugarHouse-NoYellowBollards

Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming and their development partner Galesi Group used not-yellow bollards and non-bollard alternative devices in strategic spots at and near Rivers Casino. Click on this Collage:

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A few years ago, we documented at this website how much better Rush Street Gaming has treated the cities that host its other casinos or potential sites than how it treats Schenectady [see, e.g., Rush Street Giveaways, and Money on the Table]. So, it is not surprising that we have not been able to find similar aggregations of bright yellow (or even similarly unsubtle or unsightly) bollards at other Rush Street casinos.

at Waterfront Condominiums, Mohawk Harbor

Finally, Is Bright Yellow a Galesi Group Trademark or Branding Tool? Despite a minor outbreak of similar bollards at the Galesi-built and owned Price Chopper/Golub headquarters (example), there does not seem to be any internal imperative for yellow bollards within the Galesi Group.  Indeed, we see a far more tasteful/tolerable (and less conspicuous) set of bollards at the eastern end of Mohawk Harbor, performing protection service for utility cabinets and similar objects at Galesi’s high-end Waterfront Condominiums [asking price, $500,000 to $700,000]. There’s not a yellow bollard in sight on site.

  

Like the westside of Mohawk Harbor, the eastside (between Harborside Drive and Erie Boulevard), sits on the banks of the Mohawk River, has a bike-pedestrian path running through it, and features ALCO Heritage signage sponsored by Schenectady County.  Both ends of Mohawk Harbor sit within the City of Schenectady, with site plans reviewed by its Planning Commission. And, both ends were proudly godfathered/mid-wived by Ray Gillen of Metroplex. Why such a visually-different result?

. . Mohawk Harbor riverbank bollards: [above] at Rivers Casino; [below] at Waterfront Condominiums . .

  • Discount Bollards? Did a literal bargeful of yellow bollards or bollard covers show up at Mohawk Harbor or another Schenectady County location with great price breaks for buying them in bulk? What amount of savings could compensate for their lack of aesthetic virtue?
  • Peoples’ Choice? I know that taste can be very subjective, and that some “leaders” want to force constituents out of their confined preferences, but I believe that the great majority of Schenectady area residents, if asked the question directly with photos, would strongly prefer non-yellow bollards.

As with the failure of our Mayor to demand financial, employment, purchasing benefits, etc., in a host community agreement, it appears that our City Hall and its appointed Civil Snowmen neither demanded attractive landscaping and protective installations around the Casino, nor required that the developers fulfill any specific promise they may have made in the site plan process.

  • The collage to the Right gives a stark example of Galesi Group promises in a site plan meeting that were apparently later ignored by the developer and by any enforcement officials reviewing the execution of a Mohawk Harbor project. According to June 17, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting Minutes, during review of the Site Plan for what would become the 220 Harborside Drive office and retail building, project engineer Dan Hershberg:
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    [E]xplained that because there is underground parking beneath the parking lot, landscaping option are more limited in this space.He stated that large planters are proposed for the islands in the parking lot, and that they will be cast in concrete on site and will be quite substantial in size. He added that they are proposing to add trees to the site wherever possible, but there are some spots where easements are located which will be planted with more seasonal, less permanent options. [emphasis added]
    .

    There are, as you can see in the collage above, no islands, no planters, and no trees. Who in our City government is responsible to follow-up on such matters?

Why is this Bargeful of Bollards Story Important? It is a prime, very visible example of The Snowman Effect: The inadequate protection of the public interest in Schenectady, due to the appointment and retention at City Hall by Mayor Gary McCarthy of subservient, ineffectual or disinterested public servants (with dismissal of those who do not cooperate), resulting in both rushed, superficial review of submissions from favored applicants, and lax follow-up and enforcement of City Code provisions and applicant promises. [as symbolically depicted here] It has meant, in the Casino Design and Yellow Bollards context, suffering a less attractive and less successful Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and in other contexts, such as the ALCO Bike-Pedestrian pathway, a less safe Mohawk Harbor for those who visit and use the facilities (see this and that).

For more on the Snowman Effect, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on the Planning Commission“. For an explanation of the Snowmen Metaphor, see our posting “have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?”; for examples, some of which are more subtle than others, check our postings in the Snowmen Effect Category.

The unspoken attitude of our Mayor and the Metroplex Chair seems to be that Schenectady is the old Mohawk term for “Second-Rate-City“. Consequently, they have failed to demand, or at the least strenuously bargain for, the best for our City from Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. The result is a tremendous lost opportunity for Schenectady to truly shine and succeed at our only remaining riverbank land suitable for commercial development and public recreation.  The bollard crop along the Mohawk also suggests that Schenectady’s Snowmen/women are not merely on the Boards that review projects, but also in the offices that are supposed to see that reviewed plans are implemented as approved or as promised by an applicant. The situation with readily visible aspects of Mohawk Harbor also makes us wonder what is going on with items that are not readily seen by the public (such as the “shoddy work” recently alleged at a Harborside Drive building).

Having beget a “bummer” crop of bright, yellow, too-tall* bollards, the same municipal officials now stand as mute as snowmen when Rivers Casino complains that it is losing business because of an unfair tax structure compared to its competitors, and seeks tax breaks that would cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue. See “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”] Leaders and residents should instead point out that one very big reason Rivers Casino finds it hard to compete is that they have built a homely, mediocre, regional gambling facility, with the acquiescence and cooperation of City Hall and Metroplex, despite the promise to create an international tourist attraction for Schenectady.

  • Financial Realities. Rush Street does not have to meet its bloated projections for Rivers Casino in Schenectady to prosper on the Mohawk. Failing to attract visitors beyond a small geographic radius, Rivers Casino seems content to focus on: Seeking tax breaks; Slots (the most addictive form of casino gambling) as the focus of its gaming growth; Sports gambling (which might siphon off gambling dollars that are taxed at a much higher rate); and attracting Non-gambling spending at the Casino, which helps the bottomline of Rush Street and its associated enterprises, but reduces gaming tax revenue to the State, County and City, and hurts other local businesses. And, City Hall and The County Building seem content with this situation, continuing to call the Casino their Partner.
  • New Attitude Needed. Schenectady’s government leaders disarmed themselves when dealing with the Casino applicants, giving away leverage that could have assured many additional benefits for the City and County and its residents, like The Giveaways Rush Street has made or promised other prospective casino towns.  They will have few if any comparable opportunities, now that the project design and the zoning changes demanded by the Applicants have been approved. Nevertheless, a new attitude that, at the very least, asserts the position of Senior Partner for local government can hopefully salvage a few benefits, avoid some disadvantages, and help restore some civic pride.

Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell Better Bollards at Rivers Casino?

No one can solve all of the problems that come with having become a Casino Town with Development Groupies at his head. However, the community, with the cooperation of Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, plus Mohawk Harbor’s residents and its business tenants, could perhaps have a little fun and come up with alternatives to the gaudy yellow bollards, and ways to correct the situation.

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CHALLENGE. For example, the folks at Beekman 1802 and the Druthers crew at Mohawk Harbor have both panache and spirit, and might be able to put together a fun rivalry to design better bollards for all or portions of the Casino Compound. Rivers Casino’s “team” members, who have to look at those bollards a lot, might have some great ideas, too, as well as Ellis Medical. The Contest or Challenge to design better bollards might also bring in civic groups.

As we noted and depicted near the top of this posting, with links, there are innumerable styles of bollards and bollard covers commercially available already (for example), and creative minds can envision more. The yellow skin on the Casino bollards at Mohawk Harbor can be lifted or peeled off and replaced with virtually any style cover. The nautical origin of bollards might spark some interesting themes tied to Schenectady’s history. Schenectady deserves better; can do better; and could have a good time finding a solution to our Bummer Crop of Yellow Bollards.

If you’d like to help improve the Rivers Casino bollards, please contact me directly or by leaving a Comment. Or, let the media and City Hall, and Rivers Casino know your feelings. Thank you.


*The folks at Trafficguard.net provide a set of FAQ on bollards, including:

10. How Tall Are Bollards?

Bollards come in a variety of sizes, in order to accommodate being used in different areas and for different purposes. Heights for bollards typically range from 30″ to 48″ tall, with the average height of them being 36″ or three feet tall. Since most vehicles are about 5 feet tall, the height of bollards is effective at stopping them from passing through into restricted areas, and if someone does attempt to bypass a bollard, they will cause significant damage to their vehicle. The width of bollards is what generally makes them stronger, though, not the height. The wider a bollard, the more weight it can withstand. The reason they are not smaller is because at 36″ (or about that tall), they are an effective visual deterrent before ever having to be a physical deterrent.

 

11. What Is a Bollard? One of the most commonly asked questions about bollards is what their purpose is and what they are. A bollard is defined as a short vertical post, originally meant to be used on a ship, but nowadays used to direct or control road traffic. This includes using them to obstruct the passage of motor vehicles, such as outside of store fronts, to separate paved walkways from paved motorways, to block off public parks, etc. Bollards are typically made out of steel, but can sometimes be made out of concrete or other strong materials. They come in a variety of styles and sizes, perfect for accommodating a large number of applications.

Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal

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update (May 14, 2019): Yesterday evening, May 13, 2019, the Schenectady City Council voted 6-1, with only Vince Riggi (Ind.) in opposition, to accept the Memorandum of Understanding with CDTA discussed below, to enter into a three-year contract with the CYCLE! Bike Share system, with a yearly payment of $25,000. City Engineer Chris Wallin was not in attendance and had not provided them with any of the information he had promised about Schenectady’s CYCLE! data, and none of the questions posed below were answered. Nonetheless, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU. Other members admitted ridership needs to increase and hoped it would. Marion Porterfield said that some people in her neighborhood cannot afford to have bikes, so they need the program. (She did not suggest how they could instead afford $5 per hour or a season pass to CYCLE!) Riggi pointed out that there simply was not enough information for him to agree to the MOU.

BikeShareRiversidePkThe only member of the public to speak on the Resolution was David Giacalone, the editor of this website. He said he was often disappointed by how little information this Council demanded before making a decision, and there was not enough now to justify three more years in CYCLE! The information available made it clear the public is not enthusiastic in Schenectady for Bike Share, and that is probably why CDTA was not supplying more data. Giacalone suggested that the Council could better meet the goals of better health and less vehicle congestion by using the $25,000 to purchase 250 bicycles each year that would be distributed by various groups to those most likely to use them. He also said voters should take note of who thinks there have enough information to make a thoughtful decision.

WAMCLogo 

update (May 16, 2019): See Dave Lucas’ piece on WAMC’s Midday Magazine, “Schenectady Bike Share Use Lags Behind Other Capital Region Arms” (May 16, 2019).

 

 

ORIGINAL POSTING

A Gazette article appearing online this evening, Friday May 10, 2019, delves a little deeper than previous reports on the CDTA CYCLE! bike share program and Schenectady’s role. See “Schenectady asked to chip in $75K for bike-sharing program: City has lowest ridership of four cities” (by Pete DeMola, May 10, 2019).  CDTA is asking for $25,000 per year for three years. The Gazette points out that:

Schenectady, home to 13 hubs with nearly 50 bikes, ranks at the bottom of the four-city pack when it comes to total rides over the program’s tenure.

By the close of the second season last year, the city notched 1,370 rides, according to CDTA, or 6 percent of total ridership.

That is 1370 rides for the 8-month season in 2018, which amounts to 171 rides per month starting at a Schenectady “hub” or station (averaging 13 rides per station a month), and 3.5 rides per bike located in Schenectady. Reporter DeMola also notes that “The three-year funding motion passed out of City Development & Planning Committee and heads to the City Council for a full vote on Monday.” That approval came despite a lack of important information, including:

  1. how many people in Schenectady have actually used the program; number of rides only can suggest the maximum users
  2. how many miles were clocked by Schenectady riders
  3. type of usage: are Schenectady riders predominantly commuters (as in Albany) or recreational (as in Saratoga)
  4. what were the figures for each of the 13 stations

This past week, I sent the annotated image of a bike-share bicycle at the top of this posting to several people on the Council and to City Engineer Chris Wallin. My info-image gives stats using a per-year $25,000 payment by the City. The payments would equal over $500 per month for each bike in Schenectady. Using the 1370 riders in 2018, that also means the City is paying over $18 for every ride taken in Schenectady, with riders paying at most $5 per hour. [Note, that CDTA talks of having increased riders in Schenectady in 2019, based on free rides for Union College students and City Hall employees.]

  • the average Schenectady “hub” had one ride every-other day during the 8-month 2018 season.

complaintbillNot only did CDTA not send a representative to present data or answer questions at Monday’s City Council Committees meeting, they apparently did not equip City Engineer Wallin with the necessary information. Wallin, when questioned by Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, said he would let them know how much the three other cities would be paying and the actual ridership in Schenectady. I do not know if he has done that yet. He has not responded to my email asking for such information.

 However, without being asked, Engineer Wallin made the false statement that “Proportionate to our population, we are doing well.” I know City Hall bends over backwards to present favored programs and projects in a positive light, but Schenectady has well over 25% of the population of the four participating cities, and less than 6% of total ridership is not “doing well.” In addition, Chris started by saying there are benefits to the City from this agreement, but then listed only “City workers will ride for free.”

As it has always done, using its huckster persona and touting meeting its own goals, the  CDTA “CYCLE!” bike-share program gave a litany of the benefits from the Bike Share program for the City and its residents. However, pluses such as health benefits and the reduction in vehicle congestion are rather fanciful, if there are very few people in Schenectady using the program.

  • Now that I have seen the released portion of the Schenectady data, I understand just why CDTA has not bothered to respond at all to either of my requests, left on their website form, for the Schenectady figures.
They may feel that it is “only $25,000 per year,” but I believe City Council members and the Mayor should at least negotiate for a better deal. There were only 550 Schenectady rides in the first Season of Bike Share, and two-thirds of them were at one hub. Nonetheless, CDTA went from 7 to 13 “hubs” in Schenectady and increased to “nearly 50” bikes. If Schenectady residents and visitors are not very interested in the Bike Share program, why have 13 stations, especially since some of them apparently have almost no ridership.

sample of WalMart bikes

Few Stations, Lower Fee? For instance, why not go back to 7 stations and fewer bikes, with the City paying perhaps $13,000 to help subsidize the system? Image how many bikes the City could buy outright at retail or wholesale with the $12,000 a year saved, and then use various programs to distribute the bikes to people who would really use them? E.g., have nonprofits, schools or community groups suggest contests or incentives with criteria for giving away some of those bike. Or, expand bike clinics around town.

Have Our Own Bike Share Plan? Moreover, a close cost-benefit analysis, with a realistic projection of types of users and uses, might suggest that Schenectady can do better on its own.

Riverside Park hub

We do and should have a commitment to a more bike-friendly City. In fact, our Master Plan, Bike Schenectady, has a discussion of a bike-share program limited to Schenectady itself. See Appendix C of the Appendix document (at pp. 108-113). The discussion there seems to suggest a far better understanding of our local situation, than the cookie-cutter, constant-expansion approach of CYCLE!. For example, CYCLE! put a station at Union College (Union Street at Nott Terrace), that got virtually no usage in 2017 and was removed in 2018, because Union already had its own free bike program.

Also, they placed a station on the most expensive land and masonry at Riverside Park, its Overlook [see photo at left], without taking into account that the location was meant for quiet and solitude, and that Schenectady’s Zoning Ordinance still bans the use of bikes on any park pedestrian paths, if you are over 10 or not disabled. Bike Schenectady, on the other hand, did not propose a bike share station in Riverside Park for either the initial or expanded version of the program. Click on the following Map of proposed bike share stations in the Bike Schenectady Master Plan:

bikeschdy-bikesharesystemmap

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There is no rush in deciding on the CDTA MOU proposal. CDTA will not run out of CYCLE! money. Why not, especially in an election year, gather needed information and actually discuss the issues? Thoughtful, informative reflection. Nice campaign motto and leadership goal, don’t you thing.
  •  In considering the extent of Schenectady’s participation in Bike Share, another factor to take into account should be the opinion of many residents that the stations are not the least bit attractive and seem to be cluttering or hijacking important locations along our streets.
  • See my posting in July 2017, asking “Is bike-share our newest sacred cow?” discussing these and other issues, with photos of bike share locations in Schenectady.
  • Share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SchdyBikeShare

comments on the Stockade Streetscape Plan

deskdude The Stockade Association’s Infrastructure Committee has put in a lot of work on the Stockade Comprehensive Streetscape Plan – “Streetscape Vision Project“, and I thank all of the members and officers for their efforts. Their accumulation of information on appropriate materials and tree replacements seems quite thorough and gives helpful guidance as we move forward. I offer the thoughts below constructively, and with the knowledge that reasonable minds can differ on goals and strategies, and the hope that differences will be heard (on all sides) with an open mind and without rancor. As always, these are merely “my opinions”, based on my own aesthetic values and experiences, and offered to get others thinking.

No matter whether you agree with my opinions and comments or not, I hope you will let the Association Streetscape Committee know your views. You can share this posting using this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/StreetscapeComments

  • Click here for a copy of the 55-page Streetscape Plan, and here for the 80-page Appendices
  • The Stockade Association [“SA”] asks that comments be submitted by today May 4, 2019, on the Planning4Spaces Survey page. The form is not really a survey, but simply asks “Do you have any comments or questions about the Comprehensive Streetscape Plan?”
  • I apologize for putting up these comments on the last day, and hope that Streetscape Committee chair Suzy Unger will accept you comments even if they are slightly late.

The Literal VISION of the Stockade

When focusing on our Stockade streetscape, I believe is is especially important to reduce Visual Pollution in our lovely neighborhood. That might be especially important at a time when our society is trying to reduce distracted driving and walking, but it is surely a campaign for the ages.  Therefore, I believe that the Stockade Streetscape Plan [“the Plan”] should be explicitly trying to reduce or limit as much as possible, and not support, increased visual clutter, obstructions, and distractions.

DSCF4619 PUBLIC ART.

First, then, I disagree with the recommendation that “Functional features in the street environment, such as sound abatement, retaining walls, and utility boxes can provide opportunities for public art,” no matter who is providing the art or reviewing it.  [click here to see the page in the Plan on Public Art.] Despite the good intentions and talents of the Schenectady Art Society, and no matter how much street scenes in other parts of Schenectady may need to be perked up, our Stockade streetscape does not need and will not be enhanced by covering “empty” spaces with splashes of color and public artistry, such as the painted signal box to the right, which is at the SW corner of S. Church and State Streets, and the one below at the SE corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street.

DSCF4624

IMG_0491 Utility and signal boxes are bland for a reason – to be inconspicuous. Drivers and pedestrians (as opposed to casual strollers?) can do without additional distractions, especially at intersections. Click here for examples of SAS public art on utility boxes. It should not matter that the “art” is fun, cute, colorful, or “nice”. The question is whether the Stockade Historic District will be enhanced, and its appearance preserved, by the additional visual display. We might also wonder about needless controversy over a design that might be in place (and possibly deteriorating) for a very long time on your block.

BANNERS
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StockadeBannerBlue In 2011, I wrote and illustrated with photos that the Stockade had acquired “an embarrassment of banners,” when 31 nicely-designed brown banners were hung from telephone poles and lampposts on Union Street and South Church Streets in the Stockade. The first batch of banners were apparently deteriorated enough to require their replacement last year with similar blue banner, like the one on the left, which hangs on Union Street. The banners have increased in number, with additional blocks covered. As I said in 2011, they are too much of a good thing, even if someone else paid for them. The many arguments that I made in the 2011 posting seem just as valid today.  For example:
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It does indeed make sense to have a welcome banner at the various entryways to the Historic District, aimed at both intentional visitors to the district, and accidental or inadvertent visitors or through-farers.  But, it’s rather difficult for me to fathom why anyone would want these banners on virtually every lamppost of our high-traffic blocks once you’ve entered the Stockade. . .  .
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Unlike many other business and mixed-used sections of the City, Union Street in the Stockade is not a barren or blighted Schenectady streetscape that needs colorful or fluttering banners to improve its appearance, distract the eye, or provide faux festivity; nor is Church Street.

It comes down to aesthetics.   . . . putting up so many banners just seems like overkill — much too much of a good thing; and it sets an undesirable precedent for the creation and acceptance of visual clutter, and for the spending of money just because it’s available and offered to the Stockade.

To my eye, an overabundance of banners — a plethora of pennants — clearly distracts from the appearance of our community.

When looking east up Union Street from the corner of Ferry and Union, it is possible to
see a dozen of the blue Stockade District banners (when the leaves are down). Here are images of those banners taken May 2, 2019, with the banners numbered; click on a photo for a larger version:
Union St blue banners . . Union Street blue banners . . Union-Ferry-vieweastJPG
  • Also, to further diminish the image and brand of our Historic District, the blue banners are flying on two of the least attractive blocks in the neighborhood (S. College and S. Ferry from State St. to Liberty St.), which are NOT a part of the Stockade District:
S.Ferry banners  . . S. College banners
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The Streetscape Plan and SA should, therefore, ask that DSIC remove the Stockade banners that are not actually serving a useful informational purpose at an entryway corner of the actual Stockade. Even 8 years after their first appearance, and with increased memory problems, I for one do not need to be reminded a dozen (or even four) times on one block that I am in the Stockade Historic District.
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WIRES
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wires - Cucumber at Wash Av No Stockade Streetscape Plan should be complete without a protest, and a strategy, concerning the increased density and ugliness of the utility wires that plague our skyward vision. That is especially true, because the wires have been rapidly descending lower and lower, creating an excuse to further cut back (amputate and mutilate) our trees. I think a lot of my neighbors have stopped looking up when on foot and in vehicles here in the Stockade, and all around our City. 
When preparing photos of the recent crop of Stockade cherry blossoms for sharing online and with email, I found myself close-cropping virtually every image to minimize seeing the mess of wires. For example, here is the actual and the cropped version of a cherry blossom scene just north of Union Street on N. Ferry:
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IMG_0425-001 . . IMG_0425-002
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What can we do about the utility wires?  A brain-storming session among neighbors and our governmental leaders could surely come up with a longer or better list, but here are a few suggestions:
  • State that it is the Policy of the Stockade Association to actively work with local and state authorities and utility companies to improve the visual impact of utility wires, with better-planned and revamped arrangement, and perhaps use of technological advances that reduce the number of wires needed for any block or intersection.
    • Explore funding that might be used to raise wires rather than destroy the beauty of especially attractive street trees.
  • Meet with City and State elected representatives to seek action that curtails the visual pollution caused by utility wires.
  • Include in any weighing of whether or not to save a particular large street tree, or parts thereof, its role in helping to block the view of utility wires. The removal of street trees often leaves quite a shock due to the unveiling of Wire Terror.
  • As this is a citywide problem, other neighborhood associations and civic groups should be encouraged to join in efforts to remove or reduce utility wire blight.

. TREES

.The Stockade Streetscape Plan needs strong, definitive statements that it is the Policy of the Stockade Association that:
  1. Mature Shade Tress along our streets are valuable assets (aesthetically, environmentally, and financially), and all practical measures must be taken to save every mature shade tree that is not dangerous or dead, including the use of alternative sidewalk improvement measures, and consistent maintenance. [see the information compiled at our Save Our Trees portal]
  2. Walkability and desire to visit, shop, and walk in the Stockade are often reduced when long stretches of sidewalk have no shade and offer little protection from precipitation.
  3. IMG_0501Any trimming of trees for utility purposes must be done to the minimal extent possible, with attention paid to the attractiveness of any trimming.
  4. Neighbors and the association should have the meaningful opportunity to comment before any large street tree, or shade tree clearly visible from the street, is allowed to be removed by the City, or its agents, or a property owner, unless there is an immediate safety emergency.
  5. The City, especially since it points to its status as a TreeCity, must employ a certified arborist, who is allowed to make professional judgments about preserving particular trees without interference from the City Engineer or Mayor.
  6. An official request should be made to the City’s Historic Commission by the Stockade Association for a policy regulation or recommendation to City Council for protection of mature trees in our historic districts.
Obviously, even when a tree is removed for legitimate reasons, it still can have a major impact on a block or neighbors. That should mean not only a careful assessment and transparent process before removing a currently healthy, non-dangerous tree, but also the implementation of a plan to assure proper maintenance.
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  CampbellRowTrees . . IMG_9865
. . above: Campbell Row on Washington Ave. [L] a few years ago; [R] 2019 . . 
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It is worrisome that the draft Plan states (at 31; emphasis added):
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“The Stockade’s street tree population should have an abundance of newly planted and young trees, with established, maturing, and mature trees present in lower numbers
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A theoretical standard that calls in general for urban forests with particular percentages of young and mature trees, should not become an excuse for indifference over the loss of any particular, existing mature tree. Mature shade trees and their canopies are indeed particularly valuable in historic districts, and often in fact delineate sections of cities that deserve protection due to their special ambiance and appeal.
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Frankly, the following formulation, at 37 of the draft Plan, leaves too many potential excuses to take down otherwise healthy street trees:
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“Although tree removal is usually considered a last resort, there are circumstances in which removal is necessary. Trees fail from natural causes such as diseases, insects, weather conditions, and from physical injury due to vehicles, vandalism, and root disturbances. DRG recommends that trees be removed when corrective pruning will not adequately eliminate the hazard or when correcting problems would be cost prohibitive. Trees that cause obstructions or interfere with power lines or other infrastructure should be removed when their defects cannot be corrected through pruning or other maintenance practices.”
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Optimistic statements from neighbors that “we can trust the City” not to take down street trees without significant and legitimate reasons seem, in the light of actions and statements from City Hall and the City Engineer, unrealistic — and dangerous to our streetscape, given the permanence of a loss tree. Do not forget:
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  • NFerry03May2019No. Ferry Street. The City took down every mature street tree on N. Ferry Street, in 2008, when it put in new sidewalks. Half a dozen years later, a responsible employee of our Engineer’s Office assured me that, in only 6 or 8 years, replacement trees will create a scene just as attractive as the lost canopy of mature trees. The reality on N. Ferry Street as of this week, 11 years after replacements were planted, is quite different. See image to the right. And, see a N. Ferry Street Deforestation Collage put together a few years ago.
  • 2010 Washington Avenue Project. In 2010, the City Engineer said they would take down every mature street tree in order to replace the sidewalks of that quintessential Stockade block.
  • City Hall Cherry Trees. We recently saw that the City could not be bothered to find a way to save its gorgeous display of cherry blossoms while planning a project to replace City Hall windows. Frivolously claiming that they were too close to the building or blaming the failure of the City to correctly prune them over the years, simply do not add up to a viable excuse for the loss. See in mem. City Hall cherry blossoms (April 25, 2019, at suns along the Mohawk)

img_0452 [L] 2019; [R] 2018 . .CIty Hall May 3, 2018

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There is little reason to believe that the City Engineer, Corporation Counsel, and Mayor have changed their view about the need to remove a street tree when its roots are cut to replace or improve a sidewalk. For example, this quote and advice in the May 2018 Stockade Spy, was apparently based on discussion with the sidewalk maven in the City Engineer office:
.
Once a tree root begins to interfere with sidewalks, little can be done. When roots are cut to level the sidewalk, the tree nearly always fails with a few years.
.
Of course, I am not an arborist or engineer, but based on my reading on the subject, and practices in other municipalities, that statement seems extreme, if not basically incorrect. Last month, because he is familiar with the trees of the Stockade, I wrote to Fred Breglia, the arborist at Landis Arboretum, seeking his guidance on the issue of determining whether trimming or cutting roots in the process of replacing or repairing a sidewalk required removal of a tree for safety reasons. This is his response:
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From: Fred Breglia <fred@landisarboretum.org>
Subject: Re: street treees and cut roots
Date: March 28, 2019 at 9:46:57 AM EDT
To: David Giacalone

Hello David,

Based on my experience, it is a case by case situation. It varies greatly based on species, age, time of year, health, root conditions, type of care/finesse used by the company. These are just some of the factors that can contribute to the end result. Trees are living things and just like a human undergoing surgery, the way the person will bounce back from the process cannot be determined prior to the event when things may vary during the event.
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One suggestion is to have an arborist available or on call to watch over the process as it occurs.
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I hope this helps,

Fred

In light of Fred’s guidance, using its existing relationship with the City Engineer, the Stockade Association and its Streetscape Plan should advocate a far more nuanced approach to the fate of trees whose roots will be or have been cut in the process of sidewalk repair or replacement. [For example, the engineer’s manual in one city states that a tree must be considered for preservation by an arborist when less than one-third of its roots have been removed.]
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BICYCLES
The Stockade Association has never, to my knowledge, surveyed its members or the community as a whole, on their opinions regarding the City’s plans to convert Riverside Park’s only walkway into a bicycle-pedestrian path. Therefore, in using materials taken from the Bike Schenectady, I suggest:
  • Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 10.13.06 AMAdding a disclaimer regarding the designation of Riverside Park as a bike path, especially since the Schenectady Zoning Ordinance to this day permits the use of a bicycle on any park path only by those under ten or disabled. [see image to right]
  • Stating that the designation in Bike Schenectady of the portion of Washington Avenue from the River to the Historic Society as a future bike path (as opposed to a shared auto-bike roadway) appears incorrect and not practical. [Motorized vehicles such as cars and SUVs, and trucks, may not be used on a bike path.]
  • Requesting that the Overlook at Riverside Park no longer be used as a Bike Share station, as it disrupts a space designed to be serene and damages its masonry, and sits alongside a walkway where bicycles are not permitted under the Zoning Code.
TRAFFIC CALMING, CROSSWALKSSTOP SIGNS, INTERSECTIONS & PARKING
  • For safety and peace of mind, a stop sign is needed on Washington Avenue (1) at Union Street for traffic coming north from State Street, and (2) at Front Street for traffic coming north and turning onto Front Street or Cucumber Alley. Currently, vehicles come at excessive speeds around blind or almost-blind corners. Also, more and more, bicyclists come the wrong way on Front Street between Church and Washington Ave. Vehicles turning from Washington Ave. cannot see them coming.
  • Delineating Parking Spaces with “tees” seems impractical and may actually lose spots when vehicles come in so many disparate lengths. If the tees are far enough apart to accommodate long vehicles, space will often be wasted. If the tees are too close to each other, longer vehicles will hang over onto the next space.
  • Tall, wide vehicles park are very prevalent and too often park far too close to intersections and crosswalks, making it difficult to see around them and know if vehicles, pedestrians, or bikes, are in the roadway. Although it may be impossible and undesirable to have vehicles park the full distance required under the Vehicle and Traffic Law from stop signs and cross walks, signs closer to each of them saying “No Parking Here to Corner” or “. . . to Crosswalk” are far more likely to be obeyed or to be policed.
  • Correction (in case you missed it): The list of one-way streets (at 10) incorrectly states: “Washington Avenue (except between State and Union)”.
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Thank you for considering these suggestion. Please feel free to leave your polite comments, and please let the Stockade Association know your opinions on these topics and any others that concern you.
.

cherry blossom surprises

Two days ago (April 23, 2019), I had two surprises when I left the Stockade neighborhood with my camera looking for 2019 cherry blossoms. (To see blossoms in the Stockade this year, go to “suns along the Mohawk.)

One surprise was pleasant and one was not.

cb Harbor . .  IMG_0449

. . above: [L] Good Surprise at Mohawk Harbor; [R] Bad Surprise at City Hall

RiversSchdyRenderFront

Rivers Casino rendering

PLEASANT SURPRISE: For the past few years, I have been amused by the cherry blossoms inserted by Rush Street Gaming in the renderings it used to depict the first set of plans for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. E.g. see image on the right. For example, on April 26, 2015, I wrote in a posting at this site:

By the way, in its environmental remarks to the Location Board, concerning impacting nearby neighborhoods or historic sites, Rush Street the Applicant said there are design elements of the project that reflect the Stockade influence. Perhaps they mean the cherry blossoms that will apparently bloom all year long at Mohawk Harbor’s Casino, but only about a week in the real Stockade District.

SchdyCasinoRenderingRear I had not yet seen cherry blossoms outdoors at Mohawk Harbor, and certainly not along the entrance to Rivers Casino, as shown in the rendering.  But, given the emphasis on cherry blossoms to the rear of the Casino-Hotel and near the riverbank (see rendering at Left and immediately below to the Right),  I decided to check out the situation while out hitting other blossom spots outside the Stockade.

casino-atti-landscape

cb HarborAlthough I did not find the robust mini-groves of trees indicated in the Casino’s renderings, nor groupings that might one day be robust or mini-groves, I did find a few young trees with cherry blossoms abloom, east of The Landing Hotel, on the casino-side of the ALCO bike-pedestrian path. See the trees pictured on the Left and at the top of this posting. There may be others that are not healthy enough to bloom or that are late-bloomers, but three healthy cherry blossom trees at Mohawk Harbor counts as a pleasant surprise, given the track record of the developers and of public servants charged with assuring compliance with plans.

UNPLEASANT SURPRISE.  About a half hour before arriving at Mohawk Harbor, I stopped for my annual viewing of the beautiful array of cherry blossoms in front of Schenectady’s City Hall, on either side of the main entrance, along Jay Street. My surprise was unpleasant and dispiriting. The trees that had for years given us gorgeous displays of bright pink cherry blossoms were gone. One rather straggly weeping blossom tree did survive, near the main stairway.

Instead of this array, seen on May 3, 2018:

CIty Hall May 3, 2018

. . on April 23, 2019, I encountered this scene:

IMG_0449

. . along with several indications that something was missing:

img_0452

  At this point, I have not heard any explanation from our consistently benighted City Hall and the McCarthy Administration for the cherry blossom massacre. George Washington could not tell a lie about chopping down a cherry tree. I wonder how the Mayor will respond. As/if any explanations are forthcoming, I will report them in updates at this posting.

  • For more photos of the former cherry blossom array at City Hall, go to the suns along the Mohawk posting “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms.” Who could have guess there would be more cherry blossoms at Mohawk Harbor than at City Hall?

From the webpost “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms“, at suns along the Mohawk:

update (April 29, 2019):

In the Gazette article “Removal of City Hall cherry trees leads to muted blooms (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, April 29, 2019, at C1, City Engineer Chris Wallin gave the City’s explanation for removal of the trees:

“They were removed so the city could perform our window restoration project,” City Engineer Chris Wallin said. “Under that contract, all of our original windows in the building will be removed, restored and replaced.”

With the help of a consultant, the city determined six trees were located too close to the building to perform the work effectively, prohibiting the installation of equipment and rigging.

The trees were not original to the building’s construction, and were planted in 2005 to commemorate Arbor Day by Re-Tree Schenectady, a non-profit organization that plants trees around the city.

. . .

IMG_7012-001 Wallin acknowledged the pleasant springtime vibrancy produced by the trees, but said cherry trees, in particular, require vigilant pruning and maintenance to keep under control, and the city hadn’t always performed the work.

“They started to really obscure the front of the building, which is a historically significant building,” Wallin said.

That wouldn’t happen in front of White House or Executive Mansion in Albany, he said.

A few points in rebuttal and in sorrow:

  • The sub-headline in the website edition of the Gazette was fact-based: “Trees removed to make way for restoration project”. But, the sub-headline in the print edition draws a conclusion: “Loss of blooms was unavoidable, but may make a return following city hall restoration project.” (Emphasis added, and sentiment rejected by your Editor.)
  • It is almost too obvious, but I might as well say it: Proper pruning over the years, and/or additional pruning last year to prepare for the restoration project should have been sufficient to save the trees. In my opinion, our so-called Tree City really needs an Arborist, and she or he should not be under the thumb of the Mayor or City Engineer, but should make recommendations based on good-faith, tree-oriented evaluations.
  • I’ve noted before that “Our Tree City has never found a reason too trivial to justify removing even healthy trees.”

p.s. Thank you, Gazette, for reporting on this topic and using our photo to illustrate what was lost.

CherryTrees2018-Gaz29Apr2019

 

Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid

. . . or, don’t care about the facts or taxpayers

emptypockets Rush Street Gaming’s billionaire CEO/Owner Neil Bluhm is back walking the halls of the New York State Legislature trying to get a tax break for their Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. [See “Schenectady casino seeks lower tax rates: Tax credit floated as relief” (Albany Times Union, by David Lombardo, March 29, 2019); “Rivers Casino takes another crack at a tax cut: Schenectady facility says highest tax rate among New York casinos puts it at a disadvantage” (Schenectady Gazette, March 28, 2019)].

openpalmgThey are again whining about the unfairness of the gaming tax structure, and have bolstered their specious arguments with a flood of misleading statements about their new competitor, MGM Springfield. They are also acting as if an Advertising Allowance tax credit is not a tax break. [follow-up (April 14, 2019): According to the Sunday Gazette, Rivers Casino just had its best month ever, but continues its whining and seeking tax breaks.]

Below is the slightly edited text of an email that I sent to members of the media this afternoon (Friday, March 29), in the hope that the press will dilute Mr. Bluhm’s Casino Chicanery with facts, and that our Legislators will care about the facts. It has been supplemented with arguments against the Marketing Allowance.

MGMSpringfRevs . . Left: MGM Springfield Tax Revenue Report . . 

Email Message

Rush Street Gaming is again seeking tax cuts from Albany for its Schenectady Rivers Casino, using misleading information and half-truths, plus a boatful of whining. 

 
Here are the facts:
When it applied for a casino license in July 2014, Rush Street Gaming knew:
  • The gaming revenue tax on a Capital Region casino, as stated in the 2013 enabling legislation,  would be 45% on Slots and 10% on all other gaming revenue, with lower rates on slots in other Regions (that had less population density, fewer economic resources, and more competitors, i.e., racinos, Indian and Canadian casinos).
  • MGM Springfield had received its license in June 2013 and was planning to build a spectacular casino resort on a bend of the Connecticut River, in the historic and cultural center of Springfield.
  • The gaming tax in Massachusetts would be 25% on all casino gaming revenue proceeds (slots and table games).
  • There might be a second full casino in western Massachusetts (but that has not happened).
 
Rivers says that this unfair rate differential has lowered its Slots income, however:
  • In the six full months since MGM Springfield has been in operation (Sept. 2018 through February 2019), Slot GGR at Rivers Casino has increased 10.4% over the same months the prior year,  from $46,090,049 to $50,902,095. See Monthly Reports
Rivers says its unfair tax burden makes it impossible to fairly compete with MGM Springfield, and they need a slots tax rate below 40%, but:
 

From Sep 2018 through Feb. 2019, Rivers paid approx. $24 million in Gaming Tax, that equals a blended 34% gaming tax on its Total GGR. See Rivers Casino Monthly Financial Reports. While, from Sept. 2018 through Feb. 2019, MGM Springfield paid approximately $33 million in Gaming Tax, 25% of Total GGR.  See MassGaming Revenue Report on MGM SpringfieldHOWEVER, 

red check Rush Street is not mentioning that, under its Host Community Agreement with Springfield: 

  • MGM Resorts paid upfront and advance payments, totaling $15 million to the City of Springfield during the construction phase including pre-payment of taxes for general city purposes as well as:
    • $2.5 million to purchase equipment and to provide training for police, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.
    • $1 million to redevelop Riverfront Park.
  • Big$Jackpot Once opening for business, MGM Springfield must make more than $25 million in annual payments to the City. This includes $17.6 million in lieu of tax payments as well as, among other things:
    • $2.5 million to fund operating and other costs for police, firefighters, emergency medical services and education.
    • $2.5 million for a Community Development Fund to be administered by the city to support early childhood education, higher education, libraries, health initiatives, and the betterment of the city and its residents.
  • And, other $50 million coming up: Just last week, MGM Springfield reported to the Mass. Gaming Commission  that it intends to invest in the proposed $55 million redevelopment of the long-vacant Court Square hotel building in downtown Springfield as part of an obligation to build housing within one-half mile of its resort casino. See WAMC Report.

See the MassGaming 4-page Summary of Springfield HCA, for the amazing array of extra obligations MGM Springfield has undertaken while Rush Street just pays what it has to pay under the 2013 Legislation. 

exclamationpoint
 It should be clear that the Massachusetts gaming tax structure intentionally took into account the obligation of any casino applicant to negotiate an HCA or Mitigation Agreement with the host municipality, with its consequent large financial obligations over and above the State gaming revenue tax.
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RIVERS CASINO never entered into an HCA with the City of Schenectady, as Mayor Gary McCarthy refused to negotiate for one, as did Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen. It paid no upfront money during construction, and no economic development funds for the community. (see our posting “answering Mayor McCarthy on HCAs“, June 28, 2015)
  • NYS Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (Dem., Mt Vernon), the Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Racing and Wagering, has been insisting that Rivers Casino offered to pay an “exorbitant” amount over the mandated gambling revenue tax, and should now be given a break. However, Rivers pays exactly the amount called for in the 2013 Legislation, under which it would have to pay more if it had offered to do so as part of its Application. Instead, The Report and Findings of the New York Gaming Facility Location Board (Feb. 27, 2015, at 261) specifically states in the section captioned “Maximizing revenues received by the state and localities. (§ 1320(1)(b))”, that:  “Rivers does not propose a supplemental tax payment or increased license fee.”
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MGMSpringfield-rend2 . . . MGMSpringfield-render
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above: the $960 million MGM Springfield Casino Resort; below: the $340 million Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (front entrance on R, rear and hotel on L)
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MHrailing14Oct2018 . . Rivers08Feb2018

 

WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE BUSES TO MGM Springfield?

  • CasinoBusTripMRM Resorts spent $960 million to build a spectacular, true destination casino, in a bustling, interesting neighborhood
  • Rush Street, after bragging that it builds spectacular international destinations in its Applications, spent merely $320 million at Mohawk Harbor, and has produced, at best, a homely, mediocre regional casino, which targets and predominantly attracts local residents and perhaps those living within a 60-mile radius
  • By failing to insist on a true destination casino, Schenectady’s Mayor, City Council majority and Planning Commission, and the County’s Metroplex and Legislature, condemned our City to a mediocre Casino that will be constantly failing to meet its bloated projections and wanting tax breaks. See, e.g., our posting “casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?” (January 19, 2017)

920x920 Exactly a year ago, we were in the same situation, waiting to see if the rush to the Legislative Budget Deadline (April 1), would bring with it a budget that included casino tax breaks. See “bum’s rush needed” (March 28, 2018). We were pleased at the time that Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not favor casino tax breaks. Also, the Gazette Editorial Board wrote a piece entitled “Editorial: No state financial deals for casinos”  In addition, on Sunday March 30, 2018, the Times Union editorial board weighed in with “Editorial: Say no to casino subsidies“, which included the nifty illustration by Jeff Boyer that is at the head of this paragraph.

SteckAtRiversCasino

Phil Steck at Rivers Casino

 Marketing Allowance? For some reason, we are supposed to believe that a Marketing Allowance is not a tax break, although it would reduce River Casino’s gaming tax burden by 10% of the Casino’s marketing expenses. Last year, we noted on this topic that: “In the TU article “Casino seeks state help in marketing” (Sept. 29, 2018), Assemblyman Phil Steck is far from elegant defending Rivers Casino request for a 10% marketing allowance reduction in its gaming tax obligations to the State”:

“It’s not saying, ‘State, come in and give us money’; it’s saying, ‘We believe we need to expand the market for our product, we need an allowance for marketing,’ and I think that’s a reasonable position for a business to take,” said Steck, a Democratic lawmaker from Colonie, of the request by the Schenectady casino, which is located on the former Alco site on Erie Boulevard.

“What they’re saying is, ‘If we spend 10 cents on marketing instead of giving you 100 cents on that dollar, we’re going to give you 90 cents,’ and that makes a lot of sense because if the total amount of revenue expands as a result of their marketing effort, the state’s going to make more money anyway and so will the city,” Steck said.

Steck-Golub-McCarthyatCasino Assemblyman Steck apparently still supports such a Marketing Allowance, if it brings in more revenue, but does not demonstrate how that would happen.  As I noted last year in correspondence with Mr. Steck, Rivers Casino already does a lot of advertising and marketing (a rather basic expense for doing business in a capitalist market), and if doing more would increase its revenue in any way, it would be doing just that. Moreover:

  1. DSCF4456Much of Rivers’ marketing appears to be aimed at bringing in non-gambling customers to the Casino complex and Mohawk Harbor. That business (drinking, dining, conventions, fight shows, concerts) does not add to Rivers’ gaming tax obligations (45% on slots, 10% on table games and poker). Instead, it merely increases profits for the Casino and its business associates, and generates the much lower taxes based on food and similar sales taxes (often “cannibalizing” the business of other local businesses).
  2. DisoverySchyCasino.jpg Rivers Casino is already a major beneficiary of the County’s Tourism Bureau and Discovery Schenectady programs for gaming and convention programs.
  3. MohHarb30ftPylonMohawk Harbor was allowed to put a giant shopping-mall style 30′ high by 18′ wide pylon sign, that looms over Erie Blvd. at a location that normally would permit only a 7′ high sign under our Zoning Code. In permitting the sign, after literal begging for the favor by Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, the Board of Zoning Appeals reversed a decision it had made just weeks before. The pylon sign contains a large LCD screen that changes message every 8 seconds; safety-conscious cities and planners discourage such distractions so close to a busy intersection. Isn’t this quite enough favoritism at the expense of the public interest for Mohawk Harbor and its Casino tenant?

Phil Steck balked when I called him “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” last year. But, I cannot imagine the normally-thoughtful Mr. Steck offering even his current conditional support for the Marketing Allowance, were Mohawk Harbor not in his Assembly District.

 

. . share this post with this URL: http://tinyurl.com/WhiningRivers

RiversCasino-eastentrance

. . many locals believe this northeast Harbor Way entrance to Rivers Casino, with its utility bollards, parking garage, and Hotel, is the more attractive (and far less tacky) view of the Casino . . 

Slots and Problem Gambling Prevention

SCHENECTADY HAS A SLOTS GAMBLING PROBLEM

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 (kids; adolescents and college students), and senior citizens are thought to be particularly at-risk.

MGM Resorts “GameSense” Page

The Problem Gambling Awareness Month theme for March 2019 is “Awareness Plus Action.” This post continues our campaign to make Schenectady Aware of its growing Slots Gambling Problem and to suggest what action is needed, and by whom (with a compilation below of useful resources).

This website’s posting on March 11, 2019 repeats the cautionary message that the increase in gaming revenue at the Schenectady Rivers Casino in its 2nd Year of operation was totally generated from slots, with Slots play up 14.7%, but Table Games and Poker play both showing a reduction from Rivers’ first year of operation. The trend continues in the weeks since the Casino’s 2nd Anniversary: Revenue numbers in February through mid-March 2019 show Slots up 12% and Table Games down over 2.3% from the same weeks in 2018. [See our posting “Slotsification on the Mohawk“, August 13, 2018, for an introduction to the topic, and the coining of the word Slotsification.]

As a community, we should be concerned that only slots, the most addictive form of casino gambling, is increasing at Rivers Casino. Bean counters and economic development cheerleaders looking at the ripple effects of the Casino might also worry that Rivers Casino, despite its Marina & Amphitheater and the Landing Hotel, may not be attracting a significant number of medium-to-high-rollers, with their extra tourist dollars.

 Increased revenues from Slots undoubtedly means an increase in the risk of Problem Gambling and gambling addiction in our community, with all of the resultant damage to the gamblers, their families and friends, employers, and our entire society. (See our March 2, 2016 posting for more on the negative effects of problem gambling; and see “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018); and “Foss: More problem gamblers seeking treatment (Gazette, Jan. 13, 2018).

This added hazard for Schenectady is especially serious because slots players are likely to be predominately local residents, and from more vulnerable groups such as older and poorer patrons.  In assessing just how damaging the slotsification trend might be, It would be useful to know the demographics of the increase in slots play, and to ascertain whether it corresponds with more patrons playing slots or the same number or fewer players spending more time on the slot machines. Unlike last year, when Rivers Casino announced in the first week of February 2018 the figures for the number of patrons in 2017, the number of patrons at Rivers in 2018 has not yet been announced as of the last week of March.

AddictionByDesign-Schüll-Cover A good explanation of how/why slots are so addictive can be found in the New York Times article Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (October 10, 2013). It was written by Natasha Dow Schüll, and anthropologist and the author of Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas” (Princeton University Press, 2013). Her book’s message is described in the article “Did you know these 7 surprises about slots” (Psychology Today, Nov. 4, 2012), by social psychologist Susan K. Perry, PhD, who notes that:

Companies don’t seek to create addicts, they say, but they do admit to designing machines that compel consumers to gamble longer, faster, and more. Addiction is the result.

Among the “seven surprises” about slots that Dr. Perry lists, are (emphases added):

  • Machines with buttons and credits, instead of pull handles and coins, allow hundreds of games, rather than a few games, to be played in a minute.
  • Addiction can happen quickly with video gambling devices, in a year rather than three or more with other forms of gambling.
  • Modern slot machines are designed precisely to do what they do: take your money by putting you into a glassy-eyed trance so you won’t walk away while you have a single dollar or credit left.
  • Coincidence? It may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by Brown University psychiatrist Robert Breen have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll). 

 AWARENESS & ACTION? 

 With the awareness that slots play is growing in Schenectady and is likely to increase the incidence of problem gambling and gambling addiction in our community, what action can we take to minimize or at least reduce the negative effects? While I applaud increased State funding for the treatment of those suffering from gambling addiction, it seems obvious that any good faith and effective effort to deal with Problem Gambling must focus far more on Prevention, not merely Treatment. Prevention requires active education about gambling (from the odds of winning, to risks of addiction, and the signs of trouble in an individual, to the differences between safe and risky gambling behavior) and intentional cultivation of a community attitude that encourages Safe Gambling Practices and discourages Risky Gambling Behavior. We must stop treating our Casino as somehow glamorous and suggesting that patrons are performing a civic duty by helping to make the Casino successful.

In the four years since Rush Street Gaming was selected to operate the Capital Region’s commercial casino in Schenectady, its actions at Rivers Casino and the activities and programs of our State and local governmental entities (or their absence), make it clear:

We cannot look to either the Casino nor Government to provide programs that will effectively arm the public with information and advice on making casino gambling safer and avoiding high-risk gambling. Their actions to date focus almost totally on persons who already show the signs of a gambling addiction problem. Groups and individuals throughout our Community must act to protect ourselves.

WHY NOT RELY ON THE CASINO’s PROMISES? The answer seems too obvious to belabor, but the words and actions of Rivers Casino and its owners seem to confirm our skepticism. Rush Street Gaming declared in its Application to the NYS Racing Commission for a Schenectady casino license that “the existence of gaming at Rivers Casino is not expected to lead to an increase in prevalence rates in the local area,” due to funding for treatment programs, and the prior existence of slots in Saratoga and casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut.  With that assertion, Rush Street denied that increased proximity and access to casino-style gambling will increase the prevalence of problem gambling in our community. [For a contrary view based on studies, see Why Casinos Matter, by the Council on Casinos of the Institute for American Values, (at 18-19), stating that the prevalence of problem gambling doubles within a ten-mile radius of a casino.]

At a symposium on problem gambling held at Schenectady County Community College in March 2017, the Rush Street representative was excited about their efforts to promote responsible gambling, but those efforts apparently revolve around helping the staff identify underage persons, problem gamblers and drinkers, and policing the state’s mandated self-exclusion program, and merely track the requirements imposed by the NYS Gaming Commission. The photo at the head of this paragraph shows a power-point image by Rivers Casino at the 2017 symposium. It says they want their patrons to be there “to simply have fun”, and declares that “We do not want people who cannot gamble responsibly to play at our casino.” Yet, we could find nothing to support that sentiment on the floor of the Casino, nor at their website or Facebook Page, beyond the obligatory caption “Must be 21+. Gambling Problem? Call 877-8-HOPENY or text HOPENY (467369)”.

MGM Resorts Facebook PGAM post

Indeed, as of today, March 27th, I have found no mention of Problem Gambling Awareness Month at Rivers Casino itself nor on its Facebook page and web site.

In contrast, the MGM Resorts Facebook Page has a posting about Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2019, “Learn about GameSense and Responsible Gambling this March“, with a video introducing its GameSense program (March 4, 2019). [see image to the left] You can find more about GameSense and the MGM Resorts efforts below.

The MGM GameSense program appears to be the first of its kind to be presented by a commercial casino group. Can we expect Rivers Casino to adopt a similar approach to problem gambling prevention? Our Casino has been consistently handled with kid gloves and favored status by City and County government and our business leaders. With no pressure coming from local leadership, it seems unlikely that Rivers Casino will act against its financial interests and make any significant effort at actually preventing problem gambling. As stated in Why Casinos Matter (emphases added):

image by Jeff Boyer/Times Union

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.  Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so. This evidence contradicts claims by gambling lobbyists that their industry wants to attract only those customers who play casually “for fun.” Indeed, if casinos had to rely on such casual customers, they would not long survive. A Canadian study found that casual players comprised 75 percent of players but contributed only 4 percent of net gambling revenue. The casinos’ real money comes from problem gamblers.

In attempting to explain why SugarHouse, a Philadelphia Casino also owned by Rush Street Gaming, had allowed a person on its Self-Exclusion List to gamble for 72 hours at SugarHouse,

Rosemarie Cook, vice president for gaming at SugarHouse, responded that many customers return day after day. “So it’s not unusual in our casino to see somebody the next day and the day after that and the day after that,” she said. “It’s a local market.”  [See “Policing gamblers who can’t police themselves isn’t easy” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Jennifer Lin, September 9, 2013)]

Ms. Cook is describing exactly the kind of casino patronage at her Rush Street Gaming casino that is most likely to nurture gambling addiction, while bringing in the largest payoff for the casino. There is no reason to believe that such day-after-day local patrons are not fueling the slotsification of Rivers Casino. And, no reason to believe Rivers Casino wants to change that Schenectady scenario.

COMPARE RIVERS CASINO’s APPROACH to PROBLEM GAMBLING (and Slots) WITH THAT of MGM RESORTS:

RIVERS CASINO at MOHAWK HARBOR:

  • On its FACEBOOK PAGENo mention of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, at least not from Feb. 23, 2019 through March 27, 2019.
  • At its main website? There is a very minimalist Responsible Gaming page.  It states: “Rush Street Gaming is committed to make responsible gaming a priority and takes this issue very seriously. While many are able to gamble responsibly, there is a small portion of the population who can develop a serious, sometimes uncontrollable gambling problem. This can affect persons of any age, income, gender or race at any time.

“To protect them and others affected by their behavior, Rivers Casino established a set of policies and guidelines which deal with issues such as underage gambling, problem gambling, responsible marketing, and improper use or abuse of alcohol.”

    • The Rivers Responsible Gaming page has no direct information on responsible or safe gambling practices. And, given the vagueness of the reference, the public may not realize that the linked “policies and guidelines” document is not merely for internal company use, but offers a list of Ten Warning Signs of problem/addictive gambling, with the advice: “If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please call the following 24-hour confidential national hotlines and/or websites:” [with a few resources listed for those needing help]
    • Its Slots WebPage is entirely a promotion of their “slot player’s paradise”, with no mention of responsible gaming or information on how slots work.
  • On-site at the Casino: I gave myself a tour or Rivers Casino on March 13, and could find no signs or posters or brochures, etc., about Problem Gambling Month.

MGM RESORTS:

  • MGM Resorts Facebook Page has a posting about Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2019, with a video introducing its GameSense program: “Learn about GameSense and Responsible Gambling this March” (March 4, 2019). The accompanying text says, “To help our guests make informed decisions at the casino, we offer responsible gaming tools and resources through our GameSense program.” GameSense is the first program of its kind, in partnership with the National Council of Problem Gambling, and promotes a “positive and safe gaming experience”. The goal: to “support and encourage each other to help ensure everyone has a good time while gambling.” The video reminds casino players: “It is important to set a budget, set a time limit, and no one should gamble more than they can afford to lose.
  • On its main MGM Resorts website, you can find its GameSense Guide to Slots, in addition to a helpful Responsible Gaming page.
  •  At the top of the MGM Slots WebPage is a link to “Tips on How to Play, and Win, at Video Slot Machines“. Up front it tells you, “Video slots work completely at random, nothing is predetermined, there are no patterns in payouts and the reel spins freely. . . Sure, everyone has a strategy for finding the one loose slot that will pay out more than the others, but in reality, it’s all up to chance.” The 8 Tips incorporate advice on setting a budget, limiting time, not chasing losses [that is, continue to play to try to win back losses], taking breaks, etc. Tip #8 is a reminder to “Have Fun”, with the advice, “ If you’ve run out of luck for one day, just move on and come back another day to try again. Make it enjoyable and entertaining!”, and includes a link to its responsible gaming page.
  • Inside MGM Resorts casinos: GameSense signs, reading materials, and advisors.

. . Below: GameSense Tips. Six common-sense ways to practice low-risk gambling to keep gambling fun (click on image for a larger version) . . 

WHAT ABOUT GOVERNMENT EFFORTS? When government entities and politicians bring a casino into an urban setting, they have a major obligation to help prevent problem and addictive gambling, for the sake of the entire community. Do New York State and Schenectady County and City have a strong incentive to combat the Rivers Casino Slotsification? We doubt it, despite Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul stating in May 2018:

“With this annual commitment in state funding, we are working to ensure a balance between new gaming options and an increase in education about addiction. We don’t only want to treat individuals struggling with addiction, but prevent people from becoming addicted and educate New Yorkers about the issue across the State.”

[Lt. Gov. Hochul’s remarks refer to added funding for Problem Gambling Awareness and Education that was announced simultaneously by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS):Click here for our coverage of the OASAS Announcement]

More realistically, the monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, January 19, 2011) succinctly states the reality and context [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]:

“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos.

Our City Hall and County Legislature are banking on major tax relief that is based on the size of Casino revenues. Thus, for reasons very similar to those of the Casino, we have not been able to count on local government to seriously recognize the imminent growth of Schenectady’s problem gambling problem and to combat it with a preventive approach. A minor example: almost every agenda for our City Council Meetings lists Resolutions and Proclamations recognizing all sorts of groups and issues, but it has never proclaimed March (or any other month) as Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy never demanded a host community or damage mitigation agreement from Rush Street Gaming, when considering whether to approve their Application to the Casino Location Board. As a result, the Mayor and his Administration, along with Metroplex and County Government, never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib claims of Rush Street and Galesi Group that a casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, or area. The research and warnings of a group like Stop the Schenectady Casino were simply ignored, as was the example given by other host cities. Instead, City Hall insisted there would be no negative impact from a Schenectady Casino. (See our posting on The Mayor and HCAs.)

Therefore, it is not a surprise that neither the City nor County of Schenectady has played any active role to help combat Problem Gambling, nor that State-funded efforts have not taken a more holistic and preventative approach. As welcome as current state-funded, public-oriented problem gambling awareness programs may be, they are they are far too focused on people already feeling the damaging effects of problem gambling in their lives. E.g., Self-exclusion programs, Hot Lines, in-patient beds, counseling services. [See image to the right.]

Thus, a media and billboard program using the funding announced by OASAS in May 2018 uses the slogan “You’re not Alone”. That sentiment clearly is aimed at persons already struggling with the negative effects of problem gambling, not at casual players.

Similarly, the NYS Gaming Commission announced a promising new program in its Press Release of March 4, 2019, captioned “NYS Gaming Commission Marks National Problem Gambling Awareness Month with First-of-its-Kind Public-Private Collaboration“. The effort includes a new 15-second video PSA announcement and 30-second radio PSA announcement, that are “Slated to run at no cost on commercial TV, radio, and social media,” plus a widespread postering campaign, and custom lottery-related PGAM messaging.

But, the new program’s initial efforts are disappointing, in that they continue the focus on people already struggling with gambling addiction issues. Thus, here are the crossword-style core image and caption used in the PSA and posters, etc.:

 . .

 Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope had been 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 has not been to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create a healthy, informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than a high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.  Unfortunately, over the past few years, our local government leaders have not stepped up to put Problem Gambling Awareness programs into place. While a large percentage of our population has proven resistant to Casino Fever, or suffered only a brief case of the malady, it appears that Rivers Casino has attracted and kept enough slots-oriented patrons to make the growth of problem gambling disorders in our local populace a major concern.  This makes “inoculation” or prophylactic measures even more important to safeguard the as yet un-infected, among current and future slots players, and other casino users.

 The requested governmental programs never materialized, and perhaps more discouraging, there was no noticeable pressure or even subtle outcry by the non-profit sector or relevant actors in the for-profit healthcare industry, for such problem gambling efforts. Instead, major social events have been held with gambling themes at Rivers Casino, and two leading members of the healthcare industry in Schenectady, Ellis Hospital and MVP, actually sponsored Table Game Lessons at Rivers Casino [note the sponsors at the bottom of the ad to the left, and see our related posting]

Question: WHAT ACTIONS ARE REALISTICALLY AVAILABLE TO PREVENT, NOT JUST TREAT, PROBLEM GAMBLING?  Answer: WE NEED A COMMITMENT FROM ALL SEGMENTS OF OUR COMMUNITY TO UTILIZE OR CREATE RESOURCES THAT FOSTER LOW-RISK, SAFE GAMBLING PRACTICES.

  1. OUR PRIVATE SECTOR, both for-profit (especially healthcare, and the helping and counseling professions), and not-for-profit (e.g., civic groups, senior centers, schools at every level, faith communities, and neighborhood associations, perhaps aided by the Schenectady Foundation), must step up to “inoculate” against Casino Fever and Slots Addiction, with helpful information and practical advice, to nurture healthy attitudes about gambling, especially casino gambling, using a variety of means and media aimed at all segments of the community.
  2. SAFER/LOW-RISK gambling practices must be encouraged, and HIGH-RISK practices discouraged. Examples are given below.
  3. Casino Gambling should be like any other form of leisure activity and entertainment:
    1. pursued for fun and relaxation, an occasional outing, where you play for fun, not to get rich;
    2. using your leisure budget, and aware what you are likely to spend at each visit (as at the theater, a sports event, or a restaurant), with bugeted losses the price of the night’s entertainment, and any wins a nice bonus. 
  4. Ripple Effect: The lessons and thus the benefits of a Safe Gambling Campaign will apply to all other forms of gambling in our community, such as Lottery and Sports Betting.

GOOD NEWS: A Treasure Trove/Jackpot of relevant, interesting, and sometimes even fun, materials, in many media (posters, brochures, videos, billboards, tv and radio and internet PSAs), and aimed at many audiences, already exists. It is easy to find online, and available for free download, often with free hardcopy versions, too.

The following are resources worth checking out, either to use them directly, modify them for local use, or as inspiration for some Schenectady Creativity.

PROBLEM GAMBLING CANADA

This thoughtful, well-constructed, nonjudgmental site has much to offer individuals, families, and communities dealing with problem gambling issues. See ProblemGambling.ca

An excellent example is this list of factors involved in

Low Risk and Harmful Gambling

Not all gambling is a problem. Gambling may be low risk, or it may be harmful.

Low-risk gambling means you:

    • Limit how much time and money you spend gambling
    • Accept your losses, and don’t try to win them back
    • Enjoy winning, but know it happened by chance
    • Balance gambling with other fun activities
    • Don’t gamble to earn money or pay debts
    • Don’t gamble when your judgment is impaired by alcohol or other drugs
    • Never borrow money or use personal investments or family savings to gamble
    • Don’t gamble to escape from your problems or feelings
    • Don’t hurt your job, health, finances, reputation or family through your gambling

Harmful gambling means you have started to:

    • Lie about your gambling or keep it a secret
    • Lose track of time and play for longer than you meant to
    • Feel depressed or angry after gambling
    • Spend more money than you planned, or more than you can afford
    • Ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling
    • Borrow money or use household money to gamble
    • “Chase your losses” to try to win back your money
    • Believe that gambling will pay off in the end
    • See gambling as the most important thing in your life
    • Use gambling to cope with your problems or to avoid things
    • Have conflicts with family and friends over gambling
    • Ignore your physical and emotional health because of gambling.

ProblemGambling.org/ca has many online self-help tools.

Smart.Play is a website created by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), a provincial Crown Corporation that conducts and manages province-wide lotteries, casinos, and slot facilities. As a Crown Corporation, it is fully owned by the Ontario Provincial Government. It presents information to fulfill its Pledge to Players:

  1. WE PLEDGE TO COMMUNICATE HOW GAMES WORK

    To be clear, straightforward and offer you the relevant facts.

  2. WE PLEDGE TO OFFER YOU KNOWLEDGE YOU CAN USE

    To guide you – as a new or experienced player – with advice and tools on how to set a game plan that helps you keep gambling as a positive entertainment option.

  3. WE PLEDGE TO KEEP IT FUN

    To show that smart, healthy play habits are engaging and worth your time.

  4. WE PLEDGE TO BE THERE WHEN YOU NEED US

    To listen, respond and offer assistance for getting help if gambling stops being fun.

Play.Smart has information on Table Games and Slots, with material on How to Play, Odds, Strategies, and Etiquette, for each game. Including a series of entertaining videos. Its SLOTS webpages have quite a bit of useful information, explaining how the machines work, what payback and pay-tables are, and more. Here’s advice to Start with a Game Plan (click on the image for a larger version):

If you want to make the point that slot results are totally random, try the cute-cat, 21-second video How Randomness Really Works

NY Council on Problem Gambling  

The New York Council on Problem Gambling website has a rich library of resources of all types for all kinds of people. They encourage you to review all of their downloadable Resources, and suggest contacting staffer Stelianos Canallatos, at SCanallatos@NYProblemGambling.org, “If you have any questions, or need hard copies of any resource.” (Mr. Canallatos has been very helpful to the proprietor of this website over the past few years.)

On its Media Resources page, NYCPG says:

NYCPG MEDIA

NYCPG has created several resource videos to support education, outreach and awareness raising efforts. Videos include PSAs and short films. Video vignettes focusing on sports betting, youth, aging adults and veterans are also available. Watch the videos below to find out more about how gambling impacts individuals, friends and family. Want to view all of our videos? Visit our YouTube page.

Empty Spaces” video

At NYCPG’s Know the Odds website, you will find access to quite a few videos and Public Service Announcements. They explain: “KnowTheOdds has created a variety of videos shown online and as PSAs throughout New York State. Watch the following videos to learn more about problem gambling, and share these videos to help educate family, friends and your community members about the risks associated with being addicted to gambling.” The videos are realistic and powerful, long enough to flesh out the problems of real people, but short enough to share in a group context.

The You(th) Decide website, is also brought to you by the NY Council of Problem Gambling, Inc.  “You(th) Decide NY is a resource for youth, parents and communities, interested in giving YOU(th) the power to DECIDE,” such as deciding about risky behavior such as underage gambling. Parents/Guardians, Youth, and Community Leaders interested in stopping underage gambling will find much to consider.

NYCPG is also a major player in publicizing and honoring Problem Gambling Awareness Month in New York State. [Click here for its Press Release for March 2019, with the topic of Problem Gambling in the Workplace.] “Have the Conversation” has been a recurring theme; in 2017, the goal was that

“every New Yorker have a problem gambling conversation with at least one person in March.”

That goal is still relevant today, and in every month.

The NYCPG website has much information on how to Have the Conversation. Below are thumbnails for Action Sheets aimed at (from L to R) Senior Caregivers, Youth, and Parents.

  . . .   . . . 

OASAS ProblemGambling Brochures

The NYS Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services has a substantial number of brochures to download, including Know the Signs of Addiction. Brochures with information for vulnerable groups are available in English and Spanish. Click on these links for the English version of:

Here’s a section of the OASAS brochure on Problem Gambling & Seniors (click on it to enlarge):

 SCREENING FOR GAMBLING PROBLEMS. Medical and other provider offices and interested organizations may wish to participate in a Screening Day for gambling problems. Gambling Disorder Screening Day was Tuesday, March 12, 2019, but you can hold it on any day. A Screening Toolkit is available at no cost, here, from the Cambridge Health Alliance of Harvard Medical School.

. . . Healthcare providers can also screen their patients . .

The Responsible Gambling Council (Toronto, Canada) is dedicated to the prevention of problem gambling, using knowledge to find solutions. It has very useful material about Safer Play.

The  RGC Safer Play Quick Guide succinctly differentiates high-risk and low-risk gambling:

Safer Gambling Tips

High-Risk vs. Low-Risk Gambling

People who gamble in a high-risk way lose the sense that it’s only a game. They start to see gambling as a way to make money. Or they think they have special luck or abilities. Often when they lose, they bet more and more to try to win back what’s been lost.

People who gamble in a low-risk way naturally follow the principles of safer gambling. They see gambling as a form of entertainment. For them, a small gambling loss is the cost of a night’s entertainment—just like the cost of a movie ticket or a restaurant bill.

The RGC site has links to several Safer Play brochures, in 16 languages. Below are links for the English versions.

There is much to gain spending time at the Responsible Gambling Council site. I’ve been checking it regularly to see its frequently-changing Main Page Photos, which each contain a safer play tip. For example:

 . . .

A similar series featuring Schenectady folk and scenes might an enjoyable and useful safer-gambling project.

  •  Although I’ve focused in this posting on what the Community can do outside the political process, some readers might want to consider a campaign to persuade our State and local governments to increase Education-focused efforts to prevent problem gambling, rather than wait to treat it. For example, Seneca County and casino developer Wilmot [del Lago’s owner] set out the structure for a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program, to be undertaken by the County and the Casino jointly, that will seriously address the issues relating to problem gambling. Schenectady County could, perhaps, invest in Problem Gambling Prevention, to avoid significant Social Services expenses, and other costs in the future.

[Current] CONCLUSION: As individuals and as a community, including our political, business, and civic leaders, we need to recognize and fight Schenectady’s Slots Gambling Problem, as well as other forms of problem gambling. Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.

Let’s all Have the Group Conversation, with members or leaders of at least one social, civic, educational, or religious group, to discuss how you/we can make Schenectady a Healthy-Low-Risk Gambling City and best avoid the problem gambling trap. You could, for instance, brainstorm on how to use existing materials, like those presented above, or to create Schenectady-specific brochures, signs, and even billboards.

Year Three Begins: slots still reign at Rivers Casino

. . .

February 8, 2019 was the 2nd Anniversary of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. As we’ve previously reported, all increased gambling revenue at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino during its second year of operation came from Slots/ETG play, which were up almost 15%, while table games and table poker had reduced revenue. Here’s the breakdown, using the Monthly Reports made by Rivers to the NYS Gaming Commission:

A comparison of the two Rivers Anniversary Months, February 2018 and February 2019, shows the same relationship as the revenue figures in its first and second years of operation: All added revenue is coming from slots:

AnnivMoCompare

We can see, then, that the worrisome trend continued into the first month of the 3rd Year of Operation for Rivers Casino, despite Anniversary Month efforts to promote Poker and Table Games [see, e.g., Casino LED screen at right].

Is Rivers Casino turning into that cursed form of urban “development,” a mediocre regional casino attracting predominantly local patrons who can least afford to gamble, and siphoning off entertainment dollars that were once spread across the local market for leisure activities — and, with no palatable solutions in sight?

No matter what you call this phenomenon — “slotsification”, “slotsploitation”, “Slotsnectady”, etc. — we should be concerned, because slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling. Slots also appeal more than other forms of casino gaming to many members of the most vulnerable groups of prospective gamblers, seniors and the elderly and low-income.

 . .

Just in time for the 2nd Anniversary of Rivers Casino operating at Mohawk Harbor, the State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a 17-page Audit report the first week of February which concluded that the State has failed to assess the human toll of its gambling expansion and needs to better understand the problem, so that its limited resources can be best used to prevent and treat gambling addiction. The stated purpose of the report, “OASAS Problem Gambling Treatment Program (Report 2018-S-39, Feb. 2019), was “To determine whether the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) has sufficient treatment programs for problem gamblers.” See, a Gazette article (Feb. 7, 2019), and related column by Sara Foss. ; and a Times Union article and editorial. It seems clear, that we need to understand who is playing slots at Rivers Casino and how we can help assure that having a casino in our midst does not spread the infection of problem gambling in our community.

As we noted in our posting “slotsification on the Mohawk“:

 It may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll).

We also noted in that post:

Whatever the cause, Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and we will soon be posting a piece about Problem Gambling and Slots.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SlotsReign

News10 ABC’s special Valentine to Lady Liberty

You can find the Special Report here https://tinyurl.com/News10Liberty
.

 On Valentine’s Day 2019, the team at News10 ABC aired a Special Report about a very special Lady in distress, the City of Schenectady’s beloved replica of the Statue of Liberty. Titled “Local Treasure Locked Away“, the 3-Minute Report by Louis Finley focuses on the hope of many Schenectady residents that the Lady Liberty replica be returned to her home at Liberty Park. Although the City had promised to return the Statue, which was removed for its protection during the reconstruction of her park at Gateway Plaza, Lady Liberty is still looked in a City warehouse 8 months after the completion of the Plaza.

  •  Reporter Louis Finley interviewed Goosehill resident Matthew Sosnowski, Schenectady County Historical Society education director Michael Diana, and Stockade resident David Giacalone (the proprietor of this website) for the Special Report, and included them in the presentation. .

The Albany ABC News Team was able to do what citizen proponents of Lady Liberty’s return home could not: Capture Her forlorn image “locked away” in the City’s Foster Avenue Warehouse, where she was taken in August 2017 for protection while the ground under her was literally being moved and removed and the Park reconfigured.

Unfortunately, what News Ten could not do is pry a commitment from Mayor Gary M. McCarthy or Mary Moore Wallinger, the primary designer of Gateway Plaza, that the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan would be followed and Lady Liberty returned to her home of 67 years. The Implementation Plan was adopted in June 2013 by the City Council and Mayor, after being formulated and presented to the Public and Council by Ms. Wallinger. It clearly called for only a temporary absence of the Statue from the Park/Plaza during construction. The first public mention that the Statue might not be returned to Liberty Park came in a newspaper article in December 2017, with no explanation given for ignoring a fully approved Plan. Instead, almost eleven months after the issue was first raised at a City Council meeting, Mayor McCarthy told News10 that a decision would soon be forthcoming. [follow-up: As of May 16, 2019, neither Mary Wallinger nor the Mayor is telling the public what will become of Lady Liberty.  Wallinger told the Times Union this week that:

“I know it’s in storage. I know it’s going to cost a lot of money to make the repairs that need to be made, but I also know it is not my decision,” she added.

McCarthy did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

See Schenectady’s Gateway design celebrates diversity but missing Lady Liberty” (by Paul Nelson, May 15, 2019); and  “Gateway Plaza installation in Schenectady taking shape: Construction likely to begin this week” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, May 16, 2019)

  •  Dedication Day. The procrastination of our current Mayor and his carefree attitude toward Lady Liberty, her proponents, and the Planning and legislative process, is in stark contrast to the importance of the Statue to the City at the time of its Dedication. The Special Report shows the front page of the Schenectady Gazette on November 9, 1950, and the prominence given the story. The article states that 2500 scouts and scouters marched in a parade to the Park, with a crowd of 3,500 persons overflowing the small park for the dedication ceremony. Then Mayor Owen M. Begley called it a “beautiful, beautiful gift,” commenting that the replica here will be a great emblem in Schenectady of our great heritage of liberty

Another issue that News10 apparently could not pin down was the nature of the purported damage to the Statue that is allegedly keeping it from being re-installed. One aspect of the damage claim is why the million-dollar-plus budget for Gateway Plaza does/did not include funds for any needed rehabilitation of the Statue and its base before its return.

News10 anchors Lydia Kulbida and John Gray mentioned their intent to followup on this story. We hope that will include investigating the City’s claim that the name of Liberty Park has already been officially changed to Gateway Plaza by City Council and the Mayor. See our posting “the name is Liberty Park” for rebuttal on that point. (The renaming controversy is the context of my remarks in the Special Report comparing the significance to the public of the names Liberty and Gateway.)

  • For a discussion of the many issues raised by the failure to return the Lady to her Home, see our posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless,” which was written in reaction to the claim by Ms. Wallinger that the Statue did not fit into her contemporary vision of the Plaza. That posting and others at this site contain relevant images and links to documents, Click on the collage to the right of this paragraph for a summary of the relationship of the Replica Statue to the Implementation Plan, including a photo of Lady Liberty in the Park prior to her removal, and details from a rendering and plat that show the replica Statue returned as part of the Implementation Plan. Also, click here for a collage showing why people were so fond of the beautiful statue and its original home.

Thank you, News 10 ABC, for spreading the word about our exiled Lady Liberty and showing the passion of her supporters for her return.

LLDedicationPhoto08Nov1950e . . [L] photo of Liberty replica statue dedication event (Schenectady Gazette, Nov. 9, 1950, front-page) . .

 

the name is Liberty Park (updated)

An article in today’s Daily Gazette (Jan. 7, 2019) makes it sound like Liberty Park has already been officially renamed Gateway Plaza.

  • red checkupdate (Jan. 23, 2019): According to an email I received from Gazette reporter Andrew Beame, Schenectady City Hall is arguing that Resolution 2017-178 (June 12, 2017) has in fact already named the land in question Gateway Plaza. [scroll down to the large Red Check for our rebuttal.]

The article, “Nearly New Year’s event deemed a success by its organizers” (by Andrew Beam, January 7, 2019), tells us that the location of the Nearly New Year’s Eve event was “formerly known as ‘Liberty Park’,” and:

GatewayPlazaBirdseye“City and county officials said the name [Gateway Plaza] is fitting since the park serves a gateway into the city. It’s also an area that has several redevelopment projects occurring and is where a portion of Interstate 890 exits into.”

“I’m truly comfortable with the name,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur. 

Of course, only a majority vote of City Council can name or rename a park, and that has neither happened, nor been scheduled for the Council agenda. For instance, here is a screenshot from the Public Workshop portion of the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza, adopted by the City in 2013, in which the name change question was directly raised and answered:

gp-namingpark

As you can see, the Design Team [led by Mary Wallinger] specifically downplayed the importance of the generic name “Gateway Plaza”, and assured the public that the name had not been changed, noting that “The City Council would have to vote to change the name from ‘Liberty Park’. There are currently no specific plans to change the name of the park.” Wallinger did use the qualifying phrase “currently no specific plans to change”, but did not qualify her statement that the City Council would have to make that change, and not CDTA, or Metroplex, or the City’s Planning Office.

crescenttoveterans The consistent, longtime practice of the City of Schenectady has, in fact, been to hold public hearings before naming or renaming a park. [See, e.g., excerpts from The Proceedings of the City Council of Schenectady, concerning naming Grout Park and changing Crescent Park to Veterans Park.] Thus, before Riverside Park was named, there was a contest and public hearing; and, public hearings and resolutions were also used decades later, both when its name was changed to Rotundo Park and when it was changed back to Riverside Park.

Furthermore, the Resolution of City Council adopting the Implementation Plan [Res. 2013-206] makes no mention of a name change and specifically states that the Plan “proposes an improvement of Liberty Park and an expansion of its confines, now including Water Street.”

That is not surprising, as the Implementation Plan was specifically conceived as the fulfillment of the seminal “Route 5 Transit Gateway Linkage Study: Gateway District Plan” (2010). That Study speaks of a broader, generic Gateway District, and of constructing “Stockade Gateways” that were actually gateways — that is, arches. But the Study never mentions a Gateway Park or Gateway Plaza. For example, instead, at 37, it says (emphasis added):

Liberty Park is improved and enlarged to a rectangular shape roughly four times its current size. The right of way that Water Street occupies, a path of significant historical importance, continues as a pedestrian walk through the park. Liberty Park will be the primary open space for the new neighborhood being proposed for the study area and will serve to connect it with the Stockade in a clear and pedestrian friendly way. The park will be quadrupled in size and the raised berms will be removed to allow clear sight lines.

The 2010 Gateway Study also explains:

48] IMPLEMENTATION PLAN chart
Liberty Park Improvements 
.
Liberty Park would become an attractive, usable, urban park and plaza through this project that would celebrate its location at the entrance to Schenectady from I-890 and the Western Gateway Bridge. It would also form the link between SCCC, the Stockade, and new development in the study area. This project would close Water Street and expand and renovate the park to provide a centerpiece public space for the study area. 

.

Moreover, the figures used to explain/depict the proposal explicitly label the expanded green area as “Liberty Park” (click on each figure for a larger version):

libertypark2010plan

fig3.2newdevelopmentsdetail
.
.
Given this background, it is difficult to fathom the rush to call this wonderful, historic spot something as generic, bland, and overused as “Gateway”.  A park should be a destination and its name have significance to the public — preserving a name is one way to assure connection and significance. The replica of Lady Liberty, which gave the Park its identity and name, has significance to a few generations of Schenectadians.
.
Moreover, a “gateway” is not a destination, it is something used to reach your intended destination.  In addition, very few if any people will actually use this plaza/park as an entryway to Schenectady. They will in fact skirt around it, mostly in motorized vehicles. Or, unless they arrive by helicopter, will already be in Schenectady on foot, coming from SCCC or the Stockade.
.
gp-planschange It is hard not to see a pattern here: The authors and proponents of the Gateway Plaza renovation project and the Final Gateway Park Implementation Plan told and showed the public what they thought the public wanted during the planning and approval process:

.  Their goal, I believe, was to avoid controversy or making a record that showed strong public opinion.

CityHallRubberStampThen, making a mockery of earlier democratic processes and transparency, we are presented with something very different as a Done Deal, fait accompli. (See our posting on ignoring plans and the public.) Public opinion and outcry means nothing, it seems, to City and County poohbahs, who count on the 4-member Democratic rump majority on City Council to merely nod their heads in agreement, usually in silence or spouting platitudes. If official action is needed, the Rump Majority wields a rubber-stamp on any changes, surprises, or unexpected distortions of adopted plans — often, even plans which they themselves voted for in official resolutions. Common sense and common opinion be damned (or at least ignored).

  • see-no-evil-monkeyBlueEven worse, as with the name of Liberty Park, City Council doesn’t even bring these measures up again, letting the Mayor’s Office or Metroplex just go ahead with the changed plans, and getting the media to go along.
  • 316-vector-no-evil-monkeysRred check Follow-up (Jan. 23, 2019): According to an email I received from Gazette reporter Andrew Beame, City Hall is arguing that Resolution 2017-178 (June 12, 2017), has in fact already named the land in question Gateway Plaza. Beame says that is why he wrote “formerly known as ‘Liberty Park'” in his article “Nearly New Year’s event deemed a success by its organizers“. There are many reasons to dispute this claim, among them:
    • 12jun2017agendaNo Notice to the Public. Neither City Council Members nor the public knew that Res. 2017-178 was naming or renaming anything, especially not Liberty Park, and the topic was not mentioned in the Council Agenda [Item #30; click on image at head of this bullet point], or at the Council Meeting by City officials, Council members, or the public.
    • Resolution re Alienating Parkland. The Resolution was rushed through the Council to get a request to the State Legislature before the closing of its Session, for permission to “alienate” parkland at Riverside Park for possible use in constructing a new pumping station. The Resolution proposed substituting the Riverside Park land with City-owned land along Water Street that would be used in the Gateway Plaza project.
    • Liberty Park is not mentioned anywhere in the Resolution or the 8-page appendix that described the lands to be swapped, and is not part of the lands described in the appendix.
I almost hate to make this “compromise” suggestion, since my offering it might make it DOA at City Hall. But, if big egos make keeping the current name “Liberty Park” embarrassing to our Poohbahs, why not just call it Liberty Plaza, or Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza. Being a Smart City means a whole lot more than high-tech lamp-poles. A bit of Emotional Intelligence would go a long way toward earning the respect of the residents of our City and County, and avoiding needless aggravation, and future questions by folks wondering, “what were they thinking?”.
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2018 gambling revenue at Rivers Casino

 Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor posted its final Weekly Gambling Revenue Report for 2018 yesterday morning (Jan. 4, 2019), at the website of the NYS Gaming Commission. Here’s my summary in a nutshell:

  • GPROJECTION COMPARISON: The $152 million total Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) in 2018 is only 71% of the projection for 2018 [$213.9 million] given in Rush Street Gaming’s Application for its Rivers Casino gaming license. As discussed below, that shortfall exists despite the Casino having achieved virtually all of its important “wait-untils” that we were told should produce the projected revenue.
  • MONTH TO MONTH COMPARISON: For the eleven months of 2018 that correspond with the first eleven months of operation of the Casino in 2017 (February through December), GGR increased 10.5%, with all of the increase coming from Slots/ETG play, the most addictive form of casino gambling, and no increase in table games or poker table gambling.
  • ANNUAL COMPARISON: The gaming revenue for the full 52 weeks of 2018 was $152 million, compared to the $129 million GGR generated in the 47 weeks that Rivers Casino operated in 2017. Thus, with 5 extra weeks of operation, GGR was about 18% more than the $129 million of GGR from 2017, which was itself a 30% shortfall from the 2017 projection. More than half of the increase in 2018 GGR over 2017 was in fact due to the 5 extra weeks of operation.

. . Here are charts with those numbers: 

riverscasinoprojections

Projections – from Rivers Casino Application for gaming license (Item VIII.B.4, at 3)

riversrevscomparefeb-dec

update: Comparing the first twelve months of operation (Year One) with the second twelve months of operation (Year Two) at Rivers Casino, all growth in gambling revenue continues to be from Slots/ETG:

RiversRevs1stTwoYrs

How will the “Casino Gang” spin the 2018 GGR numbers? I’m betting the owners of the Casino [Rush Street Gaming] and Mohawk Harbor [the Galesi Group], and casino-affiliated businesses, plus elected and appointed officials, who have risked their reputations on casino results, will be merely touting a “significant” increase in gaming revenue over the 2017 results, with corresponding uptick in tax revenue. If you’ve been reading revenue comparisons reported at this website throughout 2018, you already know we are not exactly impressed with the Gaming Revenue situation at Rivers Casino, especially if this is what “stabilization” of operations at Rivers Casino looks like.

riversggr2018target A year ago this week, we analyzed the year-end numbers for Rivers Casino in a posting titled “Casino Projections vs. Casino Reality” (Jan. 7, 2018); the image at the head of this paragraph is a detail from a collage called The Rivers Casino Projection Game. It is difficult to feel any more optimistic a year later about the benefits to our community that will flow from Rivers Casino as compared with the risks our leaders took bringing it here. That is especially true when recalling that plans for Mohawk Harbor were well on their way before talk of a casino, and would have brought most of the benefits, more green-space, and maybe a downtown supermarket. Mohawk Harbor without a casino would have meant avoiding the increased risk of problem gambling and addiction, and DWI incidents; along with the dispiriting sight and sound of supine “snowman” leadership, and the disappointing failure to fulfill tax-relief promises, that have come with the Casino.

SlotsGrandmaBW The downsides seem no less daunting, including the ethically-bankrupt decision to use casino revenue as the source of tax relief (as a wag has put it: Robbing Grandma to pay our property taxes); and the downsizing of Schenectady’s image from Lighting and Hauling the World to home of a mediocre regional casino. The benefits seem scarcely worth the risks taken, especially since Mohawk Harbor and the rebirth of our downtown were already bringing most of those benefits without the downsides.

After reviewing the August 2018 revenue figures, we mused over the predictable Catch-22 our civic “leaders” and Casino Cheerleaders have thrust upon our Community. [There is a slightly edited version at the foot of this posting.*] Efforts to increase gaming revenue, especially gambling dollars from slots, threaten our most vulnerable community members. And, general efforts by Discover Schenectady and local leaders to increase non-gambling dollars spent at Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor, will benefit their owners, but bring in lower levels of tax payments (since sales taxes and food/beverages and entertainment and retail are so much lower than gaming revenue taxes).

Rush Street Gaming has a history of over-predicting its gambling revenue, and there is apparently little risk when it does so. Rivers Casino’s gaming business does not need to come even close to its projections to be profitable. And, sadly, even lower than predicted gaming revenue will not be likely to reduce problem gambling, when so many of the gambling dollars are generated by “slotsification“.

Nonetheless, a Civic Booster might ask: Aren’t the final numbers a reason to be optimistic? Isn’t the 17% increase in GGR at yearend 2018 over yearend 2017 truly significant? A Casino Realist might answer: Not, I am afraid, when you realize that there were 5 extra weeks of operation in 2018 than 2017. If 2017 had been a full 52-week year, and monthly average GGR remained the same, we would have expected about $142 million in GGR for 2017. The 2018 result of $152 million, is only 7% higher than the full-year estimate of $142 million GGR.

Indeed, whether the added GGR in 2018 at Rivers Casino was 7%, or 10.5% or 17%, it is difficult to get excited about the increase when we recall all of the in-place features that should have brought many more people and, therefore, more gamblers to Mohawk Harbor. The full-panoply of features at the Mohawk Harbor site that should have drawn increased gambling dollars even more significantly in 2018 include:

  • the filling of the 206-unit River House apartment complex
  • the holding of Table Game and Poker classes (sponsored by Ellis Medical and MVP)
  • the opening of the Marina in November 2017 (with hopes of snagging high-wheeler yacht owners)
  • the holding of free weekly summer concerts, drawing thousands, at the Amphitheater
  • installation of a giant pylon sign on Erie Boulevard at the Mohawk Harbor entrance
  • the opening of the popular Druthers brewery and restaurant
  • a broad array of entertainment events
  • significant assistance from the Schenectady County tourism and convention center, with its $400,000+ budget and Discover Schenectady website.
  • completion of the Mohawk Harbor bike-pedestrian trail
  • addition of a CYCLE bike share station at Mohawk Harbor
  • and more

Meanwhile, can we expect the early enthusiasm for Rivers Casino gambling to continue in the primary local marketplace? Beyond human nature, which looks for novelty, we have reports of “riots” inside on two occasions, tales of unreported muggings, and increased auto break-ins in nearby neighborhoods, tarnishing its reputation.

Furthermore, Rivers Casino and its experts only predicted, a 10% increase over the 2018 GGR for 2021, which it considered to be a fully stabilized year. Our leaders keep saying “wait until the Casino operations stabilize,” but stabilization at a rather under-whelming plateau, far short of projections, is not cause for celebration.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/RiversRevs2018

As more information comes out about 2018 operations and results at Rivers Casino, we will attempt to cover them at this website. It would also be helpful if the media or local government started to look into the effects the Casino might be having on pre-existing businesses in the local entertainment, dining, and leisure marketplace. Also, how have Schenectady residents fared in obtaining and keeping jobs at Rivers Casino?

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resolve to bring back the Lady to her Park

2019Calendar-LADYe

. . above: click on image above for a larger version of our Bring Her Home calendar, which is formatted for a 5″x7″ print. . Please download, use, and share. 

It has been nine months since we began asking the Mayor and City Council of Schenectady to honor and implement the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (2013) and return the City’s replica Lady Liberty statue to her home, Liberty-Gateway Park. Since that time, Mayor Gary McCarthy has not given us any justification for failing to follow the fully approved Implementation Plan, saying only that “our design team” recommended not returning Lady Liberty.

The Design Team is basically Mary Moore Wallinger, who was the primary author of the Implementation Plan that promised return of the statue, and is Chair of the City’s Planning Commission. Ms. Wallinger either never wanted Lady Liberty to return, and proposed the return to avoid controversy during the planning process, or simply changed her mind and decided on her own, with no public notice or input, to send the Statue of Liberty replica elsewhere. Why? At first Wallinger advanced the silly excuse that Lady Liberty was too small for the Plaza; she then merely noted at a City Council meeting that “plans change”, and settled on the sad and insufficient excuse that the Lady is not “contemporary” enough to fit her image of the new Plaza.

Throughout 2018, Mayor Gary McCarthy has indicated he has been too busy to make a decision and direct Ms. Wallinger, whose LAndArt Studio is the “construction administrator” of Gateway Park, to arrange to return Lady Liberty (after its mysteriously damaged base is repaired). At no point has anyone at City Hall offered a justification for ignoring an implementation plan that went through a full design process, with public input and agreement, and approval by City Council in a Resolution naming the Implementation Plan an official Document of the City, which the Mayor signed. There is no safety or financial basis for ignoring the approved Plan. There is only the change of personal change of mind by Ms. Wallinger.

We ask that the Mayor, Ms. Wallinger, and City Council resolve to return the Lady Liberty statue to an appropriate location in her home Park as soon as winter’s end allows for the installation. Surely, our so-called Smart City is wise enough to do the right thing. Returning Lady Liberty would be an important step toward gaining the trust of the public, and give us reason to hope the New Year moves Schenectady toward having a City Hall its people can respect.

newyearlady-001

 

after 44 weeks all added revenues still from slots

 For the 44 weeks since the 1st Anniversary celebration began for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, gambling revenues at the Schenectady Casino have been up a mere 10.1% from the dismal take its first year. But, making the anemic results even more worrisome, the total increase has come from Slot machines, up 16.8%, with Table Games and Poker Table GGR both down over the first year. Click here for the Rivers Casino Weekly Revenue Reports.

RiversRevs-Compare-Feb-Nov

A Ten Percent increase is surely disappointing, now that the Casino has its long “wait until” list in place: Its own Landing Hotel; the Large River House apartment complex open and nearly full; the Marina attracting boaters, and its Amphitheater bringing thousands to free concerts; the popular Druther’s Brewery restaurant crowded, help from the Convention and Tourism Bureau, a large shopping-mall-style sign for Mohawk Harbor, and more.

A FLAT NOVEMBER. Also, the Rivers Casino numbers for November 2018 compared to November 2017 are not impressive and should be worrisome to our tax revenue bean counters, if they signal the likely results for the rest of the year:

Total GGR –  1% increase
Nov 2018   $11,434,584
Nov. 2017.  $11,326,616
SLOTS/ETG-  6.4% increase
Nov. 2018  $7,847,001.
Nov. 2017. $7,376,744
TABLE GAMES – 10.3% decrease
Nov.2018  $3,189,766.
Nov.2017.  $3,551,859

 

WPU/WPS PERFORMANCE? The Albany Times Union recently told us that Rivers Casino is “outperforming” its upstate commercial casino rivals. Rivers is clearly bringing in more gambling revenue per slot machine than either del Lago Casino at Tyre NY or Resorts World International at Monticello. Resorts World has about 1000 more slot machine than Rivers, and del Lago has 800 more. But, I am not sure how much weight to give to the Wins Per Unit or Wins Per Slot numbers presented by the TU as a measure of “performance” by the casino. Because I am not even close to being an expert in casino slot strategy, tactics or theory, I can only muse here, and be bemused. Naturally, I would appreciate hearing from experts on how to assess the situation. This is what the Times Union was told by Rivers Casino:

A Rivers spokesperson put out the following statement after the Times Union asked the casino to comment on what has helped the facility bring in revenue:  “We are very thankful for the support this year from our loyal guests,” read the statement attributed to Justin Moore, Rivers’ assistant general manager. “We continue to focus on providing a great guest experience every day.”

 

  • Wins Per Slot is “The amount of money left in a slot machine at day’s end”.  It is derived from looking at the Gross Credits played on a casino’s slot machines and subtracting the amount paid out; that figure is the Slots GGR for the covered period, which yields the Casino’s WPS when divided by the Number of Slot machines on the floor of the Casino.

TU, using NYS Gambling Commission numbers, says that Rivers Casino had a WPS of $236 for October 2018, compared to del Lago’s WPS of $166. [Resorts World’s operations are far from stabilized, so I am only comparing del Lago and Rivers here.]

 The Slots/ETG GGR total for each casino is “dollars in” minus dollars paid. Looking at the Slots GGR as a percentage of the Credits Played, it looks like Rivers’ is paying out 1.25¢ to 1.5¢ (1.25% to 1.5%) less than del Lago for each dollar of credit paid in.  For example, click on the screen shot compilation to the right, with monthly numbers from April through October 2018 for the two casinos. To wit:

  • Rivers Slots GGR is 8.60%, a 1.25% higher retention after payouts than del Lago’s 7.35%
  • 1.25% of the $728 million played on the slots during that period at Rivers is $9.1 million
  • There were 214 days in the period, or $418K extra left per day in the machines than if Rivers had used del Lago’s higher payout rate
  • Divided by 1150 slot machines, there is an extra $36 per day per unit
On the other hand, if del Lago had kept as much as Rivers, del Lago would have had about $11.7 million dollars more over the 7 months to ascribe to WPU. Divided by 214 days, that equals $546K, and divided by 1961 (the daily average of slot/ETG machines), is about $28 per day more per unit.
 
  • If each casino had used the other’s payout rate, their WPU’s would be a lot closer, but I am not certain what that would tell us about their “performance” as opposed to strategies for attracting players to their slot machines.

Nonetheless, I do wonder:

  1. Wouldn’t their “loyal customers” like to know that Rivers pays out 1.25% less for each dollar played at a Slot Machine than del Lago is paying?
  2. Is this a version of the Worst Case Scenario we casino opponents raised in 2014: Rivers is missing its gambling revenue projections by a significant amount. It is attracting lots of repeat local slots customers, raising the potential for increased gambling addiction and problem gambling in our community. AND, it is paying its loyal slots customers less per dollar played than its competitors.

By the way, if del Lago were to reduce the number of slot machines it has in use by 800, to increase its “performance” and offer the same number of slots as Rivers [1150], it would save $500 per machine in annual licensing fees, meaning the State would receive $400,000 less toward a fund to help fight problem gambling. By starting with the lower number of slot machines, Rivers has saved itself $500 per machine in licensing fees.

encore for those infamous Snowmen

Thank you Albany Times Union, for helping to ensure that the history and legend of the Snowmen at the Schenectady Stockade Gates, on the night of the 1690 Massacre, will be more widely known and will not be buried or forgotten again. At the top of the Sunday TU Business section yesterday, The Buzz column (Dec. 9, 2018, at E1) read:

TUTheBuzzDetailHistory of Snowman, an illustrated view

The current issue of the Smithsonian magazine highlights the Snowman in history, including the failed effort by some human sentinels to protect the village of Schenectady in 1690 while they visited a tavern.

According to the new book, “Illustrated History of the Snowman” by Bob Eckstein  French and Indian forces weren’t fooled by the snowman sentinels the guards had erected in their place, and the night ended badly for the Schenectadians, with 60 residents — men, women and children — killed in the massacre. . . 

After describing the spread of snowmen images thereafter, including widespread use in advertising for alcoholic beverages, The Buzz cheekily points out:

Apparently, they hadn’t learned that alcohol and snowmen don’t mix.

. . [Ed. note] All the hoopla about the craft breweries coming to Schenectady’s Mill Lane Artisan District might be a fateful failure of memory of our local leaders. The 1690 wayward sentinels had, in fact, gone to the Douwe Aukes Tavern at Mill Lane for their tankards of brew, and the Stockade paid dearly for it.

HistSnowman2007Cover At this website, Snowmen at the Gates, our title theme of snowmen futilely guarding Schenectady’s gates has its genesis in Bob Eckstein’s original 2007 version of The History of the Snowman, which has a chapter devoted to the 1690 Massacre. That is where I first learned of the scandalous dereliction of duty that led to the horrific  Schenectady Massacre.

  • That’s right, after living here in ignorance of that tale for twenty years, it took a NYC sophisticate and author/humorist/cartoonist to teach me the sad story behind the saddest day in the history of my adopted home. As I travel around Town, and when I mention the name of this website, it is clear that most folks still do not know the legend of the Snowmen at the Gates, which I am afraid means that our City has not Learned the Lessons of the 1690 Massacre.

IllustratedSnowman-EcksteinCover If you’d like to read Bob Eckstein‘s full discussion of the 1690 Massacre and the impotent snowmen left at an open gate (despite warnings from Albany of a raiding party on the way), go to the Amazon.com page for his new Illustrated History of the Snowman”, where you can Look Inside the Book, and simply search the word Schenectady. You’ll also see that Schenectady snowmen are the first reference to snowmen in North America that Bob found in his comprehensive research on the history of such frozen aqueous sculpture.

Both editions of History of the Snowman contain the full illustration of the North Wind Archives artwork that adorns our masthead above; that’s where I first saw it and was inspired to contact the good folks at North Wind. Here is another image from the Illustrated History, a snow-globe depicting the 1690 Massacre:

1690MassacreSnowGlobe

Preparing to write this posting today, I discovered:

  1. bobecksteinschdyExactly a decade ago this weekend, on December 7, 2008, Bob Eckstein visited Schenectady to do a presentation at our Central Library (image at the right) and book-signing at the Open Door for the 1st Edition of History of the Snowman. See “snowman historian blows into Schenectady” (f/k/a, Dec. 7, 2008); and “SnowmanCity, NY“ (Nov. 29, 2008).
  2. While Schenectady snowmen were the first reference Bob found to their species in North America, the last two postings at Bob’s decade-long website Today’s Snowman, historyofthesnowman.com, were also about Schenectady snowmen. See “Schenectady’s Stockade Snowman at the Gates” (Feb. 3, 2016); and “Schenectady Snowman from 2009” (Feb. 10, 2016). Here are screenshots of those last two postings; click on them to enlarge.

TodaysSnowman

TodaysSnowman03Feb2016 . .  . TodaysSnowman03Feb2008a

So, in many ways, Bob Eckstein is the godfather or midwife of this website. Without him, we might be called The Adventures of Mayor McSmarty. Or, maybe “If this is a Renaissance . . . “.

Ignored – the rules, the plans, the public, and safety

At tonight’s Schenectady City Council meeting, Nov. 13, I hope (despite the unrealistic 3-minute rule) to present and explain the issues depicted in collages posted below. The first topic is related to the Agenda Item regarding approval of a Schenectady PRIDE art installation at Gateway/Liberty Park.  Schenectady needs an established procedure to ensure adequate public input and post-approval monitoring of plans for proposals regarding important public spaces and art. The second will be a Privilege of the Floor statement regarding important safety issues created along the Mohawk Harbor’s shared use path by the failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/IgnoredPlans

Click on an image for a larger version.

FIRST: “PLANS CHANGE”. For fuller discussion of the question of how [or how not] to include the public in the selection of public art and in the design and implementation of plans for important projects and locations, see:

GP-planschange

. . GP-Turbine-Girders

GPLightPoleChange

follow-up (November 24, 2018): The Daily Gazette reports “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects: The board detailed this in a letter given to the mayor and city council members” (by Andrew Beam, Nov. 23, 2018). Commentary can be found at the end of this posting.

SECOND: The bike-pedestrian Trail at Mohawk Harbor is far less safe than it readily could have been because of a failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side. For comprehensive discussion of ALCO Heritage or Mohawk Harbor Trail safety issues, with excerpts from and links to relevant rules and studies, and with many more photos, etc., see:

ALCOTrail-safetyignored

update (Nov. 24, 2018): As stated above, the Gazette published an article today by Andrew Beam headlined “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects” (Nov. 23, 2018).  In a lengthy comment left at the article’s online webpage, I made several points, including:

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Who botched placement of the ALCO Heritage Trail signs?

Schenectady County spent $30,000 for a set of “interpretive” signs that were installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail about six weeks ago. They celebrate the proud history of the site as location of the American Locomotive Company, where world-class locomotives and tanks were manufactured for over a century. [See County Press Release (Sept. 18, 2018); Daily Gazette article, and Times Union coverage (Sept. 20, 2018)]

IMG_9190 . . IMG_9193

But, even a casual look at the placement of the sturdy and wordy signs reveals that they are too close to the bike-hike trail, creating a hazard for anyone stopping to read the lengthy messages, and for bicyclists and pedestrians on the Trail. For example,

  • DSCF4280Neither the required 3-foot lateral clearance from a shared-use path stated in Schenectady’s Bike Master Plans (see below), much less the preferred distance of 3 to 5 feet, has been allotted for the large interpretive signs. The Best Practices rule of thumb of 3-5′ applies even to small  signs on single, narrow poles, to help ensure that a cyclist or pedestrian who must swerve off a path in an emergency or panic, has room to maneuver to safety. Instead, the frames of the ALCO Heritage signs are as little 28 inches from the bike-hike path.
  •  Whether a reader is alone, or part of a couple, family or group, the only place from which to read each of the 11 signs is from the shared-use Trail, placing them in the way of cyclists, runners, and all types of pedestrians passing by in both directions. The more successful the Trail is attracting users and tourists, the more frequently will conflicts arise.
  • There is no hard surface off the path “tread” for sign-readers in a wheelchair, or with a cane, walker or motorized scooter, to stop; nor for a curious bicyclist; nor for pedestrians who want to avoid unpaved ground around the sign when it is wet, slippery, or muddy.

 

 . . alcotrailsignreaders.jpg
DSCF4252

Members of the public without planning and engineering degrees (and, surely, even a group of visiting fourth-graders) can immediately see or sense that the ALCO Heritage signs are poorly placed. Why, then, would the County and City of Schenectady, which have been planning and promoting the use of bike and hike trails since before the dawning of the Third Millennium, permit this sub-par (and liability-creating) installation?  Good question.

ALCOSigns-McQueen-Hughes-Gaz [R] A new sign is unveiled byGary Hughes, Majority Leader of the County Legislature and Chair of its Economic Planning and Development Committee, and Joe McQueen, Spokesman for the County (Sept. 20, 2018). Photo by Marc Schultz for the Daily Gazette.

 

BikeSchyAdvisoryCmte . . SchdyBike2001-steering

. . above: [R] Steering Committee for the City of Schenectady Bike Master Plan (2001); and [L] and Advisory Panel of Bike Schenectady Master Plan (2017). Click on image for a larger version.

The County and City both were well-represented on the two Bike Master Plans produced and adopted by the City of Schenectady since the turn of the Century, one in 2001, and one just last year, the Bike Schenectady Master Plan, 2017. [See the lists in the images above this paragraph.] Both Master Plans call for a lateral clearance of at least 3 feet from the edge of the path for any signs along a shared-use path in the City of Schenectady (even small ones on skinny poles). And, of course, in both plans, a shared-use path along the Mohawk at the old ALCO site was seen as the crowning jewel of the system. Click on the images immediately below to see relevant portions of [L] the 2001 Bike Master Plan; and [R] Bike Schenectady (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

MUTCDshareduse . . BikeSchdy-TrailClearance

  • The American Trails organization also recommends a 3-foot clearance; as does, e.g., the Florida DOT: “3 feet or more desirable (clearance from trees, poles, walls, fences, guardrails, etc.)”.

But, is there any other reason, besides Common Sense safety and convenience concerns, for insisting that those viewing a trail-side interpretive sign be allowed to stand or sit off the trail? The Erie County Wayfinding Manual is a useful guide on many of the issues that arise in planning and implementing a bike-hike trail. It offers the thoughtful guidance that signage formats be “designed around the information they need to convey”, and thus (at 4, emphasis added):

Detailed orientation information, for instance, is placed on large signs where people can pull off the trail and spend as much time as they wish to study made, legends or interpretive information.

It is hard to believe that County and City planning staff members who have been active in municipal bicycle matters are not aware of the notion that interpretive signs be placed in a way that lets interested persons safely study them off the path, on a hard surface. Indeed, only two months ago, the County‘s study for a portion of this very ALCO Heritage Trail, MOHAWK HUDSON BIKE TRAIL EXTENSION FEASIBILITY REPORT (Sept. 14, 2018, at 22), included the following illustration, captioned “Example of wayfaring or interpretive signs”:

MHBTFReport-SignageImage . . MHBTFReport-signagepage

. . shorter URL for the Sept. 2018 Extension Feasibility Report: https://tinyurl.com/ALCOTrailExtend

IMG_9200This past Sunday (Nov. 4, 2018), while standing at the sign shown to the right and speaking to the couple in the photo, speedo-clad bicyclists twice rode quickly past us, appearing from the west, and in no way signaled their presence or their passing us on the left. Over the entire past year walking on the Mohawk Harbor trail and on the only paved path at Riverside Park, only one bicyclist passing me gave the required signal, with the silent ones leaving me startled and often off-balance. If nothing else, the customary behavior of individuals and groups using our trails, along with the lack of enforcement of safety rules, must be taken into account when designing and installing signage.

  • img_9186.jpg My web search could not be exhaustive, but the examples of interpretive signage closer than three feet from a trail that I found, and that were shaped like most of the ALCO Heritage Trail signage (example on the left), were on pedestrian or hiking trails, not trails that were meant to accommodate bicyclists (or horses).

If the experienced and professional staff members in planning and related offices of the County and City are aware of the 3-foot clearance rule and the preference for getting sign-readers off the path, why was the ALCO Heritage Trail signage project so poorly designed? I can only presume that their advice was silenced or over-ridden by people with more authority, who lacked knowledge of the regulation or best practices, and never bothered to ask fundamental questions. Or, who had priorities other than the safety and convenience of trail users, such as using as little of the developer’s or Casino’s lawn next to the path as possible, or spending as little money as possible.

RayGillen-tireless When I wrote to Metroplex Chair, and County Planning/Development Chief, Ray Gillen, to ask why the signs were so close to the Trail, his only reply on that issue was, “We all think they are beautiful.”  Ray Gillen, is known as tireless and working 24/7, and always tells me I should come first to him with concerns. Perhaps others will be more successful than I getting a useful explanation from Mr. Gillen. Maybe, asking Legislator Gary Hughes or Anthony Jasenski, Legislative Chair, would be more useful. My attempts to get answers from City and County leaders have been fruitless, which usually means they know I will not likely like the answer or consider it to be persuasive.

DSCF4279My hope is that members of the media and general public who care about public safety and transparency, and the rule of law, will probe a bit more. And, do so before the first serious injury along the Harbor Trail, and any related law suit.

Mohawk Harbor was meant to be, and is constantly touted as, the City’s showplace and pride. Yet, the Mohawk Harbor bike-hike trail has been constructed (somehow, at the expense of taxpayers rather than the developer) with little regard for public safety and comfort. Both the history signs on the south/Casino side of the trail, and the guardrails on the riverside of the trail, ignore the City’s codes, policies and plans, as well as best practice guidelines that seem particularly appropriate for our “showplace” Harbor.

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Rivers Casino table games revenue still down from 2017

gaminglessonsad Despite sponsoring Gaming Lessons last September (see image to right), and having a rather good Table Games month in October 2018, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor has still taken in less revenue from Table Games in the nine months since its first anniversary in February 2018, than it did in the same months of 2017, after its opening.  This is, of course, the flip side of the “slotsification” trend we have been reporting on here the past several months: The almost 11% increase in revenues at Rivers Casino over the same period last year is totally accounted for by an increase in Slots/ETG revenue of over 18%, with both table games and poker table revenue down. [Click for the Rivers’ Weekly Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) figures submitted to the Gaming Commission.] Here’s a chart showing aggregate numbers for the first nine months of operation of Rivers Casino in Schenectady, which began in February 2017, alongside the figures for the same nine months in 2018:

 CasinoRevCompared-Feb-Oct

We Repeat our Main Concern: Slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling, and draw many of the most vulnerable members of our community. As disappointing as the measly 1% reduction in property tax rates may be for 2019 (see Times Union article dated Oct. 26, 2018), the budget antics that brought any decrease at all due to Casino gaming tax revenues, are primarily bought with the Slots dollars spent by our grandmothers and neighbors who probably can least afford to gamble at Rivers Casino. The High Rollers are not flying in regularly to help reduce your taxes.

SlotsGrandmaBW. . Thank you, Dearie, for the tiny tax cut; but, you better try harder! . . 

Slots have been up elsewhere across the nation, but at nowhere near the percentage increase that we have seen all year along the Mohawk. Despite that, neither the City nor County of Schenectady has budgeted any funds for problem gambling education and prevention in 2019.  And, neither government seems to want to look into, much less talk about, the dollars sucked out of other local businesses as crowds are lured to events at Mohawk Harbor.

pillar-ied at the Plaza

img_6565-Pillars

No, those “Rusty Girders” & “Light Sabers” are not there for Halloween. They are, however, more trick than treat for many of the people who live or work in Schenectady, or just visit the City and pass by or through “Gateway Plaza”.

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Of course, the Plaza fixtures aren’t officially called “Rusty Girders” & “Light Sabers”. They are the modern sculpture and lighting fixtures that have been permanently installed along Gateway Plaza’s [Liberty Park’s] Water Street Pedestrian Way. What do you think?

The makers of each refer to them as “pillars”:

  • img_8667.jpgThe girders, which have been placed at the Central Focal Point of the Plaza as urban sculpture, are “Open Pillar Corten Steel Lighting Columns“, described as “triangular LED-ready lighting columns with a lattice-like graphic pattern.” Their attributes: They “break the horizon with a strong vertical expression. The abstract geometrical pattern can blend into almost any atmosphere. The distinctive open pattern allows vegetation to climb and grow, introducing vertical green in open spaces.” Ours have no vegetation, but do have blue LED lighting that can be seen starting around sunset and dusk.
  • Girders-StateStViewThe light poles are “Unilamp’s Contemporary Light Column / PMMA / LED / For Public Spaces: Pillar“. The sales copy for the light column states: “It is intentionally used for highlighting the surrounding structure works in modern architectural areas. Because of its eye-catching look, it is suitably applied in square, commercial areas and open spaces.”

The Plaza’s designer and construction administrator, landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, apparently chose them for the Plaza believing they signal to visitors that Schenectady is contemporary and future-oriented. On the other hand, she decided, belatedly and behind the scenes, to exile Lady Liberty from her Liberty Plaza home, for not being contemporary enough. [For that story, see our post “Lady Liberty is Timeless]

Chair Wallinger discussing Casino Pylon

Those changes from the approved Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, in my opinion at least, really do seem like tricks, especially since the decisions were made out of the public view by the same person who authored and promoted the original Implementation Plan in 2013, and who incidentally wields power at City Hall as the Chair of the City’s Planning Commission. Moreover, because (as explained below), they were not shown in the approved Implementation Plan or even as alternatives during its creation and approval, they seem like a bait-n-switch.

SURPRISE: Why were so many of us surprised by the choice of these pillars for the Plaza? What did we expect the lighting and sculpture to look like in Gateway Plaza? The public and their representatives who are asked to adopt or approve a plan look to drawings or other images (renderings) presented by the Plan creators in order to understand the intended appearance of a project when completed. Here are details from a rendering presented by Ms. Wallinger in drafts and in the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was adopted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor in 2013:

GPrenderSculpture.png . . [L] detail from Plan rendering of a wind turbine (and sculpture) located at the Plaza’s Central Focal Point, on the “Water Street Pedestrian Way” portion of Gateway Plaza, as seen from State Street. And,

 GPrenderLamps [L] rendering detail showing lamp poles along the Pedestrian Way (with a Venus de Milo replica and a modern red sculpture further down the path) . .

CENTRAL FOCAL POINT. The Implementation Plan’s Executive Summary has this to say about the Central Focal Point and Sculpture:

PubWorkshop-CentralFocalThe central focal point is intended to be a large sculptural wind turbine that would cleanly and abstractly capture the City of Schenectady’s historic legacy as a City of innovation while also celebrating its more recent role in both the arts and green technologies.

PubMtg-WhyWindTurbine When asked at the Implementation Plan’s Design Public Workshop, “Why a wind turbine and not something solar?” [image at left shows text in the Report], the design team representative (who I believe was Ms. Wallinger) gave the following response:

There is room for both technologies, but the wind turbine speaks to Schenectady’s past and present and would also say something about the environmental conditions in the park, adding another layer of interest. In addition to providing energy for the park, it would also serve as a piece of art that tells a story.

As actually implemented and constructed, of course, there is not a Wind Turbine in sight, just the “fast-rusting” Girders for focal point sculpture. Were there engineering or financial problems that made a working or purely artistic wind turbine impractical? When was the wind turbine concept abandoned and the search for a substitute made? When and why were the Cor-ten Girders selected? Were they, for example, the $20,000 item in the submitted expense estimates? Who participated in the change and new selection process? If the public was asked to participate in the discussion, I am not aware of it.

. .  [R] sample of attractive wind turbine HerculesWindTurbine-Eng

PubWorkshop-Lighting LIGHTING: When asked “How would lighting work in the park?” at the Public Design Workshop for the Implementation Plan [image to the right], the design team representative responded (emphases added):

There would be perimeter lighting at levels similar to those along the 400 block of State Street and it would be in the form of street lights at a pedestrian scale. There would also be lighting along the central axes and likely some low level lighting as needed to ensure visibility and safety within the park, especially since it will likely be used in the evenings by students and others if restaurants move into the area. The internal fixtures would likely be more contemporary and should utilize low energy technologies.

What about using bollard lighting? Response: There are certainly opportunities for some creative lighting, but maintenance needs to be considered and whichever fixtures are chosen will need to be easy to maintain, inexpensive to replace parts, durable, and efficient.

GP-lightpoledetail Having reviewed many proposals over the last several decades by government staffers and contractors, and by attorneys, the vague wording “The internal fixtures would likely be more contemporary” should have raised red flags for me and others even more familiar with the planning process. Including that phrase looks like an attempt by the designers to give themselves more than a little “wiggle room”, to later justify diverging from the light fixtures shown in the Plan rendering of the internal Pedestrian Way [image detail to the right]. When was the switch to the “light sabers” made, and who was included in that decision process?

How did we get something so different? You’ll have to ask Mary Moore Wallinger, whose LAndArt Studio is administering the construction of Gateway Plaza. She is Owner/Principal of LAndArt Studio and incidentally, as noted above, the Chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission. You might also ask her protectors-partners-sponsors, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen and Mayor Gary McCarthy. [For more pictures of the finished Gateway Plaza, please see this posting at “suns along the Mohawk”].

  • One wag has suggested that maybe Ms. Wallinger had the wrong definition of “execute” in mind, when given the task of executing the approved Plan for Metroplex and the City.

Should we care? How should our elected officials (City Council or the County Legislature) and the public react, as a matter of either public process or aesthetics, when a result is so different from a proffered and approved Plan, with no intervening input from our representatives or the public?

GPplanschange

 . . De gustibus non est disputandum . . . .

HOW MUCH DISCRETION? The cliché is that “There is no accounting for taste” — that there is no objective way to resolve disputes over a matter of taste. That is certainly true about private matters, although promises should matter and be taken into account. But, when one person’s taste is thrust upon the public, in a visually inescapable and financially significant way, what safeguards should be in place? Here, we add the important factor of expectations created when a plan is produced after broad participation and then officially approved.

erasingG In Schenectady, approved plans have been changed on projects for preserving or replacing buildings at important locations — usually, with City Hall or the Planning Commission pointing to “engineering” reports that they say indicate a safety issue or unknown factors that make the approved plans impossible, impractical, or immensely more expensive, to achieve. No such reasons were available for the belated exiling of Lady Liberty from Liberty Park and its extension into Gateway Plaza. Instead, Mayor Gary McCarthy spoke of recommendations from “the Design Team,” giving no further details or explanation. The Design Team is, or is headed by, Mary Wallinger.

Similarly, as a member of the public who tries to keep abreast of such issues, I have heard of no reasons for the change in installed sculpture and lighting poles. I have no idea whether or not the changes were brought to the attention of the City Planning Office staff, Operations Bureau, the Mayor, or other City Hall officials or staffers, before the selections were made, purchased or installed.

LLspotwinter 

Given the great emphasis the City and County have placed on creating this “gateway” to Schenectady, and supposed influence on the image presented by the City, shouldn’t we expect more monitoring and oversight of the final product, especially its appearance and appeal? And, shouldn’t we require that significantly more attention be paid to the likely reaction of the public to significant stylistic and design changes to major elements of an approved plan?

  • IMG_8671Public Reaction? The best review of the Lamp Pillars that I have heard is that they look really cool at night. Of course, ignoring their bland appearance all day so that relatively few people might see the lamp portion at night is not a great trade-off.
  • Similarly, as to the girders, [1] Some passers-by think the off-the-shelf pillars must be remains from the 9/11 Tragedy at the World Trade Center or perhaps are an allusion to the City’s once-great industrial past. I do not know whether Ms. Wallinger was trying to make such references, despite her professed goal this year of honoring Schenectady’s future. [2] Close up, I find the blue light glowing in the Open-Pillar Lighting Columns fun to view and photograph. But, how many people will have that experience after sunset, especially when the glow is scarcely noticeable from State Street even in full darkness (perhaps because the light pillars are so bright)?
  • Even if you like the Girders and Sabers and have no problem in the abstract of having them in the Plaza, the process that brought them there is troublesome.

When Ms. Wallinger addressed City Council at a public meeting to explain her exiling of Lady Liberty, she asserted that “plan’s change” (without differentiating among initial brainstorming, drafts and alternatives under consideration, reaction to public input at workshops, and municipally-adopted plans, much less those with post-approval emergencies), and she insisted Lady Liberty was only a “small part” of the overall Plaza Plan, seemingly talking about square footage, not emotional and historic value. Her  breezy attitude about her authority over final design choices is especially worrisome to me, because she (through her alter ego landscape architecture studio or subcontractor roles with other firms) has been given design control over so many municipal projects, and because of her influence over the Planning Commission agenda and procedures, and its staff. Thus, her LAndArt Studio website proclaims:

 Principal and owner Mary Moore Wallinger has been working in the field of Landscape Architecture since 2000  – designing, managing and overseeing projects both large and small. Ms. Wallinger’s robust portfolio includes municipal parks and plazas, institutional and corporate campuses, site planning, master planning, urban design, sustainable site design, healing gardens, and streetscapes.

For example, in Schenectady City and County, Mary Wallinger has been the principal designer for:

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How Much Discretion is Appropriate? Perhaps Schenectady City and County (and especially Metroplex) should take a close look at the various guidelines on the selection of public art that have been promulgated by interested professional and community groups (for example,  the Standards and Guielines adopted by the College Art Association, CAAA), to renew their commitment to broad participation and respect for public input. The CAAA guidelines, for example,  call for early public participation and reconsideration of a draft design after receiving public comments on the draft.

  • With Gateway Plaza, the public’s desire for the return of Lady Liberty and keeping the name of Liberty Park has been ignored after approval, while being placated during the plan-making process. [see images just below this blurb] In addition, the public’s ability to influence the appearance of the Plaza/Park was greatly undermined by switching two of the most important elements, with choices that are met at most with indifference.

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Public Workshop comments on [above] name of the Plaza; [below] location of Lady Liberty

It seems that the City and County of Schenectady are giving too much discretion on important and highly-visible municipal projects to too few people. And, even after official approval, too much leeway to the person entrusted with implementing plans. Especially when it comes to highly visible pieces of public art or important public spaces, the public’s role and opinion must be protected and honored.

IMG_8665 . .

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. . hm: maybe a real pillory like one on display at Williamsburg VA would bring back a little history, at least for Halloween . .