State funds will aid problem gambling awareness

 On Tuesday, May 15, 2018, the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) announced “the availability of up to $1.4 million in annual funding to increase New Yorkers’ awareness and education of problem gambling and the prevention, treatment and recovery services available to them. To expand the network of care in New York State, the funding will also provide training for addiction field professionals as well as state-licensed practitioners working outside of the addiction treatment field on how to assess and treat gambling-related problems.” [Click to see the full Announcement] And, see “Problem gambling programs get funding boost” (Daily Gazette, by Andrew Beam, A1, May 16, 2018)

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is quoted noting:

“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.” (emphasis added)

The OASAS Problem Gambling Awareness and Education Announcement explains further:

“The provider selected to administer the funds will collaborate with Problem Gambling Resource Centers and State gambling facilities to ensure that problem gambling is addressed at each site and referral information is available. In addition, the funding will be used for initiatives such as public forums, exhibits and awareness materials to deliver statewide and community-wide education and awareness about problem gambling.”

As a chronic advocate of Problem Gambling prevention through education and public awareness, I am very pleased to see this new funding. Lt. Gov. Hochful’s statement makes it clear the State is aware that it has responsibilities to the community due to the State relying so heavily on the creation of “new gaming options” as an engine of economic growth and increased tax revenues.

NoEvil-see There is no doubt that the closer proximity or easier availability of gambling options raises the incidence — and injury — of problem gambling. Nonetheless, in its application for the Rivers Casino gaming license, Rush Street Gaming asserted there would be no increased incidence of problem gambling in the Schenectady area with a new casino, because people here could already drive to Saratoga, Connecticut, etc. The Mayor and his cronies on City Council never questioned Rush Street’s position. While del Lago Casino is paying the salary for two problem gambling social workers on the Seneca County Health Department staff, Mayor McCarthy so no problem and asked for nothing. So far, neither the City nor County has a problem gambling education program.

Three points worth making:

  1. $1.4 million annually across the State is a nice start but is surely inadequate if the goal is to educate the public, especially vulnerable groups, to make good choices about the amount of gambling they can tolerate without becoming problem gamblers. According to the State’s Enacted Financial Plan, the Executive is expecting gaming revenues to be $3,335.8 million in SFY 2019. $1.4 million is a mere 0.04% of the total gaming revenue expected.
  2. Given their financial incentives, “Gambling facilities” cannot be expected to vigilantly or enthusiastically help with Problem Gambling awareness and education. I hope that the emphasis when using these funds will be “initiatives such as public forums, exhibits and awareness materials to deliver statewide and community-wide education and awareness about problem gambling.”
  3. Our hope is that the $1.4 million will motivate more public and private entities to help finance and provide Problem Gambling Prevention education, rather than being an excuse not to do so.

New Choices, Counseling Center, 846 State St.

Currently, there is only one accredited provider of Problem Gambling Prevention services in Schenectady County, New Choices Recovery Center. Their services are available in Schenectady City schools (along with other programs to help children make good choices), and they are ready to come to your organization or group to make a presentation and share materials about Problem Gambling. Their Main Office is at 302 State Street, the old Masonic Lodge; phone: 518.346.4436.]

. . Click for the Have the Conversation Toolkit

sports betting along the Mohawk

 This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which dates back to 1992, and is known as PASPA.  PAPSA prohibited most States, including NJ and NY, from allowing sports betting. For a good analysis of the decision (understandable for the non-lawyer) see the premier weblog covering the Supreme Court, SCOTUSblog, “Opinion Analysis: Justices strike down federal sports gambling law“. The Court decision is called Murphy [as Governor of New Jersey] v. NCAA; click here for a pdf. version of the full opinion.

This website will surely treat this topic again, to see how it impacts NYS and especially commercial casinos such as Rives Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Two important points (and see the Red Check below for updated information from theTimes Union):

  • Under the current gaming law, only full casinos may offer sports betting once it is legal under federal law. They must get a specific license for that. “Racinos”, such as the Saratoga Casino, already have let it be known that they want a law letting them do it, too.
  • Under the current NYS Gaming Law, slot machine revenues at Rivers Casino are taxed at a 45% rate, and any other type of gaming revenues are taxed at 10%.  And, according to the Times Union, “State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee Chair John Bonacic carries legislation that would  . . . impose a state tax of 8.5 percent on sports wagering gross revenue.” So, if Rivers Casino slots players move a significant amount of their money over to the Casino’s Sports Betting lounge, or another Sports Wagering location (including online offerings), tax revenues from Rivers may decline, despite more betting go on at the Casino. Naturally, Rivers Casino hopes to lure sports bettors into other parts of the Casino, adding to gaming revenues.

Before 11 AM today, the Albany Times Union put online a good, short explanation on the possible impact on NYS casinos and racinos, in “Supreme Court ruling opens prospect of NY sports gamblingFour major NY casinos may be able to offer sports books” (by David Lombardo, online May 14, 2018). Here are excerpts from the TU article: 

The state law that allowed commercial live-table casinos in New York included a provision authorizing wagering on sporting events if the federal law was found unconstitutional or changed. Casinos must have a license specifically to offer sports gambling and gambling on sports can only be offered in “lounge” areas at a casino.
. . . Under current law, gambling operators besides the commercial live-table casinos, such as NYRA, the Saratoga Casino Hotel and Capital OTB, would be shut out from offering sports betting. But legislation from Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican and chair of the state Senate’s racing committee, would allow those operators to act as affiliates to the casinos and offer sports wagering.
. . James Featherstonhaugh, a minority owner in Saratoga Casino Hotel, anticipated the state Legislature could begin working on legislation addressing sports gambling this week.
 “I would expect it to be a lively topic between now and the end of the legislative session,” he said.
red check update (May 14, 2018, 7 PM): The Times Union has updated it article significantly, changing its subheadline to “State legislature will likely overhaul gambling landscape”, and reporting that
  1. “Gambling operators and state legislators in New York are scrambling to craft a new regulatory framework”
  2. ” The state Gaming Commission must also adopt regulations and issue a sports gambling license before the casinos could offer sports wagering. That process will likely be preempted by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. . .Cuomo, speaking to reporters in Manhattan on Monday, rejected the idea that sports gambling in New York could be rolled out using the broad framework crafted in 2013. He said a new law was needed if the state wanted to proceed with sports gambling.” “We’ll do an economic analysis and a legal analysis, but nothing’s going to happen this year because there’s literally just a number of days left in the legislative session and this would be a very, very big issue to tackle,” Cuomo said.
  3.  The only local player with the potential to offer sports gambling under current law is the Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady, which has been eagerly preparing for the Supreme Court decision, according to their parent company, Rush Street Gaming.”We look forward to adding sports betting across all our gaming platforms as soon as possible,” Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin said in a statement.
  4. State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee Chair John Bonacic carries legislation that would allow for sports gambling on online platforms, impose a state tax of 8.5 percent on sports wagering gross revenue, collect fees for the operators of sports leagues, and authorize gambling on college sports.

follow-up (1 AM, May 15, 2018): The Schenectady Gazette put up a comprehensive piece online this evening. See “Sports betting legalized, will be added in Schenectady as soon as possible“, by John Cropley.  In the article, both Greg Carlin of Rush Street Gaming and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy say they want to bring sports betting to Schenectady as soon as possible. In a comment to the Gazette article, I raised the same theme as above on the questionable size of any increase in overall tax revenues to be paid by Rivers:

[Comment by David Giacalone:] Mayor McCarthy is already counting chickens early and praying for golden eggs. If enough slots betting (taxed at 45%) is instead bet on sports (taxed at 5 or 8.5 or 10%), taxes paid by Rivers Casino to the State may amount to a lot less than expected, even if Rivers revenues rise. Grandpa and Uncle Joe might just head for the Sports Wagering Lounge at Rivers, leaving Grandma and Aunt Tillie at the slots; or, all four of them might decide that sports wagering can be a lot more stimulating than a slots trance. As a result, former slots players might generate a lot less tax revenue even though visiting Rivers Casino as often as before.

I know why Rivers Casino wants to start sports wagering ASAP, but I am not so sure why the Mayor of Schenectady is in such a big hurry.

  • In a related matter, in case you missed the news, as of May 4, 2018, Capital OTB now has a branch inside Van Slyck’s Bar at Rivers Casino.
BTW: Amy Howe’s analysis for SCOTUSblog points out that:

Today’s ruling could also have a much broader reach, potentially affecting a range of topics that bear little resemblance to sports betting. For example, supporters of so-called “sanctuary cities” – cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws – have cited the 10th Amendment in recent challenges to the federal government’s efforts to implement conditions on grants for state and local law enforcement. Challenges to the federal government’s recent efforts to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug for either recreational or medical use may also be based on the 10th Amendment.

Rivers Casino Brawl (2018 version)

. . let’s hope grandma left early . . YourAngryGrandmaBW

. . It’s Springtime at Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino, and once again, a young gang’s fancy turns to fisticuffs:

Yesterday afternoon online (May 1, 2018), but NOT in print today or the past three days, the Gazette reported “Five arrested after Schenectady casino brawl” (by Andrew Beam).

Five people were arrested after a fight involving approximately 30 people at Rivers Casino & Resort on Sunday.

The fight began at around 3 a.m. and stemmed from an argument between two people, according to Sgt. Jeffrey McCutcheon. However, McCutcheon said it was unclear why the fight began because most of the the people charged did not cooperate with police.

crimescene-casino . . Mutual aid was requested by police officers assigned to the casino, with members of the Rotterdam Police Department, Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office, Scotia Police Department and the Glenville Police Department responding for backup. McCutcheon said officers from those agencies were not needed to make the arrests.

Today, the online edition has more details.

Malcolm Mathias faces a felony second-degree assault charge, accused of placing city officer Charles Stevens in a head lock. Stevens suffered a cut to the left side of his head, according to court documents. . .

“The defendant’s actions resulted in officers getting surrounded by 20 or more persons, getting attacked by other individuals and creating public alarm,” state the charges against both men.

As we learn more about the incident and about media coverage, this posting will be updated.

update (Wed. night, May 2, 2018): The brief article “5 charged at Rivers casino fight” (by Steve Hughes, Albany Times Union) was posted online this afternoon. TU article states that:

Video reportedly shot at the casino and posted on social media during the incident shows a large group of people pushing and shoving as casino security attempts to separate several people. A second video show police officers surrounded by people arguing and appearing to arrest at least two people.

There is no link to the video, but maybe Paul Nelson will locate it when he gets back to work on his Schenectady crime beat.

 

a quick look at del Lago’s exterior

 . . 

. .  above: main entrance to [L] del Lago Casino; [R] Rivers Casino Schenectady

Driving back to Schenectady the day after Easter, I noticed that del Lago Resort & Casino is located right at Exit 41 of the New York Thruway, at Waterloo, NY, in Seneca County. Having only seen renderings of del Lago, when concluding it looked considerably more attractive than Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, I thought I’d take the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a few photos of the exterior of del Lago in the brick-and-mortar world.

delLagoHotelRear

. . above: rear of del Lago Hotel and side entrance of Casino

You can judge for yourself from the two collages below (click on each for larger versions), one of which concentrates on the Casinos and one on the Hotels and Parking Ramps, how the $440 million spent on del Lago turned out, on the outside, compared to the $320 million to build Rivers Casino in Schenectady. A few additional images are also included after the collages. (You might note that del Lago appears to have no large, bright LCD screen or freestanding pylon.)

.

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Here are two more views of the del Lago Hotel:

IMG_6681 . . IMG_6679

 . . . And, two views of the rear entrance to the del Lago Casino:

IMG_6696  . . IMG_6694

Plus, the del Lago entry/exit driveway, at 1133 State Route 414, seen from near the self-park lot:

. . IMG_6667 . .

IMG_6669

IMG_6666

UpstateNYMap2018

  • Distances. Del Lago is 43 miles from Syracuse, 50 miles from Rochester, 90 miles from Utica, 95 miles from Binghamton, 105 miles from Watertown, 112 mlies from Buffalo, and 156 miles from Schenectady. In an Appendix at the bottom of my Casino Choices posting from January 2017, I have compiled the distances of the various casinos from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Kingston, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, and Utica. 

IMG_6673

bum’s Rush needed

. . “get dose bums outta here!” . . 

 And, so it begins: “Rivers, Del Lago casinos ask state for better terms: All four non-Indian casinos in state are missing their financial targets” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by John CropleyMarch 28, 2018):

 Little more than a year since their grand openings, two of New York’s four non-Indian casinos are asking the state for financial help.

Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and Del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County are both making their cases with state lawmakers as the negotiations for the 2018-2019 state budget wind down to the final hours in Albany.

Details on their requests are elusive and, given the secretive nature of deal-making in the Capitol, quite possibly subject to change or outright rejection.

. . . Details were likewise hazy on the request by Rivers.

 A New Jersey public relations agency working for Rivers said there would be no comment on the matter.

A lobbyist reportedly working for the casinos did not return a call seeking comment.

. . . However, Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, whose district contains Rivers Casino & Resort, said he has been given a rough idea of what Rivers is requesting, and said he endorses it.

Trying to save Schenectady’s Lady Liberty from pols and pirates is monopolizing my time again today, so I can’t go into detail about taxpayers getting the Bum’s Rush from Rush Street, but it probably makes more sense to see what, if anything, is done with their request. [see update below: Cuomo won’t play]

Here is what I said in a comment at the Gazette article:

 On July 14, 2014, we asked at the “Stop the Schenectady Casino” weblog: “How big of a gamble are the casino cheerleaders willing to take?. . . Does the shiny future they predict for Schenectady include the sight of a failing casino project along Schenectady’s riverfront and the inevitable request for tax breaks and financial assistance that we can expect once gaming revenues shrink along the Mohawk? [see https://tinyurl.com/unpromisingCasino ]

When Rivers hired Rob Long as its new General Manager last December, we also noted that Long had guided the development and opening of Rush Street’s very first casino, Riverwalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Rush Street sold that Casino in 2012, just four years after it opened, and after failing in their request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment. Have Rush Street and Galesi Group drawn up their tax assessment challenges yet? Are they looking for a buyer? What will Mr. Steck do for them next?

In addition to checking out https://tinyurl.com/unpromisingCasino, see “casino projections vs. casino reality” and links therein. Stay tuned, and watch out for those pick-pockets and Rushing Bums.

red check update (4 PM, March 28, 2018):  See “Cuomo says he is not interested in bailing out casinos” (State Of Politics. March 28, 2918). Article also has letter from State Senator Micheal Ranzenhofer, wanting help for existing casinos hurt by creating del Lago Casino, not for del Lago.

[8PM update] See “Cuomo: No bailout for Rivers, del Lago casinos” (Gazette, John Cropley, March 28, 2018).

There are many others in this state that aren’t getting what they need and that deserve more money from the state — many others in severe need through no fault of their own.

The casinos don’t fall into that category, and state lawmakers shouldn’t cave in to their appeals.

  • TUJBoyerTaxGamble update (March 30, 2018): The Times Union editorial board weighed in this morning with “Editorial: Say no to casino subsidies“, including a nifty illustration by Jeff Boyer [click on the thumbnail to the left]. It notes which of our representatives are for and against such handouts, and concludes:

All the signs were there years ago that the casino expectations and promises, especially upstate, were overblown. Now that those warnings are proving true, these enterprises seem to hope New York will behave like a classic loser who digs deeper into his pockets in the hope of a winning hand. There’s a gambling term state leaders would do well to learn: Pass.

Lady Liberty is Timeless

This posting summarizes the tale of Schenectady’s Lady Liberty as of late April 2018. For a fuller discussion of the issues in the controversy over where Lady Liberty will be relocated this Spring, see our posting Bring Lady Liberty Home, which has links to important documents, relevant images and helpful photos.

TimelessLadyLibertyY. . This sign states my theme when addressing the March 26, 2018 Schenectady City Council Meeting, in a Privilege of the Floor statement urging the return of Lady Liberty to her Park. And, below is another image made to argue the point, showing the spot (the green exclamation point) where Lady Liberty was to be returned in the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, plus “modern” elements already installed (click on it to enlarge):

  • GazEd-DontMoveLadyLiberty update (April 5, 2018): This evening, the Daily Gazette Editorial Board posted “Don’t Move Lady Liberty“, saying “City officials deciding the fate of the city’s 8-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty should end the tug of war over the statue and return it to where it was always intended to be, in its place of honor at the gateway to the city of Schenectady in Liberty Park.” (Click on thumbnail to the left to see the entire editorial from Friday’s Gazette.)

IMG_2267Background: Lady Liberty, a 100-inch tall replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, came to Schenectady as part of a 1950 Boy Scouts of America program. Local Boy Scouts saved up the $350 to purchase the statue. It stood in Liberty Park, which was later named for the replica of Lady Liberty, until it was put into storage some time after September 2016 (perhaps as late as August 2017), to protect the statue during the reconfiguration of Liberty Park and expansion into Gateway Plaza. The Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan clearly and explicitly included bringing Her back after the reconstruction.

GP-DiotteLadyTU24Feb2018 Nonetheless, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy told the Gazette in December 2017 that Lady “was looking for a new home,” and a group of Goosehill residents asked to use Lady Liberty as part of a Veterans Memorial in Steinmetz Park. Then, on February 24, 2018, a captioned photo of Lady Liberty in the Albany Times Union [thumbnail to the left] stated that the statue would not be going back to Liberty/Gateway Park, but would be heading to another park, probably Steinmetz Park.

. . Lady Liberty in her park, Sept. 15, 2016:  LibertyPark

. . GatewayPlazaCollage26FebB . . Gateway Plaza, open to the public, early 2018

GPPlan-LibertyBringing the Issue to City Council. Using the handout pictured to the right of this paragraph, the proprietor of this website, David Giacalone, raised the issue of the fate of Lady Liberty at the March 12, 2018 City Council Meeting, asking the members of the Council to see to it that the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan is implemented as planned with regard to the replica of Lady Liberty. The Council approved and the Mayor signed the Implementation Plan, deeming it an official city document, in 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). At the March 12 Council Meeting, Mayor McCarthy stated he had made no final decision, but noted — perhaps because he had no engineers to blame this time — that the move was due to the recommendation of “the Design Team.” For a fuller discussion of that meeting, see “The Lady and the Mayor and the Council“, which points out that Mary Moore Wallinger, a landscape architect who is also Chair of the Schenectady Planning Commission, was the primary designer of Gateway Plaza and remains so. And, that every alternative presented to the Gateway Plaza design steering committee and in public workshops by Ms. Wallinger in 2012 had Lady Liberty returning once construction was completed.

The March 26, 2018 City Council Meeting. At the next City Council meeting, a group of Goosehill residents and supporters of the Steinmetz Veterans Memorial plan addressed the Council and presented a Petition, supporting the placement of Lady Liberty at Steinmetz Park. Mary Moore Wallinger also spoke to the Council from the floor. Andrew Beam posted his Gazette coverage online Monday evening, “Residents jockey for Lady Liberty statue: The statue was removed from Liberty Park due to construction” (March 26, 2018).  Below is an expanded Comment I left late that night at the Gazette article:

Comment by David Giacalone:
 .

Sending Lady Liberty away from her only Schenectady home (since the statue was purchased in 1950), despite full public support in the Plan-creation process for returning her after reconstruction of the Park, greatly undermines the integrity of the process for creating important municipal projects. That is especially true when a plan involves preservation of an element of our history. And, it leaves the Council’s legislative and policy-making role frustrated by the Mayor.

GPPlanCover

Cover of Implementation Plan

 Bringing Lady Liberty back after reconstruction of the Park wasn’t merely a “concept”, as stated in the article. It was so obvious a result, that it was the only alternative presented to the Steering Committee and in public workshops by its primary designer Mary Moore Wallinger, and it was fully supported by all commenters in the 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.”

Lady Liberty was only removed, after Sept. 2016, for Her protection during construction, with every expectation that she would return. The Mayor created this conflict by ignoring the adopted Implementation Plan and announcing Lady Liberty was “looking for a new home.” It is sad that the good people of Goose Hill were never told that the Lady was already spoken for. Instead, they came and stated Lady Liberty had been abandoned and neglected and has been in storage for five years.

The excuse that Lady Liberty is not contemporary enough for that Plaza is simply silly. Designer Wallinger embraced keeping the Statue in the new Park/Plaza throughout the design process. There is no symbol that better fulfills the Implementation Plan’s goal of “celebrating our past, present, and future.” Lady Liberty is Timeless.

For the full story, with images from the Plan, and photos of the Plaza, and of Lady Liberty before construction, see: http://tinyurl.com/BringLibertyHome and the updates linked to that posting.

p.s. re Ms. Wallinger: I would have liked to respond to the very misleading statement to the Council on March 26 by landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, the designer who changed her mind about having Lady Liberty at the new Plaza and convinced the Mayor to ignore the adopted Plan. Normally, I would have spoken after Ms. Wallinger, because she signed in just ahead of me on the sign-up sheet. However, Council President Ed Kosiur called me to speak before Wallinger (who is also the Chair of the City Planning Commission), eliminating my opportunity to set the record straight.

Wallin-Sasnowski-Wallinger For example, although Ms. Wallinger omitted her original, indefensible excuse that Lady Liberty was too small to be in scale at the Plaza, she stated to the Council:

a) That the Liberty Statue was only “a small part” of the Plan. To the contrary, while small in size or footprint, Lady Liberty was a significant factor for public participants and for celebration of our City’s history. Of course, the small size belies the notion that the replica statue can somehow ruin the grand contemporization theme now embraced by Ms. Wallinger for the greatly expanded Park.

b) That “plans change.” Of course they do: initial brainstorming and concepts lead to refined and limited concepts and drafts. But, once a formal design process, with formal public participation (including a Steering Committee of “stakeholder” institutions), is adopted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor, only true safety, engineering, and financial problems traditionally are the basis of any significant change, especially without public participation in making the change. Here, there was one change: The Designer changed her public position, and wants Lady Liberty banned from Gateway/Liberty Plaza. As a result, because she is a Favorite of, and (as Planning Commission Chair) a Favor-Performer for, the Mayor, her design wish is being foisted on the City, along with her grand vision of what makes Schenectady seem “contemporary”. And,

c) That Gateway Plaza is meant to “celebrate the future” of Schenectady. That formulation truncates the original goal written by Wallinger in the Implementation Plan: “celebrate the past, present, and future” of Schenectady.

  • By the way, in addition to David Giacalone from the Stockade, and Mary Ann and Carmella Ruscitto of East Front Street, also speaking in support of bringing Lady Liberty back to Liberty Park was Jim Wilson, a 93-year old WWII vet who is “Mr. Veteran” to many people here in Schenectady.

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

GP-Rendering-LibertyDetail  . . IMG_6622

. . above: [L] detail from a rendering in the adopted Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza. showing the location for the return of Lady Liberty (click here for the full rendering);  [R] a photo of that location still empty and ready for Lady Liberty’s home-coming.

 . . . update (March 28, 2018): On March 27, an upset Mary Moore Wallinger wrote a lengthy email letter to City Council, the Mayor, Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen, and other officials and supporters of the move to Steinmetz Park, quite unhappy that Council member Vince Riggi had called the Lady Liberty dispute “divisive”. Ms. Wallinger expanded on her reasons for wanting to send Lady Liberty away from her home. Rather than relenting and reverting to the original Implementation Plan she had created and promoted, as a solution to avoid inter-neighborhood strife, the Friend of Gary seemed, in her email message, to be giving the Mayor another option: Placing Lady Liberty at a busy Schenectady location, with lots of foot and vehicle traffic and appropriate educational signage. Although it certainly sounds like Gateway/Liberty Plaza would fit that bill, it is clear that Ms. Wallinger is suggesting Any Place But Gateway Plaza, which she still insists would be tarred as un-contemporary if Lady Liberty were given a tiny spot there.

Follow-up (April 3, 2018) The Goose Hill Lady Liberty Petition:

GooseHillLibertyPetition

To support their argument that Lady Liberty should be brought “home” to Steinmetz Park, for inclusion in a Veterans Memorial, the proponents of the Steinmetz Park plan circulated a Petition for Lady Liberty. The text of that Petition is above (click on it for a larger version). It was presented by “rebuked” former councilman Dave Bouck, to City Council at the March 26 Council Meeting. Some important points need to be made about the Petition:

  1. IMG_2265It falsely claims that Lady Liberty has been in storage for five years. And, speakers at the Council Meeting echoed that claim, saying the Statue has been long neglected and put into storage by those who now want it back in Liberty Park. In fact, the Statue was still standing on September 15, 2016, when the author of this weblog took many photos in Liberty Park, including the one to the right. Furthermore, an article by Gazette reporter Bill Buell, dated Dec. 14, 2017, indicates that construction workers removed Lady Liberty in August, 2017, to protect her during reconstruction of the Park. Why didn’t Ms. Wallinger, whose LandArtStudio is administering the construction of Gateway Plaza, set the misled people of Goosehill, and the City Council, straight on this fact?
  2. The Petition falsely indicates that the Statue “was the inspiration and hard work of Boy Scout Troop 66 of Goosehill,” and thus that bringing the statue to Steinmetz Park and Goosehill is “bringing it home.” The reality is that collecting the money to purchase Lady Liberty in 1950 was a City and County-wide project of several Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs, in addition to Troop 66, including Troop 22 in Bellvue, Troop 12 at the Halsey School on Albany Street, and Cub Scout pack 25 from Mt. Pleasant, among others.
  3. Mr. Bouck told the Council Meeting that the Petition had “about 200 signatures“. In fact, my count of the Petition found 154 signatures.
  4. LibertyPetition1stpageY In addition, despite Bouck’s stress on door-to-door canvasing for the Petition, the signatories on the 1st Page of the Petition [see image at left for upper portion of that page] just happen to all be folks at the Democratic Party Committee Meeting the prior weekend. Indeed, the 6th, 7th, and 8th signatures on the Petition (which was presented to the Council and its President, Ed Kosiur), were by Council members Ed Kosiur, John Polimeni, and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, none of whom had anything to say about the Lady Liberty controversy at the two Council meetings where it was brought up in Privilege of the Floor statements.

the Lady and the Mayor and the Council

follow-up (March 26, 2018): see “Lady Liberty is Timeless“, where you can find a summary of the facts and issues, with important links and images, in the controversy over the failure to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park.

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

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

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

LibertyPark . . GatewayPlazaCollage26FebB

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

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

birdseye view (marked with blue asterisk) . . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

GPLady-NotTooSmall . . Not Too Small . .

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

A few salient points:

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mayor Gary McCarthy – gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov
  • Ed Kosiur – ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov, City Council President
  • John Polimeni – jpolimeni@schenectadyny.gov,
  • Leesa Perazzo – lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, chair of the Council Planning and Development Committee
  • John Mootooveren – jmootooveren@schenectadyny.gov, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield – mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov,
  • Vincent Riggi – vriggi@schenectadyny.gov

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring Lady Liberty Home

IMG_2267 

follow-up (March 26, 2018): see “Lady Liberty is Timeless“, where you can find a summary of the facts and issues, with important links and images, in the controversy over the failure to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park.

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

.. share this post with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/BringLibertyHome

. . and, (March 14, 2018): for an updated summary, after the March 12 Council meeting, see “The Lady, and the Mayor, and the Council“.

  . . 

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

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

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

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

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

Statue of Liberty Replica -Schenectady, NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

detail of Phase 1 & Phase 2 sketch

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

  . . click on image for a larger version.

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

. . annotated detail from Birdseye rendering. . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

Moreover:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Mar 1, 2018, at 8:37 AM, Mary Moore Wallinger <mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com> wrote:

Hi David,

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

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

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

Best regards,

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

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

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

Lawrence on the ground with Stockade resident Peter Delocis

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

..  ..   

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

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

Fire Sta. #2: plans/schmans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

IMG_6622  

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

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

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

Other Voices on Lady Liberty . . check out:

J. MaleckiGazette-Malecki-Liberty

GazLTE-Moorehouse-Lady . . S. Moorehouse;

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

Gaz-LTE-LJackson . . Lance R. Jackson (online) . .

GazLTE-JamesAWilson . . James A. Wilson (April 8, 2018, online)

LibertyPark-THodgkins-Gaz . . Tom Hodgkins, Sunday Gazette OpEd (April 28, 2018)

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

 

Rivers anniversary hoopla yields so-so results

front page Gazette ad

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

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

To put a $3.2 million Anniversary Week into perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

. . share this posting with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/So-SoCasino

just another February 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. .   . . 

. . above: approaching Rivers Casino . .

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

. .   . .  

. . above: approaching Resorts World Catskill Casino . .

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

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

. . 

Rivers Casino Visitation is another shortfall on the Mohawk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

original posting

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Projected 80,000 tourist visitors per year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . share this post with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/VisitorPromise

p.s.

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

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the graph is prettier than the casino revenue numbers

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

do low gambling revenues mean fewer problem gamblers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment of David Giacalone at the Gazette:

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

 

RiversProjectionGame2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

TU compares revenue reality to casino projections

Lauren Stanforth has written a piece of investigatory journalism for the Albany Times Union, published yesterday at the top of the Sunday front page, on the dramatic shortfall of casino revenues from projections. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (December 17, 2017). It points out that only the Schenectady City Council put actual projection numbers in a resolution, with a stated expectation of $5.7 million in annual tax gaming tax revenues for the City, and an 18% property tax reduction.
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 The City Council used NYS Dept. of Budget numbers for Regions, Counties, and Host Communities that were produced in 2013, announced in a press release (Oct. 2, 2013), to garner support for the Governor’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition, to permit non-Indian casinos. The numbers were, therefore, ginned up when the State did not know how many casinos there might actually be, nor where they would be located.
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The Resolution stated, in part [emphases added]:
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WHEREAS, as Host Municipality, the City of Schenectady is entitled to receive 5% of the gaming taxes paid by the Gaming Facility which is projected by the NYS Division of the Budget to be $5.7 million dollars annually; and
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WHEREAS, a $5.7 million Host Municipality payment to the City of Schenectady would result in a reduction in real estate taxes of approximately 18%; . . . 
 .
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT
RESOLVED, that the Host Municipality payment received by the City of Schenectady will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes in the City of Schenectady.
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  • At the time, we said at this website [in “Council ploy: all casino revenues will be used to reduce property taxes“, June 9, 2014] that “Th[e] Resolution is clearly meant to back the possible No Votes [on support for the Schenectady casino application] into a corner, by daring them to vote ‘no’ on a ‘tax reduction’.” In that context, using specific and huge numbers that appeared to come with the imprimatur of the State Budget office clearly strengthened the Mayor’s demand for Yes votes and the support in the very tax-conscious community for the casino. The Mayor was not able to convince Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi to vote for the Casino application, but they did agree that any tax revenues from the casino should be used to bring down real property taxes in Schenectady.
  •  At no time did City Council or the Mayor explain the tenuous connection between the DOB projections and an actual casino located in Schenectady, as opposed to a municipality with a greater potential to attract the public.
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The TU article notes that the State’s 2013 projections estimated that the Host County in the Capital Region would receive about $11.4 million dollars annually (with the Host City getting half of that amount), but that the actual numbers for this year appear to be about $3.7 million, a shortfall of $7.6 million. It also stresses, regarding the Schenectady Casino situation:
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“A casino was expected to bring in so much revenue — and the local government share to go along with it — that Schenectady would reduce property taxes 18 percent in the first year. Now, 10 months after the opening of Rivers Casino and Resort, the city is reducing taxes 1 percent.
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“Schenectady County predicted a similar scenario, its legislature passing a resolution three years ago saying county taxes might be reduced 8 percent if a casino opened. County officials are now reducing taxes 1 percent.”
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Reporter Stanforth interviewed local politicians, and informed us:
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Schenectady officials say their tax reduction promises were not disingenuous because they based their statements on the Budget Division’s numbers — and that property taxes are still being reduced.
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 But those who argued against a casino say the disparity between what was promised and the current reality reinforces their concerns that local officials had no intention of looking critically at information provided by the state or casino operators themselves.
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“They did it in bad faith,” said Schenectady resident David Giacalone, who lives in the city’s historic Stockade neighborhood and was one of the most vocal critics opposing a casino. “They knew these numbers meant nothing.”
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Catskills casino coming in 2018

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

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

Scratch-offs are poor stocking stuffers

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

The core argument goes something like this:

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

 But kids’ brains don’t work that way.

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

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

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

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

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

a Long-shot at Rivers Casino?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTINUED DISCUSSION

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

AREA VARIANCE APPROVAL

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

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

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

3. The variance is not substantial.

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

5. The alleged hardship is not self-created

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

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

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

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

Minimum variance necessary

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

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

Substantiality

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

[original posting continued]

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

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

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

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

I also pointed out:

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

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

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

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

The breaks have to be put on.

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

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

Share this posting with this shorter URL: http://tinyurl.com/BZAflip

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Incumbent Councilman John Mootooveren:

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

In contrast, Candidate Mohamed Hafez:

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

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

despite Billy Fuccillo, no HUGE casino revenues yet

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . share with this tiny url: http://tinyurl.com/NoHugeRevenues

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

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

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