why the 21-year-old rule at Rivers Casino?

 A number of people have left comments in the media this week, after learning that Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor was fined for allowing an underaged person — someone not yet 21 — to gamble. They wondered why the age for gambling at the casino isn’t 18, like at racinos and Indian casinos in the State. See “Underage gambler caught — but only after he won $1,300 on slot machinesSchenectady casino fined for letting him on the gambling floor” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 24, 2017); “State fines Rivers Casino $6k for underage-gambler” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Steven Cook, March 23, 2017). 

Here is the Comment I left at the Gazette explaining the legal situation and speculating on reasons:

 You’re right to be a little confused. Although the general age to gamble in New York State is 18, the Upstate New Gaming and Economic Development Act of 2013 added an exception for the commercial “destination” casinos approved by that statute. [click for the text of the Act] You must be 21 to gamble at any new facility licensed under the Act (Schenectady, Seneca Falls/Tyre, Tioga, and Monticello). Here’s the provision:

“§1332. Age for gaming participation 1. No person under the age at which a person is authorized to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages shall enter, or wager in, a licensed casino; provided, however, that such a person may enter a casino facility by way of passage to another room . . . “

Any winnings by a person prohibited under the above section must be forfeited and put into the State’s gaming revenues fund. Those under 21 are still allowed in other parts of the casino facility (restaurants, entertainment events, etc.), but not the actual “casino” rooms where the gambling is allowed.

“Racino” locations and Indian reservations may continue to allow 18 year-olds to gamble. Such facilities either send them into special under-21 areas or give them wristbands indicating they are under 21, so they won’t be served alcohol. Attempts by lawmakers and others to raise the gambling age at the racinos have gone nowhere in the State Legislature.

Like many laws that seem illogical, the 21-age limit was probably a political concession to get the Constitutional Amendment and the 2013 Act passed. My guess is that the existing racino locations (which do not have live table games) pressed hard to have this advantage over the new commercial casinos; it might also have been a way to get the votes of others who were anti-gambling in general.

 Many people are concerned that the younger you are when introduced to casino gambling the more likely it is that you will develop a gambling problem. The mixture of alcohol and gambling is even more worrisome. See our posting “what will the casino mean for Union College students?“, which discusses such issues, and our particular concern over Rush Street Gaming’s practice of targeting younger gamblers. And see “Rush Street takes aim at adolescents” (Sept. 9, 2014).

Note that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has had to fine Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse, numerous times for allowing underage gamblers and persons on the self-exclusion list to gamble. See details at our 2016 problem gambling post http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy

Rivers revenues down 4th straight week

 Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor faced its first major snow storm last week. The storm virtually closed the City down on Tuesday, March 14, but roads were serviceable the next day, with the nearby Stockade neighborhood (especially Front Street, which borders the casino complex) enjoying its quickest snow removal experience in memory. It is no surprise that Gross Gaming Revenues at Rivers Schenectady declined from the prior week’s record low figures, making it four straight weeks of falling GGR. In fact, the 1% reduction was less severe than I had expected, with $2,757,738 generated. The image at the head of this paragraph shows the weekly totals since Rivers opened in Schenectady on February 8.

The distribution of the revenues looks interesting to this non-expert observer:

  • slots revenues were down 17.6%, falling to $1,571,972
  • table game revenues were up 44.6%, soaring to $1,060,418

Did grandma decide to stay home, while the high-rollers were snowed in at Mohawk Harbor overnight the day of the storm?

. . you can find the weekly Rivers Casino revenue stats, usually refreshed on Friday morning, here: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs

. . see what do those Casino revenue figures mean? (

newspaper update (Monday, March 27, 2017): As of 1 PM today, the Gazette continues to avoid mentioning this streak of weekly revenue declines. Thankfully, the Times Union did report the revenue picture today, in “Area casinos had another down week” (by Eric Anderson, online on March 27, 2017). The TU notes that Saratoga Casino saw its third weekly decline, and “Rivers reported its fourth consecutive weekly decline”, noting “The most recent figures likely were depressed by a massive snowstorm that struck the Capital Region March 14.” TU also explained that even Rivers Casino’s best week so far does not meet the weekly average it would need to make their “stabilized” 2019 revenues projection. 


LadyBug14Mar2017 p.s.
“Walkable Schenectady”?  Our Mayor likes to brag about our “walkable City”, as do the gents at Metroplex. A week after the mid-March snow storm ended, many crosswalks in downtown Schenectady were clogged at the curb with snow, and many sidewalks in downtown Schenectady were left unshoveled. The snow had stopped Wednesday morning, but on Saturday evening, March 18, I made the mistake of trying to walk from my Stockade home up Front Street, to Mohawk Harbor and then up Erie Blvd. I spent a lot of time precariously switching from sidewalk to street.

 Front St. at N. Church. . DSCF2601

I was particularly surprised at how difficult it was to be on foot near the Casino.

DSCF2589 . . [L] this is what confronted you on foot at the intersection of Front Street and Rush Street, if you wanted to head toward Erie Boulevard.

DSCF2595 . . DSCF2597 . . Once at the rotary at Rush St. and Erie Blvd., you had some snow climbing to do to get to the Nott St. side of the rotary, with an unshoveled sidewalk once across the street.

DSCF2599-001 . . [L] Most daunting was trying to head south on Erie Boulevard on foot. Once past the overhead walkway, virtually all of the sidewalk had the full 19 inches of snow, all the way to Stewart’s, at Green Street. If a business had shoveled at its driveway, the curb at the intersection and crosswalk was piled even higher. I was left to walking at sunset on the side of a very busy road, with fast traffic and lots of puddles. Not pedestrian-friendly, Mr. Mayor. Not a good introduction to visitors on the ease of getting from Mohawk Harbor to our much-touted downtown Renaissance.

another big drop in Casino revenues

 The numbers are out for the fourth full week (ending March 12, 2017) of revenues generated at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady: just under $2.8 million; the worst week yet; and no snow storm to blame.

  • a 21% drop from the first full week
  • 9.9% less than last week’s numbers, which were down 11% from the prior week, and were never reported by the Gazette

  • The weekly average needs to be $4.3M to reach the $223 million annual gaming revenue number so often repeated by Mayor McCarthy, which is the projection for the “stabilized” 2019. So far, the four full weeks have averaged about $3.2 million, which won’t even generate the significantly lower first-year projections of the Casino and County.

  • Today’s Gazette tells us there are changes coming to Rivers Casino due to patron requests and frustrations. Changes in works at Rivers Casino, including poker tournaments: Some customers have expressed frustration”, by Brett Samuels, March 17, 2017). It would have been a nice place to mention the slide in revenues, rather than: “[I]t has continued to net at least $3 million per week in gaming revenue and pulled in $10.8 million in its first month from slots and table games after payouts.”

On St. Patrick’s day, we must ask our good boyo Mayor Gary McCarthy if anyone but leprechauns believes in magic pots of gold?

 . . from Hallmark

10 P.M. Update: The Times Union has covered the newest revenue figures, in the online article “Revenues drop again at Rivers Casino in Schenectady” (Eric Anderson, March 17, 2017). The piece gives some context for the numbers:

So far, the casino hasn’t reached the $4.28 million weekly average figure that was projected in an economic impact study by New Orleans-based The Innovation Group.

But that figure was for 2019, and by then the casino hotel should be open and construction at the neighboring Mohawk Harbors completed.

It’s also not clear whether bus tours to the casino have yet started. That also can be a lucrative source of revenues.

. . find the weekly Rivers Casino revenue stats here: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs

. . and, see our post: “what do those Casino revenue figures mean” (March 5, 2017)

a wicked concert cartel?

 An article in today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette suggests that fears we expressed and explained in 2014, here and there, were warranted as to the likely anticompetitive and anti-consumer nature of the so-called Fair Game Theater Coalition. See “Rivers Casino, Proctors team up for entertainment: ‘In no way, shape or form do I feel like we’re competitors” (Daily Gazette, by Brett Samuels, A1, March 8, 2017). The article highlights the lack of rivalry and the depth of cooperation between Proctors and Rivers Casino, and the importance of the Upstate Theatre Coalition for a Fair Game in nurturing this chummy state of affairs between entities that clearly are two of the most prominent members of the live-entertainment and leisure activity market in Schenectady and the Capital Region.

Ironically, Proctors CEO Philip Morris seems to be bragging about the very kinds of restrictions that we warned about back in 2014, when we said:

feelin’ blue

 “[T]he “Fair Game” Coalition (a/k/a The Concert Cartel) may end up achieving joint booking and venue-size limitations, and a revenue-sharing agreement with each of the 3 or 4 winning casinos.  That could mean the equivalent of territorial exclusivity, and joint booking and ticket pricing, for all/each of FairGame members, across all of the eastern portion of Upstate New York, through midState locations such as Utica and Syracuse, and apparently stretching to their members in the Western end of the State.”

On the one hand, Proctors CEO Philip Morris asserts in the Gazette article that Proctors and Rivers Casino are not competitors (a contention that would clearly by rejected by objective economists and antitrust experts); on the other hand, he makes it clear that the Fair Game theater coalition is protecting its members from casino competition across Upstate New York. According to the Gazette:

Without the Fair Game agreement, Morris said, he likely wouldn’t be feeling quite as optimistic about the relationship between the two entertainment entities moving forward.

slicingthepie “It set the stage for a collaboration that probably was critical for any next step,” Morris said. “I think if there was no Fair Game, we probably wouldn’t be doing the booking, and we might be in competitive mode.”

Casino applicants were encouraged under the Act authorizing new commercial casinos to enter into arrangements with local entertainment venues, demonstrating that the local casino “actively supports the mission and the operation of the impacted entertainment venues.” [§1320(3)(2)(D)]. The members of the Fair Game coalition were expected to help their members and the applicants gather necessary information that would facilitate such agreements. Coalition members were not given the freedom to eliminate competition among themselves, nor to prevent competition from all casinos within a large (seemingly unlimited) region. Consumers will surely lose out, with fewer choices and higher prices.

trust-buster needed

In 2014, I asked the New York Attorney General’s Antitrust Bureau to take a look at the operation of Fair Game. Although they replied to me that a preliminary investigation was being undertaken, no further communications were received from the AG suggesting that Fair Game raised antitrust concerns. In 2017, the casinos are in operation in Tyre (near Syracuse), Tioga Downs (near Binghamton), and Schenectady. The AG can now see in more detail and in action the restrictions adopted by Fair Game’s group of the largest Upstate entertainment venues and by each of the new casinos. I hope the Antitrust Bureau will therefore take a close look this time. Restrictions that unnecessarily limit competition between and among the theater-arena venues and the new casinos should be barred, allowing consumers the broadest array of entertainment and location options, and hopefully the best value for their entertainment dollars.

The creation of the Fair Game theater coalition, with its potential to limit competition from casinos and other major venues, transformed Proctors CEO from a strong opponent of having a casino in town, to a fervent casino supporter. Does any one believe this cooperation will result in more entertainment choices and lower ticket prices (beyond token gimmicks and give-aways) for the people of our community? Moreover, will lesser-known entertainment venues and options benefit, or just lose market share to the Big Guys in Town? Did our Legislature really mean to greatly reduce competition across the state between and among casinos and major entertainment venues, when it tried to reassure theaters like Proctors that they would not be run out of business if a casino came to town?

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what do those Casino revenue figures mean?

OPEN LETTER to the SCHENECTADY GAZETTE and Other Capital Region Media

. . and see March 10 update below . .

. . and “another big drop in Casino revenues” (March 17, 2017)

Dear Schenectady Gazette and Local Media editors and reporters:

ch6casinorev We need some context, please, when you give us weekly (and soon, monthly) numbers about the gaming revenue generated at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. [E.g., Gazette, TU, WRGB-Ch6News] Gaming revenue numbers are virtually meaningless without background information, such as typical patterns for casino opening revenues, and this Casino’s own projections for annual revenues. This is especially true because Rush Street Gaming will be paying its gaming taxes based totally on the net gaming revenue figures. That is unlike other casinos where minimum annual local contributions have been promised (including Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, which has consistently fallen short of its projections, and used the shortfall as a reason to request reduced real estate assessment).

  •  images-7Reportage on the second week’s Casino revenue is a prime example of numbers without context. Neither the Casino’s projected revenue nor industry expectations or patterns in the opening weeks of a casino were mentioned. Moreover, the Gazette headline touted, “Report: Rivers Casino sees revenue boost” (Feb. 27, 2017), with the article stating that there was a 24% increase in gross gaming revenue ($33.8 million) and a 16% boost in net revenue ($3.5 million) for the first full week of operation. While it mentioned the snowstorm in Schenectady during the first week, there was no indication of how many days were counted in the first week’s numbers, which included a “soft” by-invitation opening day before the official opening. Nor was there any discussion of the significance of a 16% increase for a full 7-day week, which has 14.28% more days than a 6-day week, and 29.5% more days than a 5-day week. Instead, a prepared statement by casino officials is quoted: “We are pleased with the performance of Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady during our first full week of operation.”

The Gazette and Mayor Gary McCarthy have consistently used the number of $223 million dollars in annual net gaming revenues for the Schenectady Casino, with a resulting payment of $4.1 million annually each to the City and to the County. $223 million is, on average over a 52-week year, about $4.3 million per week. So far, Rivers Casino Schenectady has posted net gaming revenue of of $3.55M and $3.47M for its first two full weeks of operation, after an opening short week of $3M. 

abacusThe average revenues for Rivers Casino’s first two full weeks, $3.51M, would result in annual net gaming revenues of $183M dollars upon which to calculate its State gaming tax bill. That is 18% lower than the $223M projection, and would mean a significant shortfall for local tax coffers.

 How well do casinos usually do during their opening weeks? I’ve been hoping the Gazette would tell us.


sleuth Last night, I spent about 30 minutes Googling casino opening revenues, and looking at the first two examples that came up, I discovered that the new mega-casino project MGM National Harbor, located on the Potomac River in the D.C. suburbs of Maryland, generated about $49M in gaming revenues in its first month (January 2017). Maryland’s racing commission hired two consultants to project annual revenues for National Harbor. One predicted $512M and the other predicted $575M. Annualized, National Harbor’s first month revenues are about $576 million dollars, which is on track to meet even the higher projection.

plungegraphsmY

trends?

 Similarly, in July 2015, Plainridge Park Casino near Boston generated $18.1 million in its first month of operation. Plainridge predicted an annual gaming revenue of $200 million. Annualized, $18.1M would total $217.2M, a nice 8% increase over the $200M projection. (see MassLive, Aug. 15, 2015) Note, however, that early success does not necessarily mean a casino will continue to generate comparable numbers.  Plainridge Park fell far short of its projections for the entire year.

 Shouldn’t the Gazette help its readers (and our Pollyanna-like political and business leaders) understand how Rivers Casino is doing compared to its projections, and historic revenue numbers for similar casinos? If Schenectady’s “Newspaper of Record” does not do that, I hope other media members less attached to Rivers Casino (and City Hall, Galesi Group, and Metroplex) will do some investigation, or at least basic research.

 In contrast to the Gazette Tilt we have pointed out frequently at this website (recently, as to likely incidents of crime), the Albany Times Union has taken the lead over the past couple of years on many topics relating to the casino and Mohawk Harbor, Schenectady’s City Hall, PILOTS, etc. I hope it will continue to play that journalistic role, and perhaps spark some responsible journalism and competitive motivation from the Gazette and other media outlets.

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  • P.S. What about attendance numbers? How is Rivers Casino doing compared to its projection of 7500 weekday and 10,000 weekend visitors? In July 2014, the TU editorial board was a bit skeptical of those numbers. Follow-up would be nice, as patterns emerge with more moderate weather.

newspaper update (March 10, 2017): This evening, the Gazette posted an article online titled “How Rivers Casino’s 1st month revenues compare to projections“, by Brett Samuels, with a comparison of Rivers Casino’s February revenues and tax payments, covering 20 days, with its first-year projections.  After noting that “the city of Schenectady and Schenectady county received $191,991 each,” for the first twenty days, the article points out that:

“[I]f the city and county each received $275,000 per month in gaming revenue for the next 10 months, it would total about $2.9 million in gaming revenue each for all of 2017, falling short of the casino’s own initial projections.”

. . . “In preparing its 2017 budget, Schenectady County used the low-end revenue estimate, $3.3 million, and pro-rated it to a March opening. That would leave the county expecting about $2.75 million in casino revenue this year.”

The article also points out that “There are a few factors still at play that could influence casino revenues the rest of the year,” and says that the opening of the casino’s luxury hotel, and completion of luxury apartments, and office and retail space this summer will draw more people to the site. [We continue to wonder just who wants a luxury apartment abutting a homely and hectic casino site.]

Here is a screenshot we put together from the Rivers Casino revenues document at the NYS Racing Commission, showing its revenues through its third full week,ending March 5, 2017. Its third full week showed a 10%+  net gaming revenue decline.

RiversCasino05Mar2017Revs

  • Late each Friday afternoon, you should be able to see the latest figures from the prior week, on the Racing Commission site, at this link: http://tinyurl.com/RiversSchdyRevs.

plungegraphsm follow-up (March 12, 2017, 3 PM): As of this point in time, the Gazette has not reported the significant drop in gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its third full week of operation, which is mentioned immediately above and shown in the screenshot. The Gazette did report on the weekly revenue reports to the Racing Commission each of the past three weeks. Friday evening at about 8 PM, the Times Union posted the numbers, in a brief staff report headlined “Double-digit revenue decline at casino, racino” (March 10, 2017), saying “Rivers gross gaming revenue fell nearly 11 percent to $3,094,804 in the week ending March 5 from $3,472,354 a week earlier. At Saratoga, the net win fell nearly 14 percent to $2,845,411 in the week ending March 4 from $3,302,242 the week before.”

a good start for Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2017

npgam_logo_h_cmyk_arrow-colorcorrected-v2 

  • update: The first community forum presentation on problem gambling of the NYS Responsible Play Partnership will be held Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at Elston Hall, at Schenectady County Community College, at 5 PM. It is free and open to the public. Please be there to show your support for not only more problem gambling treatment resources, but also for education and outreach resources to help deter problem gambling from ever getting to the stage where professional intervention is needed.

One year ago, we posted “Will problem gambling awareness month inspire action?” (March 2, 2016), posing the question: What are our public health officials and other local political and community leaders doing to combat problem gambling?

That 2016 Awareness Month post argued that:

[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. With Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor now scheduled to open in a year, such programs are needed ASAP and must especially target vulnerable groups, such as aging adults, low-income residents, and youth. [To see the full post, with its discussion, links, etc., click this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy]

Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope was that community education and prevention activities might be in operation prior to the Casino’s opening, in order to help inoculate the population of Schenectady against the anticipated tsunami of publicity for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its resulting Casino Fever.  As expected, in addition to the Casino’s own advertising and promotions, publicity for the Casino has included government and media cheerleading, as casino “gaming” is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity. Our goal was, and is, not to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create an informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than an acceptable high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.  Unfortunately, in the past year, our local government leaders have not stepped forward to put Problem Gambling Awareness [“PGA”] programs into place in time to inoculate our community from casino fever.

nyrpplogoNonetheless, rather than point fingers or speculate on motives, I am happy to say there has been important activity at the State level that promises to bring significant PGA information to Schenectady, as well as other New York communities “hosting” casino, racino and similar “gaming” facilities. Those activities were announced in an email sent on February 28, 2017, by New York’s Responsible Play Partnership [formed in 2013], recognizing March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The text of the email can be found at the bottom of this posting. [See “What state’s doing to help you gamble responsiblyNew Yorkers can now ban themselves from facilities” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Brett Samuels, March 1, 2017)] The full text of the email can be found at the end of this posting.

probgam-pg2016-1920x1080-banners_nat_final . .  click on this thumbnail for the full Awareness Month poster:

The opening paragraphs of the NYRPP announcement, states:

New York’s Responsible Play Partnership (RPP) – consisting of the New York State Gaming Commission, the New York State Office on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and the New York Council on Problem Gambling – today announced a series of initiatives in recognition of March as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

The Commission also launched its statewide self-exclusion program … [which] allows problem gamblers to ban themselves from all casinos operating in New York State

The RPP’s plans for March include visiting newly opened casinos to review the operators’ efforts to promote responsible gaming practices, followed by public meetings in the communities hosting the casinos to educate the public on the resources available for those who need help.

hopeline-text-square-purple-300x300 The RPP will also foster awareness through a focused social media campaign, conversation-driving signage at all gaming facilities across the State and development of a new public service announcement reminding New Yorkers that the OASAS HOPELINE (1-877-8HOPE-NY/TEXT HOPENY) exists to address all forms of addiction – including gambling. Finally, for the first time ever, the New York Lottery will feature responsible gaming messaging as part of its daily televised drawings.

  • Dates, times and locations for the public meetings will be announced in the near future. The Gazette reported, “A meeting is expected to be held in Schenectady in late March, though official details have not yet been announced.” We will list the information about the Schenectady meeting(s) when available.
  • LagoLogoB&W According to the Gazette, “Mary Cheeks, general manager at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino & Resort, previously said the business’ policies to promote responsible gaming include employee education and training, self-exclusion policies and listing the state’s addiction help hotline on advertisements and social media posts.” We believe that Rivers Casino, like del Lago in Tyre (which is paying for their County to hire two problem gambling counselors, or for treatment and one for prevention), should do much more to help the community learn about problem gambling. The Racing Commission has noted that fees and tax revenues (such as the annual fee on each slot machine) should not be counted as the casino fulfilling its obligation to mitigate such issues in its host community.

Statewide Self-Exclusion. RPP’s Awareness Month email (text below) stresses the new statewide nature of its Self-exclusion program, noting it is “the broadest self-exclusion program in the nation”, and stating:

The statewide policy closes a decades-old regulatory loophole in New York that made it possible for video lottery and casino patrons to voluntarily ban themselves from one gaming property only to continue playing at a neighboring facility unabated.

crimescene-casino The wisdom of a statewide ban is not obvious, and this site will delve further into the notion of a gambler being forced to self-exclude from every facility in the state. Will such a ban discourage many persons from entering the self-exclusion program, which in fact subjects the signer to criminal charges for entering the forbidden facilities regulated by the Racing Commission?  For a large portion of at-risk gamblers, it is proximity that creates their biggest danger. Why wouldn’t a geographic ban within a reasonable radius of the signer’s primary casino be effective? Why make it impossible for the signer, for example, to vacation with family or friends anywhere in the State and spend one evening at a casino? Would’t signing become an embarrassing stigma?

probgam-pgam2017toolkitlogoHave the Conversation.  A very important part of RPP’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month program for 2017 is its request that every New Yorker have a problem gambling conversation with at least one person in March. We will have much more to say on the Have the Conversation project, but for now please note that the New York Problem Gambling Council has put together a very useful Toolkit, with helpful one-page Action Sheets for Youth, Parents, Senior Citizen Caregivers, School Personnel, and School Administrators.  Click on the Toolkit logo to the right of this paragraph, or go to http://tinyurl.com/HTCtoolkit, to see and download the Have the Conversation Toolkit.

After a year of disappointment over the lack of public programs in Schenectady County relating to prevention, education and treatment for Problem Gambling, I am looking forward to see the RPP’s programs in action and resources in wide circulation.

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The email message explaining NY Responsible Play Partnership’s efforts this month to increase Problem Gambling Awareness is immediately below.

Continue reading

prostitutes help open Rivers Casino (as expected)

casinowalkers

expected by Rush Street?

 Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy disparaged Casino “naysayers” the day our Rivers Casino opened last week, proclaiming an accomplishment that will surely be the core of his legacy. In reality, though, the naysayers the past couple of years have actually been the most vocal supporters of the Casino. In all their public statements, Casino Cheerleaders have been in denial of any negative effects likely to result from the coming of gaming to CaSinectady. An influx of crimes, such as prostitution, was simply not a worry for the Mayor.

rushstreetoncrimech6 Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming continues to issue statements claiming that crime has gone down in other cities were it operates casinos. And, local media continues to offer no rebuttal or cross-examination of such statements. See, for example, the screenshot to the left of a printed statement given by Rush Street to CBSNews6 reporter Hubert Wiggins, in a segment called “Questions asked about new casino’s impact on safety” (Jan. 23, 2017). The segment downplayed any safety problems, and never bothered to ask casino opponents in Schenectady for input, although we have researched and written about the crime issue for almost three years.

Nonetheless, see our posting “City Hall Is Wrong about Crime Going Down in Phila. and Pitts. Casinos” (Oct. 9, 2015), which notes that the Philadelphia casino crime study noted by Rush Street did not cover prostitution or DUI. It was no surprise to us naysayers, therefore, that an alleged “sexual tryst plan” was involved in an arrest the first weekend of Rivers Casino, at its premier restaurant, Duke’s Steakhouse. See Paul Nelson’s Times Union article, Alleged sex tryst plan leads to Schenectady casino arrests: Police say fight stemmed from sexual suggestion,” which was posted online Wednesday evening, February 15, 2017.  To our pleasant surprise, the Gazette also reported on the arrests, and a few others, in its Friday edition, “Argument over group sex leads to arrests at casino: Among a half-dozen charged since last week’s opening” (Steven Cook, Feb. 18, 2017).

  • cbs6wigginscrime

    Hubert Wiggins, WRGB

     Media competition is a good thing, and we need more of it. Let’s hope that the Albany Times Union continues to cover aspects of Schenectady news that are often avoided by the Gazette, which too often seems to see itself as a “friend” and “partner” of local business and government leaders first, and a servant of the public with the responsibilities of a newspaper of record, second.  See our posting rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014). The Gazette’s media partner CBSNews6 also needs to be willing to step up and treat the Casino like any other member of the business community, especially because it is also the recipient of so much government largesse.

  • CasinoCrimeWTEN03Mar2017 Crime Follow-up: News10 (WTEN] had a segment on Rivers Casino crime on March 3, 2017, that raises more questions than it answers. [opening screenshot at the left of this paragraph] According to the piece, by reporter Ayla Ferrone, SPD Sgt. Matt Dearing says that since the casino opened there have been 136 calls but only about 40 of those have been legitimate. Ferrone opines that “Even though the number of times they’ve responded here sounds high, it’s actually pretty normal,” and notes “Sgt. Matt Dearing . . . says anytime there is a major development within any city, crime is sure to increase.”
    • Dearing is quoted as to the 40 “legitimate“ calls, saying they were “Accidents, larcenies from vehicles potentially, unruly customers, and medical calls.”
    • We are also told by Sgt. Dearing that “We do have officers that are dedicated there during certain times to deal with any issue that potentially may arise.”
    • My QQ, in addition to wanting a better breakdown of the types of crimes:
       1) where were the accidents (inside the casino compound or at the rotary?), and how severe? 2) was DUI or DWAI involved? 3) where were the larcenies? 4) were the figures only for calls specifically to Rivers Casino or Mohawk Harbor, as opposed to its vicinity, which includes residential neighborhoods? 5) Is News10 or Sgt. Dearing saying, in effect, “Crime did go up, but you’d expect it would, so the increase is normal”? 6) How did crime stats for the entire City during the relative period compare with prior years? Were these crimes in addition to what we would have expected without the casino, or were they displaced from other parts of the City due to the lure of the Casino?

Back to the So-Called Aborted Tryst. Note that the couple from Massachusetts arrested early last Sunday morning at the Casino insists that there was never a sexual arrangement or talk of sex. See “Mass. couple offers their account of casino fightNo sex arrangement was made, they say” (Gazette, Steven Cook, Feb. 18, 2017; and “Woman disputes police account of casino encounter for group sex”, Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Feb. 22, 207). The couple says that a young woman approached them at the bar at Duke’s and gave them a card about modeling.  They were then “bum-rushed” by at least two women, and perhaps another person, as they were leaving the restaurant. The 21-year old woman from Troy who was arrested after throwing a glass in the bar, apparently gave a false phone number to the police.

crimescene-casino The Massachusetts couple is hoping to get surveillance video to show what actually happened. Either way, it seems clear that there was some sort of organized prostitution activity inside the Casino on its first weekend of business, rather than merely one “working girl” hoping for a payday. That may indeed be the type of local business activity most likely to expand thanks to the opening of Rivers Casino. Let’s see if the Schenectady Police Department, State Police, and the Casino’s private security find a solution to this not-unanticipated problem. Of course, the potential for meeting attractive and available sex partners at the Casino might draw a certain kind of customer who otherwise wouldn’t bother heading over to Mohawk Harbor. (See a detail from Rush Street’s third rendition of the Casino entrance at the top of this posting, which shows pedestrians who are clearly not representative of the Casino’s real customers.) 

casinocrimelogo follow-up (Feb. 20, 2017): Times Union columnist Chris Churchill can’t quite figure out the meaning of the Alleged Tryst Arrest. (see “Romping and rolling at the Schenectady casino“, Feb. 21, 2017). Indeed this Tryst episode might not be as important in the long run as the issue of Rivers Casino being able and willing to adequately police entry to its gaming areas by underage persons, a problem that apparently led to another arrest noted in the Gazette’s first tryst arrest article. In our piece last March on Problem Gambling, we said:

[N]ote the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board press release of May 23, 2012, announcing that SugarHouse [owned by Rush Street under the corporate name HSP Gaming, L.P.] was fined $70,000 “for seven instances where underage individuals [ranging in age from 17 to 20] engaged in gaming.”

The proximity from Union College’s largest dormitory (two blocks) and its entire campus (four blocks), as well as SCCC (a prime partner with the casino, it seems), makes the underage gambling issue more important here than it probably is at most casinos.  In 2015, Trump’s Taj Casino in Atlanta issued a public statement against a college putting a campus next door:

“The facts are that our company does not think having a college next door to the Taj is good for our company. Having kids under 21 who will attempt to gain entry to the casino and engage in activities reserved for those only 21 and older would create numerous problems we do not want, and could damage the Taj’s ability to attract customers and regain its financial health. You do not see a college on the Las Vegas strip. “

casino-PropsHopsRules See our posting “What will the casino mean for Union College students” for related topics, including Rush Street targeting young gamblers, with tactics like dumbing down table games. Click on the thumbnail to the left for a glimpse at its Props & Hops promotion at SugarHouse, which simplifies craps. (See SugarHouse Press Release, April 30, 2014; and “Sugarhouse Develops a New, Simplified Craps Game For Younger Players“, CBS6 Philadelphia, May 1, 2014; SugarHouse Props & Hops Brochure.)

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where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

Despite weeks of fawning coverage and cheerleading by local broadcast, internet, and print media, I have yet to hear or read any praise for the exterior design of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. Nor any questions on why it looks so different from the design we thought we were getting in July 2015. And, unless you count this website, no one in the media has attempted as of yet to put a name to the “style” of the façade presented by Rivers Casino to the world, which is very likely to become the new image of Schenectady, and which for my money doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards of a Sonic Drive-in.

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How did we get this sad result? Casino owner and developer Rush Street Gaming presented three renditions showing a front view of its proposed casino from a perspective similar to the actual casino shown above:

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

The public and media made it clear when the second version was unveiled in early June 2015 that they cared very much about the design of the Schenectady casino and disliked the retro-brick-factory look of the 2nd design. Despite this interest, Rush Street’s next attempt, released on July 9, 2015, presented only two details of a modern design meant to point to Schenectady’s future — the above partial view of the front entryway and a view of the rear.  The disappointed reaction of the Gazette‘s editorial staff was titled “Casino design is better, but public needs to see more” (Sunday Gazette, p. D2, July 12, 2015; no longer online). The editorial began, “You have to give them credit. It’s better than the last version. But is it enough?” The conclusion was a loud “no”:

The drawings released Thursday show little of the building other than the entrance and one shot from the river. They also don’t show the perspective of the pylon sign in comparison to the new structure.

It might seem nit-picky to want to see more. But as we’ve said before, we’re all going to have to live with this thing for a few decades, and we want to make sure it’s going to look like what they say it’s going to look like.

If the public is going to offer intelligent comments to the Planning Commission, they need to see more of the new design so they have a more complete perspective. In the 10 days leading up to next Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, we urge casino developers to post more renderings of the new redesign online and share them with the community. . . .

The more information the people have about the project, the more transparency government affords them, the more likely it is that they will accept it.

That should be the goal of the developers, and most importantly, the city’s government.

Despite that sensible plea, Rush Street offered no further rendering for the public or the Planning Commission, and the Commission irresponsibly failed to demand more. The next view of the proposed 3rd design was merely a small group of Power Point sketches projected on a screen at the special Site Plan Meeting of the Commission, on July 22, 2015. I photographed the colorized sketch below of the 300-foot-long front of the Casino structure from the back of the room with a small camera (thus the lack of focus):

casinodesign3sp

The public never got to see more prior to or after the Special Site Plan Meeting. A visit to the Planning Office on July 24, 2015 revealed there were no hardcopies of the Power Point presentation submitted for the Commissioners to review prior to or at the Meeting, nor for the public to see.  (See our posting, “casino site plan approved” (July 23, 2015)

This screen shot and text from the Gazette articleSchenectady casino design gets green light” on July 22, 2015, shows what they and we had believed would be the final design:

designgreenlightgaz14apr2016 “The façade of the casino has shifted from an industrial look with brown bricks to a more contemporary look with white-gray coloring and metal panels.

“Chicago casino operator Rush Street Gaming went back to the drawing board after being hit with negative comments from the public about the initial [second] design plan. Several of the commissioners said they like the new design better than previous renderings released to the public. Klai Juba Wald Architects of Las Vegas designed the casino.”

As the Gazette opinion editor stated on July 12, 2015, “we want to make sure it’s going to look like what they say it’s going to look like”. Well, obviously, thanks to the back-bending Snowmen on the Planning Commission, we got something else. The City’s chief planner, Christine Primiano, wrote an email three days ago, assuring me that “yes all changes to the July 2015 design were approved during the April 13th, 2016 review. It was for amended site plan review and final sign approval.”

casinosignagecover The approval was, indeed, done in the guise of the Commission approving the final signage plan for the Casino, which was primarily publicized for no longer including an 80′ pylon structure and reducing the overall signage on the casino and its hotel. There was no mention of the drastically altered entryway wall, which jettisons the 3rd design’s “more contemporary look with white-gray coloring and metal panels.” In actuality, the large LCD screens that were going to be placed on the pylon sign, were basically affixed to the entry façade of the Schenectady casino. And, no, there were no renderings of the Casino’s new look.

casinoentrysignage-mar2016 Thus, in April 2016, the only image the Commissioners were shown of the portion of the Casino’s front entryway that had been presented as its 3rd design and approved in July 2015 was the sketch shown to the right of this paragraph. It comprised about a quarter of page six of a 7-page document titled Signage and Wayfaring Program. [Click here to see the entire page.] And, neither the Planning Commission staff nor the Chair of the Commission demanded a fuller depiction, which they clearly had the authority to do prior to putting the matter on the Commission’s agenda. Because the Planning Commission does not post submitted documents along with its online Agenda notice to the public, and Rush Street did not share its submission with the public or media, others would have seen that minimalist sketch only if they made a trip to the Planning Office and asked to view the file, or if they somehow knew they could request that the document be emailed to them.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-10-00-49-am As so often has happened while witnessing the multi-stage, multi-year process of Casino approval at Schenectady’s City Hall, I’m left wondering if I’m watching Fools or Knaves (or both) going through the motions of enforcing the City’s laws. For sure, they seem like Snowmen, blind, mute, toothless, disarmed, and heat-averse.  Who can say if the Planning Office and Commission were fooled by this bait-and-switch? I would hate to think our officials are so incompetent or naive. The public and media certainly cannot be faulted for their ignorance of the nature of the pig inside the casino’s design poke. Indeed, even today (February 9, 2017), with the Rivers Casino already open, The Galesi Group’s Mohawk Harbor website continues to show the July 2015 3rd design entryway as the first slide on its “Play-Here” page touting the Rivers Casino portion of Mohawk Harbor. Here’s a screenshot taken this morning:

mohharbplayhereimage

  • Likewise, Galesi Group used the 3rd design in the ad it took out welcoming Rivers Casino, in the Gazette’s January 31, 2017 advertising supplement, The Road to Rivers. click to view.

The words of the Gazette editorial of June 7, 2015, written in response to the retro-factory style 2nd design, are still highly relevant when thinking about the undesigned, styleless reality of our real-life Rivers Casino:

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

. . . Maybe we’re supposed to be grateful for any design at all. Certainly, anything they build will look better than the existing giant empty lot, for decades littered with piles of construction debris, steel girders and weed-covered clumps of dirt.

But we weren’t promised just anything. We were promised a spectacle. And this design is a fizzled firework. . . .

Perception equals reality. What is the perception we want people to have of our new casino and retail center and hotel and townhouse complex? And how will that perception ultimately affect the bottom line? How enthusiastic are people going to be driving great distances to a facility that looks like a relic from the WPA? What reality will we get in return for this abrupt change in design concept?

As we emphasized in our posting,“why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?” (June 19, 2015), Rush Street Gaming clearly knows how to produce an attractive, even spectacular, design. We got much less, it seems, because our Mayor and zoning/planners officials failed to demand a quality design. How will our homely casino exterior affect its bottom line, and thus the tax revenues generated by it? We will have to wait and see. Our posting last month, “casino choices in upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?” is not optimistic that we can successfully attract people from outside a very small geographic area, given the many other casinos that actually try to look like a tourist destination.

How did we get stuck with this unattractive casino in Schenectady? The reader can decide for herself or himself how or why it happened. We believe City officials more interested in pleasing or appeasing the developer and casino owner, and their button-man, Mayor McCarthy, failed to do their jobs, and have diminished themselves and our City.

  • For more Rush Street bait-n-switch, click here, concerning the giant pylon sign.
  • tunelson2016signplan In addition, see “Casino sign plan to be submitted to the city in ’16” (Albany Times Union, December 13, 2015), where TU reporter Paul Nelson states that sometime next year Rush Street will submit “a more comprehensive look at the design of the 80-foot pylon or gateway sign that will welcome visitors” to the casino, “as part of a larger package dealing with all the signage on the 60-acre Erie Boulevard site.” Nelson notes that:

“Mike Levin, a consultant with Rush Street Gaming, said last week that design plans will focus on colors and lettering of the pylon sign that some critics have complained is too garish.”

Their response to worries about the pylon colors and garishness was, it now seems, to move those elements to the façade of the casino building itself. Just another thumb in the eye of the Planning Commission, City of Schenectady, and its residents.

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

The collage below shows the three blocks of Erie Boulevard leading to the Schenectady Casino coming from the north (I-890, or State Street/Rte.5). Click on it for a larger version:

riverscasino-erieapproach . . The much-touted Renaissance of Downtown Schenectady has not exactly reached Erie Blvd. near the Casino. .

 

 

the Gazette takes problem gambling more seriously

After long silence on the topic, I am pleased to say that the Schenectady Gazette has devoted significant space to the issue of casino-related problem gambling this week, in preparation for today’s Grand Opening of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. Here are excerpts from three articles:

sfoss In her opinion piece “More resources needed for problem gambling: Lack of services in Schenectady seems like serious omission” (Feb. 5, 2017), Gazette columnist Sara Foss raised important issues for our community. 

  • “There’s years of documentation and research showing that within 50 miles of a casino you see dramatic rises in problem gambling,” explained Philip Rainer, who serves as chief clinical officer at Capital Counseling, the non-profit agency that runs for the Center for Problem Gambling.

    Rainer and Hill are certain the Capital Region will see an uptick in gambling addiction due to the new casino. They are also certain that resisting the urge to gamble there will be a challenge for their clients, who have been talking about Rivers Casino & Resort for months.

  • Given the fact that a casino is about to open in our own backyard, the lack of gambling services in Schenectady seems like a serious omission.

    nycpgjaimecostello “Ease of access increases problems,” Jaime Costello, director of prevention, training and special programs for NYCPG, said. “More programs are definitely needed. It would help if gambling services were available in every community.”

  • It would be nice to think that Hill, Rainer and other experts in problem gambling are wrong – that the casino won’t lead to an increase in problem gambling and other social ills. But I suspect that they’re right, and that within the year we’ll have a better understanding of the casino’s downsides.

    One of those downsides is sure to be an increase in problem gambling, and we need more resources for the people who can’t control themselves when they step onto the gaming floor.

An article dated February 7, 2017 reports on a Siena College poll with findings on the attitudes of Capital Region residents toward the Rivers Casino. (“Poll: Residents have mixed feelings on casino impacts“, by Brett Samuels, Daily Gazette.) Polling was conducted Jan. 8-11, and the poll has a margin of error of 4 percentage points. The poll found that over 50 percent of people plan to visit the casino. Click here for the Siena College Research Institute Press Release. As for problem gambling:

While many see the casino as a positive economically, 55 percent believe the new casinos will cause increases in problem gambling and crime. The majority of respondents said problem gambling is a disease, but only 11 percent said they are aware of treatment services in their area.

 “The survey results support our view that both raising awareness of problem gambling and providing resources for problem gamblers and their families is crucial as new casinos open,” Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, said in a statement.

Also, in “Concerns over Rivers Casino persist for some ahead of opening day” (by Brett Samuels, Feb. 5, 2017), the discussion also focuses on the likelihood of an increase in problem gambling (which Rush Street has denied will happen here), including extended remarks by Jim Maney, Executive Director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling:

Aside from city finances, there’s the matter of personal finances. The most recent federal study on gambling shows problem gambling roughly doubles within a 50-mile radius of a new casino. Experts consider proximity and opportunity the biggest contributors to a gambling habit.   

 

Prior to Rivers, the nearest full casino to Schenectady was Turning Stone Resort and Casino, located almost 100 miles west in the town of Verona, although there is also the racino in Saratoga Springs, which has numerous gambling options, though not as many as either Turning Stone or Rivers.

nycpgjimmaney “If someone had to go to Turning Stone but could only go once a week because it was too far, now you can go every day. You can go after work, you can go between errands,” said Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling.

 

The biggest warning signs of a possible addiction include making more frequent trips to a casino and betting higher amounts, or lying about the frequency of those visits, Maney said.

 

Consequences of problem gambling can surface in different ways, he said. For some, it might be reflected in unpaid bills or a dependency on social services. For others, it might lead to stress and additional doctor’s visits.

 

While problem gambling affects a small percentage of the population, Maney said it’s an issue that can affect an entire family if bills go unpaid and money dries up. The best way to seek treatment is to call the state’s help line, he said.

pgposterdetail For much more on the need for problem gambling education and prevention programs in our community, see our posting last March, during Problem Gambling Awareness month. Of course, we need action — real programs backed with committed resources — not just words. Let’s see who comes forward to make it happen.

.

update: The first community forum presentation on problem gambling of the NYS Responsible Play Partnership will be held Wednesday, March 22, 2017, at Elston Hall, at Schenectady County Community College, at 5 PM. It is free and open to the public. Please be there to show your support for not only more problem gambling treatment resources, but also for education and outreach resources to help deter problem gambling from ever getting to the stage where professional intervention is needed.

casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?

The Snowmen Effect #1: This posting is the first in our new The Snowmen Effect category, in which we will point out how inadequate protection of the public interest has resulted in a less attractive, less safe, less successful, and/or less responsible Rivers Casino in Schenectady. Here, we discuss the lackluster design of Rivers Casino, due to the failure of our snowmen-like leaders to demand better.

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upstatenycasinomap If you lived more than 40 or 50 miles from Schenectady, would you choose Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its touted $320 million investment by Rush Street Gaming, over the half dozen other casino choices in upstate New York? More than once? (Click on the Upstate NY Casino Map to the right for a larger version; Google Map.)

How will residents of cities like Watertown, Kingston, Binghamton, or Rochester, choose between the casino options available in Upstate New York? Each of the casinos has ample “gaming” options, and similar guest incentive programs, with sufficient dining and hotel accommodations, and entertainment, along with fairly comparable weather. How important will the visual appeal of the casino complex be (architectural design, lighting and landscaping, physical setting)?

riverscasino13jan . . entrance, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, Schenectady

riverscasinodesignsThe main entrance of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino can be seen above (Click on the image for a larger version). As detailed in this posting, the final rendition submitted to the public of the casino entrance, in July 2015, looked quite different. Click on the thumbnail image to the right to compare. [note (Feb. 5, 2017): The Galesi Group is still using the July 2015 image in its promotion of Mohawk Harbor, as in the Gazette‘s January 31, 2017 advertising supplement, The Road to Rivers. click to view.]

Here are images of the front façade or casino entrance for each of the three other new Upstate  NY “commercial” casinos granted licenses by the NYS Racing Commission (click on each for a larger image):

. . del Lago  dellagocasino  . .

above: rendering of the casino portion of Del Lago, Waterloo-Tyre NY, opens 01Feb2017;  below: [L] a rendering of the Tioga Downs Casino, Nichols NY, opened 2Dec2016, plus a photo of the Tioga Downs entrance; [R] a rendering of the Montreign Casino, Monticello, opening March 2018

tiogacasinofront . . Tioga Downs Casino  . . tiogaentrancetwc

Montreign Casino . . montreignentrance

There are quite a few choices besides our Rivers Casino (click on the link for each casino in the list below to learn more about its outside appearance, indoor ambiance, and amenities):

  • dellagocasinoimagesThe $440 million Del Lago Casino in Waterloo-Tyre NY (Sullivan County) opens February 1, 2017, a week before the Rivers Casino; click here for a recent article about it, and click on the collage at the head of this sentence for views of del Lago.

update (Feb. 1, 2017): Del Lago opened today at 10:30 AM. On Syracuse.com, the website of the Syracuse Post-Standard, you can find a “first look” video shot two days ago. Here is a photo taken on January 30 for Syracuse.com by Dennis Nett, showing that the final result is faithful to the original rendition:

dellagocasino30jan2017

  • tiogacasinocollage Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, has been revamped (with a $122 million capital investment) and is already opened (since December 2016) in the Southern Tier, with a “country-fair themed” experience; click the collage to the right for more images of Tioga.
  • saratogacasino [on left] The upgraded Saratoga Casino and Raceway [FAQs], which is about 22 miles up Rt. 50 from Schenectady, is located in a proven tourist town that offers good taste, upscale shopping, and history; it is still a “racino”, but has over 1700 slot machines and electronic table games;
  • montreigncasinovThe Montreign Casino at Monticello (image on right), scheduled to open early next year, with a much larger budget [$1.3 billion when the complex is completed] than Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and the vision of renewing the Catskills as a top-level tourist destination, with a four-star hotel (and a less pricey one being built in its expansive entertainment center); and, of course,
  • turning-stone-casino The Oneida National tribal casino-resort Turning Stone at Verona, NY, is 24-years old and doing $20 million in upgrades to compete with del Lago; and
  • FallsViewFallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, ON Canada, opened in 2004 as a $1 billion investment. It is owned by the Government of Ontario, and managed by a consortium that includes a company owned by Neil Bluhm, the original developer of Fallsview, and the primary owner of Rush Street Gaming. [image on the right]

In an Appendix at the bottom of this posting, I have compiled the distances of the various casinos from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Kingston, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, and Utica. Here are the distance figures for Syracuse:

  • from Syracuse NY
  • to Del Lago: 43 miles
  • to Turning Stone: 89 miles
  • to Tioga Downs: 104 miles
  • to Rivers Casino/Schenectady 156 miles
  • to Monticello/Montreign: 164 miles
  • to Fallsview Casino, Niagara Falls, Canada: 165 miles
  • to Saratoga Casino: 187 miles
casinoscomparecollage

three new upstate choices: at Schenectady, Waterloo/Tyre & Monticello (click to enlarge)

Taste is, of course, very subjective, and I do not expect universal agreement on which casino design is “better,” more attractive, classier, “more tasteful,” most likely to sway potential customers, etc. As a longtime resident of the Schenectady Stockade historic district, a photographer, and sometime haiga-haiku poet, I am especially drawn to things that are visually attractive in a low-key, classical way, but also at times to visually striking scenes. As I have said often over the past two years (e.g., here and there), for my money, Schenectady’s Rivers Casino looks like a flashy-tacky version of a 20th Century shopping mall’s cineplex wing. (Others have pointed out that Schenectady actually has a far more attractive cineplex downtown; and better looking gas stations, too.) It looks like a humdrum regional (maybe even local) attraction; boxes next to or on top of boxes. For me, the competing casinos seem visually much more “attractive” (able to attract).

riverscasino-erieapproach

a look at Erie Blvd.

Indeed, many people who are inclined to be kinder than I in their assessment of our Casino’s visual appeal, probably would come to the same conclusion. That’s without contrasting the eyesores greeting visitors on the way to and from Mohawk Harbor along Erie Boulevard (see collage to the right) with the physical setting in the vicinity of Montreign, del Lago, Saratoga, Tioga, etc.

In June of 2015, when there was still plenty of time to get Schenectady’s casino design “right”, or at least adequate as a true tourist destination, we raised many questions in a posting titled “why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?“:

MinorLeagueSchdy

Rush Street designs

  It seems obvious that a “destination resort casino” should be designed to look and feel exciting and extraordinary.  The Gazette editorial board thinks so, and so [purportedly] does our Planning Commission.  Why, then, has Rush Street Gaming handed us two three minor league designs, just boxes on boxes, and a casino complex easily relegated to the realm of humdrum regional facilities? It is not because Rush Street does not know how to put a little sparkle or class in a casino design [click on collage to the right, and read the full posting].


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

For discussion and details on the Planning Commission’s many acts of omission in reviewing momentous changes to the City’s Waterfront Zoning provisions (listed here) and casino design requirements, see “Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber-stamp in a Company Town” (Jan. 29, 2015; short URL: http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTown). And, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on his planning commission” (Feb. 09, 2016, which in part stated:

Yesterday [in another February 8th disaster for our City], Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy made public his decision not to re-appoint to the Planning Commission its newly-chosen chair, Matthew Cuevas, ending Cuevas’ service after more than two decades. Clearly, the Mayor is not interested in keeping a Planning Commissioner, especially one with the powers of the Chair, who is actively interested in enforcing the zoning laws, fulfilling their promise to protect the interests of all residents of Schenectady, and not merely those of the Mayor’s favorite few applicants and their proposals. . . .

update (March 16, 2016): Our sheep-herding Mayor continues his deterrent-minded culling of the flock on his volunteer regulatory boards. Of course, he is not culling out the weak, he is removing the independent members who refuse to act like sheep. See Faces changing on Schenectady planning board (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 15, 2016; subscription req’d). The Mayor has failed to renew the appointment of Planning Commissioner Thomas Carey, who was the only member to vote No last year on the Site Plan review of the Casino compound plans. . . .

[Similarly,] Speaking about the Mayor’s failure to re-appoint herself and fellow Historic Commission member Frank Donegan, [former Chair] Marilyn Sassi told TU reporter Paul Nelson:

“We believed it’s because we spoke out against several projects the mayor is in favor of and he’s just eliminating anybody that doesn’t agree with him,” said Sassi . . “Right now, I’m relieved because I don’t want to have any part of a rubber stamp board, I want to be free to be able to express my feelings and concerns.”

flexibleharbor Another reason for the humdrum design was suggested to me by an outgoing City Council member, and raised by others: If the Schenectady Casino fails, the owner of the land, The Galesi Group, wants the buildings left on the site to be easily converted into almost any new use — from big box store to light industrial use, to small shops or offices, etc. The last thing Mr. Galesi wants on his land if the Rivers Casino fails is a building that “looks like a casino”.  Under this scenario, Rivers Casino is so iffy a project, that we got a casino compound that could be walked away from without too much of a mess for its landlord — a second-rate design in case Plan B is needed in the not too distant future.

GEsignBlDice Rather than acting as if “Schenectady” were the Mohawk language equivalent to “Second-rate-City”, or submissively resigning itself to the status of a mendicant Casino-run Company Town, there were many ways that a vigilant City Council and Planning Commission (or Metroplex), could have ensured that the City of Schenectady got a quality design for its casino, as a true tourist destination. First, of course, they could have used the tremendous leverage they possessed as the host City. Rush Street Gaming needed City Council approval of its application to the Racing Commission for a casino license. Rush Street also desired major changes to our zoning laws to develop its casino without restrictions meant to protect the community. Other cities, as is the universal practice in the industry, take advantage of this leverage to provide benefits for the residents and community. Asking for a quality casino design — which would benefit the casino owner as well as the City — would have been more than appropriate.

Next, our political and business leaders could have simply orchestrated public pressure to achieve an improved design, as when the universally disliked “factory-retro look” was rejected by the community. The very minor tweaks to that plan that resulted in our current design should also have been strongly rejected.

More fundamental and direct, however, was using the Site Planning process to require that the casino design live up to the expectations, and certainly not detract from, such things as the upscale image that The Galesi Group had been creating for its mixed-use Mohawk Harbor development, and the Metroplex ongoing renewal of downtown, along with capitalizing on (and preserving) the appeal of the historic Stockade Historic District, a gem merely one-half mile down Front Street.

According to a February 2015 Gazette article, “Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor: Riggi wants city to reiterate Planning Commission’s authority”, even Corporation Council Carl Falotico confirmed the Planning Commission’s site plan authority:

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

 

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

Conclusion: Schenectady deserves a spectacular design for its casino. From the start, Rush Street’s competitors understood a destination casino must look special, while our applicant seemed to be willing to settle for a very modest “regional” casino look, and the City Hall yes-persons failed to ask for something better. Local business leaders were quite surprised to learn at a recent meeting with casino management that the primary geographic market targeted by Rivers Casino was only a 60-mile radius. Sadly, that fits in with the casino design they have given us.

The result will surely be far less revenue, and trickle-down tourist dollars, than the City and County assumed when they readily caved in to the Casino Gangs’ every demand and proposal. The Upstate, and soon Massachusetts, rivals of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor must be pleased. Our community will now have to rely on local residents spending undue amounts of their disposable (as well as indispensable) income to keep Rivers Casino successful enough for Rush Street to want to stay. That is not exactly the future Schenectady deserves; unless, we deserve the leaders we elect and the future they create.

APPENDIX – Distances from various cities to the casinos

Continue reading

Schenectady’s infamous February 8th

feb8infamy8x10

. . click on the image above for a larger version (formatted for 10″x8″); for other sizes, click on the thumbnails below. You may download them for noncommercial use and free distribution . .  

feb8infamy4x6we [for 4″x6″] . . feb8infamy5x7 [for 5″x7″]

As James Kirby pointed out in a Letter to the Editor of the Gazette (December 4, 2016), the February 8 opening of the Rivers Casino coincides with the date of the Schenectady Massacre in 1690. Here is my Dec. 6 comment to that Letter at the Gazette website, amplifying on the irony:

Re: Massacre and Casino: Sadly, the timing of the casino opening has much more irony than merely coinciding with the date of the Schenectady Massacre. The website name “Stop the Schenectady Casino” was changed to “Snowmen at the Gates,” to symbolize that inviting in the Casino and capitulating to its proponents is part of a long history of Schenectady’s leaders not fulfilling their duty to protect the City and its people.

The marauders from Canada decided to attack Schenectady rather than Albany on the night of February 8, 1690 because (1) there were no sentinels on guard at the main gates of the Village, but snowmen standing in their stead, and (2) the gates were left open by citizens who refused to remove snow blocking the closing of the gates, in defiance of an order given to the mostly Dutch settlers by their hated English commander Captain John Sander Glen to close the gates. As explained more fully at the posting, “Have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Massacre?”, http://tinyurl.com/MassacreLessons :

snowmencameoBW-004 Our website name “Snowmen at the Gates” refers to the legendary snowmen “standing guard” in a blizzard, on February 8, 1690, outside the open north gate of the sturdy stockade fence that was built to protect the little village of Schenectady. Although messages had been received from the larger outpost at Albany warning that a war party was on the way that evening, the appointed sentries apparently decided to leave their posts to have a tankard or two at the nearby Douwe Aukes tavern. That dereliction of duty allowed a band of 114 French soldiers and 96 Sault and Algonquin Indians to enter the stockade, burn down the village, and massacre, kidnap, or scare away its residents.

casinotownlogo We who watched every element of our cheerleading City and County government [along with the Gazette] cave in to every demand of the Casino Gang (with only Mr. Riggi and Ms. Porterfield in opposition on the City Council), and ignore all warnings and research concerning the likely negative effects of a casino and ways to mitigate them, do not believe the lessons have been learned from the 1690 Massacre. Our Mayor, Metroplex Chair, and County Legislature prefer to have harmless, voiceless and blind Snowmen sitting on our boards and councils, turning over the keys of the City and the decision-making machinery to the Casino Gang.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected the folks from Chicago’s Rush Street Gaming to recall the date of the Schenectady Massacre. But, didn’t anybody at City Hall or Metroplex Central see that date and point out the public relations problems it entails? Or, is this a new notion of civic honesty about the casino and its impact on Schenectady?

Last year, I left a comment much like the following paragraph at the Gazette website concerning an editorial about review of future Casino requests:

Our leaders and servants at City Hall need to be watchdogs protecting the public, not cheerleaders repeating the casino’s claims, or weaponless and mute Snowmen guarding the gates of our City, like on the night of the 1690 Massacre. Our leaders must take their time, use common sense, ask probing questions, and require full submissions about the factual basis of an Applicants’ claims, and deadline assertions, especially on projects as big and important as Mohawk Harbor and its Casino.

And, they must actually listen to the warnings and suggestions of community members who want what is best for our City, not simply the best for their financial and political futures.

Will the City, County and business leaders who are taking so much credit for bringing Rivers Casino to Schenectady, and did virtually nothing to mitigate or prevent its likely negative effects, melt like snowmen under the spotlight and heated questions that they can expect when things start to go wrong? Or, will they take responsibility, come up with meaningful solutions, and ensure that we are much more than a company town (a Casino Town)?

Rivers Casino will open February 8, 2017

casinosignalot

The Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, in Schenectady, announced today that it will open for business on February 8, 2017, a Wednesday. See Gazette article, dated Nov. 16, 2016) The Gazette tells us:

The grand opening date was revealed at an event outside the casino, which is located on the Mohawk Harbor site along Erie Boulevard. Casino executives and local leaders popped champagne and celebrated the announcement as a milestone for the region.

The most recent estimate for the opening had been for March. The del Lago Resort Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, New York, has announced a February 1, 2017 opening. (By the way, earlier this month, del Lago made a $100,000 donation to promote workforce diversity) The Tioga Downs Casino, in Nichols NY, which has expanded from its racino status, opened as a full casino on December 2, 2016; the Montreign Casino, at Monticello NY, is expected to open in March 2018.

Two thoughts after viewing the Casino today from Erie Boulevard and Front Street:

  1. img_2604 The Casino compound still looks more like the cineplex end of a 1990’s shopping mall than an international or national tourist destination. (see photo on the right) [follow-up (Jan. 19, 2017): See “casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?“, which compares casino designs among the competing casinos.]
  2. As we pointed out often at this website and in submissions to the Planning Commission and City Council, Rush Street and Galesi were clearly misleading our community when they insisted that the Casino could not be seen from Erie Boulevard, because the STS Steel building was in the way. (see, e.g. our posting “phony pylon excuse“) The invisibility of the Casino and its rooftop signage from Erie was the excuse given for the demand that Rush Street be able to erect an 80′ x 39′ pylon sign structure. City Council and the Planning staff and Commission never challenged that bold claim, and changed the Zoning Code to accommodate such a monster pylon (which Rush Street has never promised not to build). If they were willing to deceive on something so easily shown to be untrue, what other misleading claims has the Casino Gang made? Revenue projections? Traffic flow?

 img_2605

. . . above and below: Rivers Casino viewed from Erie Boulevard . ..

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follow-up: We felt a strong need to comment on the fact that February 8 is the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre of 1690. See our posting “Schenectady’s infamous February 8th“.

Gazette decries “fake news”

 If, despite the Presidential Election Campaign, you have not yet met your annual Irony Quota, we suggest you head over to today’s Sunday Gazette Opinion section for Judy Patrick’s Editor’s Notes column, titled “Be on the lookout for fake news stories.” (click here for a pdf. version of the column) Among other things, Ms. Patrick, the newly named Editor at the Gazette, gives us these gems [with my quick replies in parentheses]:

  • “Reputable news organizations work hard to present information objectively and fairly.

    “The mainstream media isn’t trying to slant the news; for journalists, the search for the truth is something of a divine mission.” [lawyers hope their b.s. can pass a Blush Test; there should be blushing aplenty going on at Maxon Rd. Ext.] 

  • “Fake stories are especially confounding because, unlike the seven-headed goat, they can be pretty clever.

    “They look just like a legitimate news site.” [True that!]

  • “Astute consumers of news have always had fairly good critical thinking skills.” [we need more critical thinking skills on the Gazette staff, or more likely, the editors need to let their reporters apply those skills]

Here’s my comment at Ms. Patrick’s Fake News opinion column:

Chutzpah? Hallucination? Hypocrisy? How could Gazette Editor Patrick give us this caution against slanted journalism, and declare “the search for truth is something of a divine mission,” with a straight face? Two and a half years ago, on the most important issue that will face our community in this generation, the Casino, the Gazette gave up its role as objective source of news and information for our community. Instead, the Gazette has acted, and continues to act, as a Public Relations arm and the Primary Censor of Unfavorable News for Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group.

 

see-no-evil-monkeyBlue When it comes to Mohawk Harbor, the Gazette has been devoid of investigative journalism, not even asking obvious follow-up questions to the specious claims of the Casino Gang and City Hall. The Independent Voice has been acting deaf, dumb and blind to the potential threat to the heart and soul of our community as Schenectady again becomes a Company Town, this time serving the shallow interests of a major casino, rather than a productive industrial powerhouse.

 

 threemonkeysFor the story of the Rigging of the News by the Gazette during the casino application process, see http://tinyurl.com/GazetteTilt .

If you have access to the Gazette online, please consider leaving your own comment. For more on this subject, see our postings, and included links:

our “drive-thru” rotary

DSCF1988 We’ve asked before why Galesi and Rush Street Gaming are not reimbursing the State and City for the cost of building the Erie-Nott-Rush rotary. [e.g.,“Rush Street’s Giveaways“, and “Money on the Table“] Last night’s unanimous approval of a retail project with a bank and a coffee shop, each with a drive-thru lane, with direct access to and from the rotary, surely raises the question once again. The Commission decision raises many other issues, and I put them in a letter to the Gazette editor this morning, echoing a comment that I left at the Gazette website:

To the editor:

re: “Commission OKs retail building at Mohawk Harbor site (by Haley Viccaro) July 21, 2016)

Here they go again! Neither Commission nor Gazette looks behind the misleading statements made by Galesi’s glib representatives. For example:

DSCF1994 We are told the coffee shop hours are unknown, but the Site Plan application itself states the coffee shop will be open 24/7. And, while the bank branches may have traditional banking hours, its ATM drive-up lane will be available 24/7.

“The new building will not have an impact on traffic compared to the original study for the site”. Interesting strategy — first go to the Commission with high numbers (never released to the public) and then say lower numbers means no impact compared to those numbers. The original study was solely for a much larger Dunkin’ Donuts store, and some general rule-of-thumb says a smaller shop will generate less traffic. Why does having a smaller coffee shop mean fewer people pulling in from the rotary to use the drive-thru lane? Buicko told the Gazette last week what great demand there would be for this service, saying that in addition to those living there and coming to the casino, “you have the people coming into work on that side who can just swing in and come back into the traffic circle.”

MH-BankCoffee-Vicinity “Majority of” has become a magic phrase, it seems. Mr. Hershberg says a majority of people would already be coming to the site for the casino or would live on the site. How about follow-up questions Commissioners? How much extra traffic are we talking about? How well are commuters going to deal with the not-yet-completed rotary? What does it mean to have a coffee shop and bank driveway empty directly into a rotary? How will that traffic blend into rotary traffic? Did Commission staff check to see if any other coffee shops have a similar location right ON a rotary?

What about traffic coming from Front Street? Casino cheerleader Ruscitto “said she doesn’t believe the building would have an impact on nearby Front Street.” Based on what? Will people be using Front St. to get to the bank ATM and the coffee drive-thru? “Hershberg said he believes a majority of people would take the roundabout to enter and exit the site.” Why not use signage to prevent entry coming directly from Front St.? How many people living at Mohawk Harbor, who would otherwise exit from the new Harbor Drive instead be adding to traffic entering from the “corner” of the rotary rather than smoothly entering from Erie Blvd.?

Rather than showing their independence after the Mayor dumped members who dared to ask questions, we get sleeping watchdogs overseeing the important issue of traffic movement and safety, even with no pressing deadline.

One more thing: The agenda for this meeting was not online until after 10 AM yesterday, the day of the Meeting. But, staff rushed up the wrong agenda, and a day later, if you click to see the “July 20” agenda, you still get the “January 20” agenda. Telling staff of the problem yesterday got no reaction to a problem that would take a few seconds to correct. Clearly City Hall belongs to the Casino Gang.

David Giacalone, Editor, “snowmen at the Gates”

https://snowmenatthegates.com/

Schenectady, NY

DSCF1991

follow-up (2 PM, July 21, 2016): Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro decided to respond to my Comment at the webpage for her article this morning, with this comment of her own:

hviccaro July 21, 2016, 12:20 p.m. 

David,

The hours in the site plan application will change based on the future tenant. The hours are not known at this time. So it is incorrect to say it will be open 24/7. That was clearly explained at the meeting last night.

The traffic study for the Mohawk Harbor site is available to the public and numbers were written in The Daily Gazette in several stories.

Examples: http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2015/ju…

http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2014/se…

If you want a copy of the traffic impact study just ask and I will send it to you.

Most customers are expected to be people who are already visiting, working or living there, according to the engineers. New customers would be approximately 60 a day, engineer Dan Hershberg said at the meeting.

If you have questions or concerns about an article you can email me directly or you can reach out to city staff and the Planning Commission.

Thanks,

Haley

Here are my replies at the Gazette website:

12:59 p.m.

Haley,

The coffee shop will be open 24/7, unless it is more profitable for the operator to close a few hours a day. For planning commission purposes, they stated in their application that it “will be open 24 hours a day. 7 days a week,” [ http://tinyurl.com/coffee24-7 ] and they are granted the right to be open 24/7.

In your comment above, you point me to two traffic impact studies about the casino development PRIOR to any plans to have the coffee shop and bank located on the rotary. The question is how much added traffic there will be and how it will interact with rotary traffic. Your 60 a day number must be an error. Perhaps you mean 60 extra during one of the peak hours. When I asked a Commission staffer yesterday to explain the calculation that reduced the trips generated by 50%, she could not explain the terminology used in the projections. Perhaps the Gazette could link to the actual projections submitted for the new project.

As you know, this is not the first article of yours about the Casino that I have had major questions about. See http://tinyurl.com/GazetteTilt

P.S. By the way, the Dunkin’ Donuts shops on Broadway and State Street in Schenectady are both open 24 hours a day.

2:14 p.m.

Here’s a link to the Traffic Assessment memo submitted by the Applicant to the Planning Commission: http://tinyurl.com/MHCoffeeTrips

As I mentioned in my first comment, the comparison concluding “no impact” is made to the never-official Dunkin’-Donuts-only projection, not to prior overall Rotary or Mohawk Harbor trips without the Coffee Shop and Bank.

Also, as I suggested in my second comment, the projection mentioned by Ms. Vicarro of “approximately 60 extra daily” is actually 66 at the AM Peak Hour Entering, with a total Entering and Exiting at that AM Peak Hour of 125.

Below is the Traffic Assessment memo submitted to the Commission by the applicant’s expert.

TrafficMemo18Jul2016

 

did haters visit Lawrence Circle?

BStern-lawrencerainbow2

Lawrence with Rainbow Flag – by Bob Stern, on Flag Day 2016

 Last Tuesday (June 14, 2016) was Flag Day, and that evening a Pride Flag appeared at Lawrence Circle, in a symbolic show of support for the victims of the horrific massacre at the Orlando, FL, Pulse nightclub, and the LGBT community.  Today’s Schenectady Gazette had a photo of the flag and Lawrence on its front page.  I am not sure exactly when, but by mid-morning today the Pride Flag was gone. Other then asking the question in the headline above, I will leave motives for others to speculate upon.

 . . . update (June 23, 2016): It appears that one person was responsible for the removal of the Pride Flag from its location on the bow of the Lawrence statue. That man brought the flag into Arthur’s Market, saying he took it down because it “offended” him. The flag has been returned to the neighbors who had hung it. Another pride-rainbow flag has been draped on the east side of the fence around Lawrence Circle over the past week. See the updates at the bottom of this posting at “suns along the Mohawk.”

I’m posting here at “snowmen at the gates” in the hope that our official, community, and neighborhood leaders will speak out for solidarity and love, not separation and hate. Oh, yes, and for good old American Freedom of Speech, too.

IMG_0732 Below is an email that I sent this afternoon to the Historic Stockade Yahoo! email group, cc-ing various media members. For more Flag Day photos from the Stockade, including pride flag images, see our sister weblog “suns along the Mohawk.”

From: David Giacalone <dgiacalone@nycap.rr.com>

Subject: pride in Lawrence Circle

Date: June 16, 2016 at 11:41:28 AM EDT

To: Historic Stockade <HistoricStockade@yahoogroups.com>

Cc:  Capital Region Media

You may have seen the photo of Lawrence with a Pride Flag on the front page of today’s Gazette. I just learned that someone other than the persons who put it there has already taken it down. I do not want to speculate here as to why the Pride Flag has been removed, but I want to make two points:

First, you do not have to by gay or otherwise part of the LGBT movement to be pleased to see the Pride flag in Lawrence Circle (and at the YWCA), in solidarity with the Orlando massacre victims, against hatred, and in support of human rights for all. So, although not a part of the LGBT community, I was proud to see that flag alongside Lawrence. In case you missed the flag at the Circle, the collage below captured the Pride flags that joined Old Glory on Flag Day in the Stockade.  (they are also posted at my Flag Day weblog post)

Second, Lawrence Circle is a public park, officially designated as a Neighborhood Park by the City of Schenectady. It belongs to no particular people or group, and free speech rights exist there, as on all public property. Those rights extend to any temporary display that does not vandalize the Circle or Lawrence’s statue (and is not within the very narrow legal category of pornographic). Even if you might think a display is tacky or you disagree with the sentiment, you have no right to remove a temporary display put up by others exercising their right of free speech. 

The second attachment shows the Public Park as it existed long before Lawrence. The third attachment shows that Lawrence was originally placed outside the park fence. [source: SCHS, and Don Rittner’s “Schenectady: New York’s First Historic District.”] That Circle is not a sacred spot and Lawrence is rightly respected and celebrated, but almost certainly would not want to be venerated.

thank you, 

David

at Cucumber Alley

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StockadeFlagDay2016Pride

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CircleBeforeLawrence

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LawrenceOutsideCircle

p.s. The Huffington Post reprinted a powerful and telling piece from the Facebook page of Paul Rausnenbush (June 14, 2016), entitled “I’m Done Accommodating Religious Hatred Toward Queer Lives.” Amen. 

a voice from North Street for saving trees

NorthSt18May2016-001

. . “I remember many years ago when North Street had many beautiful large healthy trees that were cut down. The street has some small trees which will never replace the huge trees. The street looks naked without those gorgeous trees.”

I would rather ‘watch my step’ on uneven sidewalks than walk down a street without the shade and beauty of those large trees.

. . Jessie Malecki, Letter in the Sunday Gazette,”Stop the senseless cutting of trees, especially in historic districts” (May 15, 2016)

JessieM-facebook

from Jessie’s Facebook page

Jessie Malecki has lived in her Stockade house on North Street her entire life – more than 90 years. Earlier this month, the Gazette published another of her strong, insightful Letters to the Editor. Jessie’s topic this time was ending the unnecessary removal of our valuable street trees. At the top of this post are two salient quotes from the Letter, which is copied in full below and well worth your perusal.

Jessie mentioning the prior existence of large street trees on North Street sent me searching yesterday afternoon for old photos of the one-block, one-lane thoroughfare, which runs north from Front Street to Riverside Park, just east of Lawrence Circle. In my brief exploration, I was able to locate only one photo, at the Schenectady County Historical Society. It is shown immediately below, in a collage that features the March 1914 picture alongside a photo taken last week by me of the now “naked” North Street, looking north from mid-block. (Click on the collage for a larger version.)  As you can see, in 1914, flooding caused by ice jamming deposited ice floes and chunks well down the block. The angle is not optimal for viewing the curbside trees, but they clearly outnumber the current array, which is basically comprised of the species poleis-utilitus (utility poles).

I’m sorry I could not find more old photos from North Street. If you have one, especially with the tree fully foliated, please let me know.

StockadeBlocks6-001

. . above: 1914 photo courtesy of Schenectady County Historical Society . .

Jessie shared the March 1914 photo yesterday at her Facebook page, saying:

Thought people from my area would like to see North St. in 1914 (ten years earlier from my time – my house is the third down on the left) during the flooding, which in 8/28/2011 would be just about the 100 year flood.

In the 2016 photo, Jessie’s house is the 4th house on the left, with the orange awning. Please join Jessie voicing your well-reasoned opinions at the Gazette, or local news medium of your choice.

For more on our campaign to have a street tree preservation policy enacted in Schenectady, scroll down our web home page, and see our S.O.S. Trees portal.

Letters to the Editor (Schenectady Daily Gazette, Sunday, May 15, 2016)

Stop the senseless cutting of trees, especially in historic districts

Schenectady, and especially its historic districts, are fortunate to have so many large trees along our streets. Cutting them down when it is not necessary is a terrible waste that makes our city less beautiful, inviting and healthy.

Therefore, it is most important that a tree preservation policy be adopted and implemented for Schenectady so trees in the city’s right of way (between the curb and sidewalk, and in the medians) are preserved unless an individual tree is dead, dying or dangerous. That means alternatives to tree removal must be considered and employed, except where there is no viable alternative.

The Schenectady streets have many old beautiful trees which took years or centuries to grow. The city should not be able to remove them merely to repair a sidewalk and homeowners should not be able to have them removed for frivolous reasons.

There should be no excuse to cut down a healthy tree because it causes litter to the homeowner. Trees not only bring shade to our homes but beauty to our landscape.

NorthSt18May2016

“naked”

 I remember many years ago when North Street had many beautiful large healthy trees that were cut down. The street has some small trees which will never replace the huge trees. The street looks naked without those gorgeous trees.

North Ferry Street was so beautiful with their large trees but they were all cut down to replace the sidewalks. Fortunately, St. George’s Church property has some gorgeous, huge trees.

Walking on Washington Avenue, it is a delight that the large trees were not eliminated because of the outcry of the residents there. I would rather “watch my step” on uneven sidewalks than walk down a street without the shade and beauty of those large trees.

Both the Historic District Commission and the Planning Commission may initiate a study or make recommendations for new policy, laws or regulations and it should do so, even if not specifically requested by the mayor or City Council.

If you would like to preserve our Schenectady trees, email Chuck Thorne at Cthorne@schenectadyny.gov and he will distribute your letter to the mayor and City Council on your behalf. Or write: Chuck Thorne, City Clerk at City Hall, Jay Street, Schenectady, NY. 12305.

Jessie Malecki

Schenectady

the day after Arbor Day

ArthursMkt22Apr2016

Arthur’s Market, site of the First S.O.S. Trees meeting, had been well-shaded prior to the 2008 N. Ferry “streetscape improvements.”

  Everyone loves trees on Arbor Day. But, what happens the day after Arbor Day? This year, on the literal Day After, Saturday, April 30, 2016, a group of Schenectady residents who appreciate the ways our urban forest can enhance the quality of our lives, came together at Arthur’s Market in the Stockade for the inaugural meeting of Save Our Schenectady Trees [S.O.S. Trees]. This posting contains many of the materials presented at that Meeting, provides analysis, shares a few pictures from the event, and asks what we should be doing all the Other Days After Arbor Day to help achieve a Street Tree Preservation Policy for Schenectady.

Here are images from the April 30th SOS Trees Meeting. The photo-collage shows most of the adult attendees, as well as the two major exhibits. (click on it for a larger version):

SOSTrees1stMtgCollage

. . Share this posting with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/AfterArborDay

The three primary topics at the Meeting were:

  • the Need for a Tree Preservation Policy in Schenectady, as shown by:
    • Ferry-WashCompare-Apr2016the City Engineer’s stated preference for the “N. Ferry St. process” of sidewalk repair, which resulted in the removal of every large street tree on the block in 2008, rather than the process used on Washington Ave. in 2014, which left the trees [click on image to right for a comparison of the results]
    • the many Benefits of our Urban Forest that will be lost through street tree deforestation
    • the omission from the City’s Tree Master Plan of the preservation concept, despite Schenectady’s status as a Tree City.
    • a real-life Show & Tell performed right outside the door of Arthur’s Market, as we stood in the shadeless noon sunlight and looked south up the once-shady N. Ferry St.
  • the Special Value of Large Trees: Size Matters. Replacing large trees with small ones is a waste of a precious resource and a poor investment, which cannot be reversed.
  • Alternatives to Tree Removal that are proven effective and efficient, and often less-expensive when repairing or replacing sidewalks.

 

WE MUST PRESERVE THE MANY BENEFITS OF OUR URBAN TREES 

SJVCtreebenefits1 . . . TreeBenefitsSJV  ….

Click each of the above images to see or print both sides of a handout outlining the major benefits derived from urban trees (“from Tree Guidelines for San Joaquin Valley Communities”, Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education,1999; “SJV Tree Guidelines Report”).  Avoidable streetside “deforestation” decimates those benefits, and cannot be justified by a general fear of liability or the convenience of property owners.

For additional discussion of the Benefits of Urban Trees, see our posting “why worry about our large street trees?“.  Also, the 17-page presentation on the Grand Pass [Oregon] website, “Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas” contains information and statistics, with charts, on topics such as the effects of trees on real estate values, traffic safety, asphalt savings, and (as excerpted in a 6-page pdf. file) on commercial businesses and consumer activity, sociological factors, and the adjacent homeowner. The Oregon study views trees as an important element of a city’s infrastructure, as major capital assets that must be cared for and maintained like any other valuable municipal property.

See “Schenectady needs a Tree Preservation Policy” for additional background and analysis, including Schenectady’s failure to include preservation in its Tree Master Plan, and discussion of cities choosing to give priority to retaining street trees.

An important moment in the April 30th Meeting came when Rich Unger, a retired planner who is chair of the Stockade Association’s Infrastructure Committee, and working on a neighborhood Sidewalk Survey for the Association, stated his support for a City-wide preservation policy, which would be adopted in a City Council resolution after research, drafting, and consensus-building. Mr. Unger is, however, more optimistic than  I that the City Engineer is willing to work to consider and permit alternative ways to repair sidewalks in order to save a tree. If true, that would make achieving a formal tree preservation requirement less urgent. 

NFerry-March1-DSCF1560

N. Ferry St., March 2016

Rich Unger’s optimism is only realistic, however, if the City Engineer has changed the criteria applied by the Office in 2008 on N. Ferry St., and again in its Washington Ave. plan in 2010. In both those instances, every large street tree was considered to pose too big a liability risk to leave in place, because root chopping during construction could damage the tree, making it more likely to topple in the future. It appears that no options other than removal were considered in 2008 and 2010 (such as rerouting or narrowing the sidewalk, ramping it, or leaving and monitoring healthy trees that had a sufficient portion of their root system intact), due to that fear of liability.  The continuing stress on liability by Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson in recent correspondence (see our “why worry” posting), shows a reluctance to consider alternative repair options that continues to put large street trees greatly at risk.

 

Thus, with the City voicing its preference to work a block at a time, doing the sidewalk work at the same time as repaving the road, as on N. Ferry St., we can expect that virtually every mature street tree will be slated for removal when the City “does” a block, unless other options are fully considered, and greater leeway given to retain (and monitor) an otherwise healthy tree after its root system is reduced. The way to avoid such a result is to promulgate a Tree Preservation Policy that requires the City arborist to determine in good faith, for each tree that is not dead, dying or dangerous, whether there is a viable option other than removing the tree.

.

SIGNIFICANCE of LARGE TREES

SizeExh  Virtually all of the benefits we receive from trees growing in our “urban forests” are directly related to their size — from cleaning air and water, cooling pavement, shading homes and reducing utility bills, muffling noise, and dampening traffic speed, to luring tourists, shoppers, and residents, with their beauty and shelter. This is a core message for S.O.S. Trees.

NFerryTreeCollageThe handout sheet to the right shows a sampler of effects of removing all large street trees on N. Ferry St. in 2008. Planting the smaller replacement trees is simply a lose-lose situation, and not a defense that justifies removing healthy street trees.

SizeMattersCover1

. . . Size Matters. Click on the image to the left for a pdf. version of the Size Matters exhibit presented at our First Meeting. Each page has a large-font quotation from an expert concerning the relationship between the size of trees and the tree canopy and the resulting benefits to a community. For a fuller discussion of the issue, see the Size Matters section of our posting “why worry about our large street trees?“.

Example of a bad trade-off: 36 N. Ferry St.

36NFerryTreeCompare

Meeting attendees were able to compare side-by-side, with photos taken from similar perspectives, 8″x10″ photo collages showing N. Ferry St. in 2007 (prior to the street 2008 tree removal), and in mid-April 2016. Click on the following images to see larger versions comparing N. Ferry St. in 2007 [L] and 2016:

. . 2007 . . NFerry1

.

.SOSTrees2 . . 2016

The 2016 photo collage above [lower, R], showing the streetscape 8 years after the “improvements” of 2008, belies the statement from an Assistant City Engineer that, ”[I]f you give the [the small replacement trees] 5-10 years, they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.” [The photos collages will be available to view at Arthur’s Market throughout the S.O.S. Trees campaign.]

During an outdoor session, those attending the Meeting were also able, by looking down the streets that intersect Lawrence Circle, to see several at-risk blocks of Stockade trees. Each block has significant numbers of healthy or treatable street trees that deserve to be saved, even if they are standing alongside uneven or damaged sidewalks.

Front&GreenSts05May2016

.. above: an eastward view up Front St. and Green Street at Lawrence Circle, May 5, 2016 . . 

ALTERNATIVES to TREE REMOVAL

ChillicotheExh An important exhibit at the April 30th Meeting centered on the publication “Trees and Sidewalks in Chillicothe”. Chillicothe is a small and historic municipality in Ohio. Its guide for residents having tree-sidewalk conflicts is a particularly thoughtful and easy-to-read resource for those wanting to learn about the benefits of preserving our urban street canopies and about practical options available to avoid the removal of trees that are not dead, dying or dangerous. The report begins its description of the problems and solutions by saying:

“Both sidewalks and trees are crucial in providing important services to our residents and visitors. When there are conflicts between trees and sidewalks, we must be thoughtful in our approach to effectively spend limited dollars and truly address the problem. Surprisingly, there are often efficient and inexpensive ways to repair walks and at the same time retain nearby trees.”

One point made in the Chillicothe Report that deserves special emphasis is: “When considering sidewalk repair, there are several well established and inexpensive techniques available. The typical approach of ripping out the old and re-constructing a new walk is the most expensive and this can damage the nearby trees.”

  . . If you click on the yellow exhibit sign on the left, you will see a printable version of the large-font quotations used in our Chillicothe Exhibit.

  • For other sources on Alternatives to Removing Trees when repairing sidewalks and repaving streets, see the discussion at the bottom of our posting “sidewalks vs. trees”. One helpful resource is the monograph “Sidewalks and Roots: Mitigating the Conflict—An Overview” by Gordon Mann of Auburn, California, which has descriptions of alternative and innovative solutions to tree removal, mentioning the advantages and disadvantages of each process or material.  Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), a nonprofit organization in Washington State, reproduced Mann’s helpful article on its website.

WHAT’s NEXT for S.O.S TREES?

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sidewalks vs. trees

SAVEOURHEALTHYOLDTREES. . S.O.S.Trees thanks the Schenectady Gazette opinion staff for printing “Save our healthy old trees” [pdf.] as a Guest Column, Sunday, April 24, 2016, D1.

In 2013, Saratoga Springs acknowledged in its Urban and Community Forest Master Plan that “Different People See Trees in Different Ways.” While many folks love and value urban trees greatly, the Spa City Master Plan notes that some residents “see city trees as more nuisance than asset,” messy, in the way, or simply “easily replaceable.” Our S.O.S. Trees campaign hopes to raise awareness of both the benefits of urban trees, especially our mature street trees, and the many alternatives available to removal of those trees when repairing or replacing sidewalks.

  • Below are other voices who agree that, in the case of Sidewalks vs. Trees, the balance of the evidence heavily favors trees. The defense “But, we’re fixing your sidewalk,” simply cannot justify the slaughter of street trees that are not dead, dying, or incurably dangerous.

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 12.19.08 PM On June 25, 2010, in the editorial “Stockade sidewalk-about“: The Schenectady Gazette Opinion Editor wrote:

editorialG Whether it’s a dock, sidewalks or most anything else, residents of Schenectady’s Stockade tend to have strong opinions. And they were entirely right in condemning the city’s act of environmental vandalism two years ago when it chopped down some majestic old trees on North Ferry Street while repaving the street and redoing the sidewalks there. It was a major mistake, compounded by the fact that the city didn’t consult people in the neighborhood before doing it.

    But trees, whose roots have heaved some of the sidewalks on Washington Avenue, shouldn’t be left to residents to decide about keeping, or be responsible for. Even if it costs extra to reroute the sidewalk around large trees, as was done on Lowell Road in the GE Plot, that’s how it should be done and the city should pay for it. If rerouting isn’t possible, then the street should be repaved without redoing the sidewalk.

     And if it takes another year or two to work all this out, that’s OK. It takes a lot longer than that to grow a tree.

The City of Tacoma, Washington, declares its preference for saving trees on its Tree Removal webpage:

STREET TREE REMOVAL: for trees growing in the right-of-way, between the curb and sidewalk:

Tacoma’s urban forest is a valuable asset, and all trees on public property are protected. Trees provide increasing benefits as they grow, and mature trees are an asset that requires decades to replace. Tacoma carefully considers each and every request to remove a street tree, and encourages tree planting, regular tree maintenance, and alternatives to tree removal except where no viable alternative exists. Street trees can only be removed if they meet the criteria of being dead, dying, or dangerous. Conditions that do not warrant removal include the tree dropping fruit or leaves, the tree being perceived as too tall or making too much shade, or the cost of routine maintenance.

Saratoga Springs‘ proposed Tree Removal and Replacement provisions in its “Urban and Community Forest Master Plan” (at xxvi), adopted May 21, 2013, have a similar theme:

Tree Removal and Replacement

The Current process for tree removal involves the City taking action to remove dead or dying trees that pose a public safety risk or removing trees at the request of a landowner. This latter justification appears to happen as frequently for trees that pose a risk as it does for trees, which adjacent landowners wish to remove for personal reasons. Under the direction of the City arborist, the City will institute a policy and process of only removing trees that pose a risk to life or property as determined by a qualified arborist or forester.

SJVTREES Conflicts with Urban Infrastructure is an important topic in the “Tree Guidelines for San Joaquin Valley Communities” (Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education, 1999). The salient points made in the SVJ Report include (emphases added):

Dwindling budgets are forcing an increasing number of cities to shift the costs of sidewalk repair to residents. This shift especially impacts residents in older areas, where large trees have outgrown small sites and infrastructure has deteriorated.

According to the State of Urban Forestry in California report (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1993), the consequences of efforts to control these costs are having alarming effects on California’s urban forests:

Cities are continuing to “downsize” their urban forests by planting far more small-statured than large-statured trees. Although small trees are appropriate under power lines and in small planting sites, they are less effective than large trees at providing shade, absorbing air pollutants, and intercepting rainfall.

Sidewalk damage is the second most common reason that street and park trees are removed. We lose thousands of healthy urban trees and forgo their benefits each year because of [sidewalk damage].

Collectively, this is a lose-lose situation. Cost-effective strategies to retain benefits from large street trees while reducing costs associated with infrastructure conflicts are needed. Matching the growth characteristics of trees to conditions at the planting site is one strategy. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.13.24 AM The International Society of Arboriculture has taken a strong stand on the side of preserving trees, and for placing the responsibility on the municipality rather the property owner. For example, in its Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances (2001), ISA states:

4. Promote conservation of tree resources.

The benefits derived from the urban forest generally increase as tree size and canopy cover increase. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the community to protect its existing tree resources from loss or depletion. It is not possible to indefinitely preserve individual trees, since each tree will eventually die. However, it is possible to preserve both the urban forest and natural woodlands by restricting the indiscriminate removal of trees in all age classes, and by making provisions for natural or human-assisted regeneration. This embodies the concept of conservation.

19. Resolution of conflicts between trees and structures

Purpose: To set priorities for solving conflicts between trees and street improvements. Key elements:

●  Priority of trees over street improvements (hardscape)

●  Responsibility for approving corrective measures.

Notes: Tree-related damage to street improvements is common in many communities. Although tree roots are blamed for the cracking concrete and invading sewer lines, it is equally valid to point out that these structures fail because they have not been properly engineered to function in a landscape that contains growing trees and their roots. Unfortunately, the approach in too many cities has been to remove trees rather than to find a way to redesign structures to be compatible with trees. This provision can be used to establish the priority of trees over hardscape. Individual property owners normally do not have the resources or expertise to develop satisfactory solutions to tree- hardscape conflicts on their own. Therefore, the responsibility for correcting conflicts between trees and street improvements should not be assigned to the property owner. However, if the conflict results from actions by a property owner which violate municipal tree planting standards, the city may require the property owner to bear some or all of the cost of corrective action.

The ISA Tree Ordinance Guide presents two sample tree preservation provisions.

  • [from theSan Luis Obispo, CA: City Code Section 12.24.150]  A. When roots of a tree planted within the planting area damage city curbs, gutters and sidewalks (including driveway ramps), the city shall be responsible for appropriate corrective measures which are least damaging to the tree.
  • [a sample provision from the Guide’s authors] Where sidewalk or curb damage due to tree roots occurs, every effort shall be made to correct the problem without removing or damaging the tree. The city forester shall be responsible for developing or approving corrective measures in consultation with the city engineer.

The UMass Urban Trees FactsheetTREES AND SIDEWALKS, offers a useful perspective on approaching conflicts between them. The publication notes:

  • Trees often ruin sidewalks, and sidewalk repair often kills trees.
  • This conflict comes from the fact that sidewalks and trees have competing needs.
  • Trees need a soil that is moist and loose, and that they can push aside as they grow.
  • Sidewalks need to be smooth (but not flat) on a soil that will not shift with a load.
  • Trees and sidewalks are costly and valuable, so both needs must be taken seriously.

After advising “If a tree is in poor condition, it is best to remove the tree and replace the sidewalk”, the Trees FactSheet offers several alternatives for trees in good condition:

  • a sidewalk can be curved around the trunk (at least 2-3′).
  • In some cases, a raised edge can simply be ground down, or smoothed over with asphalt.
  • The new sidewalk may be ramped up and over the roots by starting further away.
  • You can also do minimal excavation, and then pour asphalt directly over the roots.
  • Gravel, mulch, pavers set in sand, or asphalt can be used instead of concrete.


ChillicothoCitySign Chillicothe, OH
 The publication “Trees and Sidewalks in Chillicothe” offers a refreshing combination of attitude and practicality. The historic first (and third) capital of Ohio (pop. approx. 20,000) begins its description of the problems and solutions by saying:

Sidewalks and trees aren’t hot topics unless there are conflicts with them. Both sidewalks and trees are crucial in providing important services to our residents and visitors. When there are conflicts between trees and sidewalks, we must be thoughtful in our approach to effectively spend limited dollars and truly address the problem. Surprisingly, there are often efficient and inexpensive ways to repair walks and at the same time retain nearby trees.

The essay continues:

“Causes of the Conflict between Trees and Sidewalks Trees receive most blame when sidewalks fail, but construction techniques, old age, inferior construction materials, unstable soil or even traffic patterns also contribute to sidewalk failure more often than acknowledged.

“Tree related sidewalk conflicts can be delineated into two types of damage requiring different responses.

 Sidewalk damage from trunk or root flare where the actual trunk or root flare of the tree lifts the sidewalk

 Sidewalk damage from lateral roots where a root emanating from the tree has caused damage to the sidewalk”

The Chillicothe guide’s section “Trees to Retain and Trees to Remove” makes clear the priority to be given to saving trees (emphasis added):

Street trees are community assets. They provide tangible benefits that contribute to the quality of life in any town. Street trees absorb air and water pollution. They abate noise pollution, they provide shade and energy conservation and even raise property values and decrease crime and illness. The value of trees varies according to tree age, size, species and health and structure. Typically bigger trees provide more benefits and are more valuable. The value of large tree decreases when there are infrastructure conflicts or structural defects that predispose a large tree to failure.

People often lose sight about two important aspects of community forestry.

Trees take decades or even centuries to get big.

Most large trees are not replaceable or renewable in the urban environment due to site constraints and other environmental and social factors.

Once they are gone, eighty years or more of growth and services is gone.

 In most towns, tree canopies are decreasing. Canopy loss translates into increased pollution, increase stormwater flooding, bigger carbon footprints, lower property values, and many other social, economic and environmental problems.

Trees to Retain….Trees to Remove and Replace

HIST.CHILLICOTHE Young trees are in a vegetative growth phase of life. During this phase, they are actively growing. This is when they will conflict with infrastructure. Once trees mature, they reach their genetic or environmental size and stop growing aggressively. Mature trees rarely do extensive damage to infrastructure. Usually the damage was done long ago when the tree was young and actively growing. In these situations, it is often best to retain the tree. In these situations, a properly repaired sidewalk will last a long time with minimal future damage from the mature tree.  . . .

When considering sidewalk repair, there are several well established and inexpensive techniques available. The typical approach of ripping out the old and re-constructing a new walk is the most expensive and this can damage to nearby trees. If the tree isn’t removed, this type of work can render a tree hazardous. Techniques like ramping, grinding and leveling are less expensive than redoing a sidewalk. These do not threaten nearby trees.

Sidewalk grinding: Sidewalk grinding is a temporary measure that restores the offset or heaved portion of a sidewalk to original grade.

Sidewalk cutouts: “Borrowing” space from the adjacent sidewalk creates sidewalk cutouts. This alternative minimizes the sidewalk width for a limited distance adjacent to the tree. Sidewalk meandering: Meandering—realigning the sidewalk’s direction of travel—allows for more growing space for trees in an aesthetically appealing way. The amount of growing space created can be substantial and, therefore, sidewalk meandering is usually the most feasible way to retain large, mature trees. Also, increased distance from sidewalk edge to lateral roots or trunk flare allows for root pruning, when necessary, to occur further from the trunk, which reduces direct contact between the sidewalk and tree roots or trunk. Sidewalk meandering often requires permission from the abutting property owner to dedicate more of their property to the public right-of-way.

Sidewalk ramping: Sidewalk ramping allows existing roots to remain intact by raising the base layer and repouring concrete over the roots to create a gradually sloped ramp. It is used when removal of roots would compromise the stability of a tree. Damaged sidewalk slabs are removed and 4-6 inches of topsoil is placed on top of the existing grade. Sand or gravel and a base layer or crushed limestone is placed adjacent or around the subject roots. A new sidewalk is then installed on top of this new base.

Leveling: Leveling is a technique where a hole is drilled through the sidewalk and silicone/concrete liquid is pumped underneath the slab to raise it. This is becoming a common technique to extend the service life of sidewalks.

Flexible paving materials: Flexible paving comes in many forms, which include: interlocking pavers, common brick and pavers and rubber (Dublin, Ohio uses rubber.) This is the most tree friendly of all the sidewalk repair options.

FHWAFHWA. Additionally, the Sidewalk Design Guidelines for accessibility under the The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), published by the Federal Highway Administration in 1999), do not mention removal among the options presented when tree roots cause sidewalk upheaval.

Chapter 4 –  4.3.2 Changes in levels

Changes in level are vertical elevation differences between adjacent surfaces. Changes in level are relatively common on sidewalks, particularly in residential areas.

Changes in level that currently exist should be addressed through a maintenance program. Whenever possible, the cause of the change in level should be removed. For example, if the cause of the change in level is an overgrown tree root, the sidewalk should be rerouted around the tree with additional right-of-way or ramp up and over the roots. (Section 4.4 contains information on how to plant trees so that they will not push up through the sidewalk.) If rerouting is not a viable solution, changes of level should be ramped to provide a smooth surface.

Alternatives to Tree Removal are discussed in many online webpages and articles. Here are links to a few examples. 

Continue reading

why worry about our large street trees?

why not just remove them?

Our City Engineer, Chris Wallin, and his staff clearly want to do the best they can for the City of Schenectady, within financial and legal constraints, and directives from above. Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson spent a considerable amount of time a few weeks ago composing answers to my concerns over the removal of trees that were healthy (at least until affected by street or sidewalk construction). But, two points made by engineer Knutson leave me concerned that they are missing the Forest of Benefits due to the (potentially) Problematic Trees.

Peter wrote me on March 22, 2016, that he believes (emphasis added):

  1. My job with the city is to limit liability. Even if one in a thousand trees has the potential to become a liability, that would leave the city open to hundreds if not thousands of potential lawsuits with the hundreds of thousands of trees in the city right of way.  As I said, if a property owner wants to accept liability for a tree we can cross that bridge when/if it happens.  Until I am advised otherwise by corporation counsel, any tree that I feel had been impacted negatively by any construction will be removed.
  2. ” [Y]ou say that the little trees ruin the historic feel but if you give them 5-10 years they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.  It just takes time for the trees to grow and that’s why we wouldn’t do all the trees at the time but phase them in block by block (plus we don’t have the money to do all the streets in the Stockade at the same time).”

Both the focus on the nebulous potential liability for fallen trees and the faith in comparable results in the near future (or ever) seem misguided. The “costs” — aesthetic, social, economic, health and environmental — involved in removing large street trees is so great, and the impact of the smaller “location appropriate” trees over time so underwhelming, that I hope the City will undertake a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the effects of removing our old-growth street trees, and of the efficacy and cost of alternatives to such removal, before any new program of sidewalk repair is started. As I wrote six years ago, when the City wanted to remove all large trees along its Washington Avenue right-of-way in order to repair its sidewalks, “Schenectady needs a Tree Preservation Policy”.

The web presentation “Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas” (posted with graphics by Grants Pass, Oregon, with text by ColoradoTrees.org.) starts with this insight:

Trees are major capital assets in cities across the United States. Just as streets, sidewalks, public buildings and recreational facilities are a part of a community’s infrastructure, so are publicly owned trees. Trees — and, collectively, the urban forest — are important assets that require care and maintenance the same as other public property. Trees are on the job 24 hours every day working for all of us to improve our environment and quality of life.

For me, the two greatest benefits — sufficient in themselves to justify a tree preservation policy — are the beauty of large trees and the inviting and shielding shade they provide, especially in rows, groups and canopies. There is, of course, much more to admire about trees and justify their preservation and conservation.

According to the SVJ Tree Guidelines report (at 14), which is referenced above:

Trees provide a host of social, economic, and health benefits that should be included in any benefit-cost analysis. A 1992 survey of municipal tree programs in California found that the greatest benefits from their programs were

  1. increased public safety,
  2. increased attractiveness and commercial activity, and
  3. improved civic pride (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1993).
  4. Additional environmental benefits from trees include noise abatement and wildlife habitat.

The social, physical and psychological benefits provided by urban forests improve human well-being. . . . Humans can derive substantial pleasure from trees, whether it be feelings of relaxation, connection to nature, or religious joy (Dwyer et al. 1992). Trees provide important settings for recreation in and near cities. They also encourage people to walk, improving overall physical fitness. Research on the aesthetic quality of residential streets has shown that street trees are the single strongest positive influence on scenic quality.

On the practical side, directly relating to the above benefits, trees also bring financial benefits to property owners and local governments, according to the SVJ Report (at 15):

Research suggests that people are willing to pay 3-7% more for residential properties with ample tree resources versus few or no trees. One of the most comprehensive studies of the influence of trees on residential property values was based on actual sales prices for 844 single-family homes in Athens, Georgia (Anderson and Cordell 1988). Each large front-yard tree there was found to be associated with a nearly 1% increase in sales price ($336 in 1985 dollars). This increase in property value resulted in an estimated increase of $100,000 (1978 dollars) in the city’s property tax revenues. A much greater value of 9% ($15,000) was determined in a U.S. Tax Court case for the loss of a large black oak on a property valued at $164,500 (Neely 1988).

community group in the Sydney, Australia region concurs as to property values:

“Property values increase when there are visually beautiful street trees within view. . . .  If you want to immediately lower the value of your property, get the council to remove a large tree from outside your property.”

Continue reading

N. Ferry St. then and now

NFerryCorner-Aug2007  . . NFerryCorner-Apr2016

— above: N. Ferry St., corner Green St at Lawrence Circle; [L] in Aug. 2007; [R] in April 2008

Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson listened to my concerns about losing our large street trees and substituting smaller ones of species considered to be appropriate for planting along urban streets, and to my preference for a policy that preserved the big old trees, unless they were dead, dying or dangerous. Peter assured me in an email on March 22 that:

“[Y]ou say that the little trees ruin the historic feel but if you give them 5-10 years they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.

He also said, concerning the notion of tree preservation: “For example, [on] N Ferry Street we removed 6-7 mature trees and installed 23.  While those trees may be small now they will grow and provide great shade and the historic feel you are looking for.  It will just take time.”  Is our City Engineer and his staff correct to say replacement trees can relatively quickly, with a little patience, give us the same “historic feel” as our old-growth street trees? Does this correspond to your streetscape experience and aesthetics, or merely to the standards of civil servants with marching orders from the Mayor’s office?

.. Compare the following collages (click on each for larger versions) ..

NORTH FERRY STREET – the summer before “streetscape improvement”:

NFerry1

NORTH FERRY STREET – April 2016, eight years after “streetscape improvements”:

SOSTrees2

Note: the only visible large trees, looking south from Lawrence Circle are the ones on the grounds of St. George’s Episcopal Church.

Photos can, of course, be made to lie, but I have attempted to show what N. Ferry Street looks like this week (shots taken April 20 & 22, 2016) from the same perspectives as the 2007 Google Street Views images in the top collage.

You can draw your own conclusions of comparable “historic” feel and other aesthetic standards before and eight years after the 2008 repaving of N. Ferry’s roadway and sidewalks.  ReTree Schenectady helped choose the replacement trees, using their customary guidelines for trees that will be along urban streets that have utility wires and small right-of-way areas between curb and sidewalks. My understanding is that those trees are not meant to ever be tall or wide, or to give a significant amount of shade.

. . . this collage combines the 2016 and 2007 images: NFerryCompareCollage

 

The Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education got it right in a 1999 report that stated (at 14):

Research on the aesthetic quality of residential streets has shown that street trees are the single strongest positive influence on scenic quality.

For  myself, simply from the aesthetic perspective, street tree preservation deserves to take precedence over sidewalk repair concerns and related fiscal restraints. That’s true, even before we consider the wonderful effects of shade on our desire to stroll and shop, and on our air conditioning bills and the battle against harmful sun rays. When the many other benefits of urban trees are also taken into account, the rush to embrace roadside clear-cutting in the name of sidewalk and streetscape improvement is very difficult for this non-engineer to understand.

If you agree, please actively support S.O.S.Trees and its campaign for a street tree preservation policy in Schenectady. Go to our Save Our Schenectady Trees portal page.