update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs

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

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

  Click here for an 8-page set of Comments submitted on August 16, 2017, to the Planning Commission by David Giacalone regarding the Mohawk Harbor signs. It starts with the following summary:

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

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

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

    Crosstown Plaza pylon

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

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

 

ORIGINAL POSTING:

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

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

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

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

DSCF3299  . . DSCF3294

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

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

ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

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

Sched1SignReg

.

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

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

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

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

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

THE PYLON STRUCTURE and SIGNAGE

MHpylonrequest . . . close to River House and future homes

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

shoppingmallsigns-002

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

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

miSci-MH-signs2

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

golub-MHsigns2

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

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

Nicholaus Block building demolished amidst dissembling and dismay

. . click on the above collage for a larger version . .

detail from Howard Ohlhous photo

  Admirers of the Nicholaus Block building and advocates for preservation of our City’s fine old buildings were instantly filled with dread Friday afternoon, April 7,2017, when the Schenectady Police Department announced the immediate closing of the blocks alongside the Building. We were told that an engineering firm monitoring the structure had concluded that the building posed an immediate threat to public safety and could collapse. Sadly, we were right to fear the worst: by late that evening demolition had began on the grand structure, a beloved relic of the City’s German immigrant culture. There will be much finger-pointing and wringing of hands in Schenectady over this tragic episode in our history of preservation failures. But, I will try to keep this posting a eulogy for a structure that was a wonderful piece of Schenectady history for almost two centuries.

  • You can read the explanations given by our civic leaders in “Schenectady’s Nicholaus Building reduced to a memory: Overnight demolition brings down two centuries of history” (Albany Times Union, by Robert Downen, April 8, 2017); and “Schenectady’s Nicholaus Building: What happened? The iconic building was erected in 1820″ (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Daniel Fitzsimmons, April 7, 2017). Suffice to say that Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen and both the Mayor and Corporation Counsel of Schenectady say that they did everything they could do to save the building, including having engineers draw up a plan to stabilize it and offering to buy it, with no response from the owners, Viroj and Malinee Chompupong. As of the posting of this piece, the Chompupongs have not commented on the course of events since he building shifted and was evacuated in April 2016.

My research last night uncovered two excellent histories of the Nicholaus Block Building, and I recommend your taking the time to read them, rather than having me grab a few quotes from their narratives:

  1. An extensive piece at MyUpStateNYPhotos, originally posting on March 18, 2016, and updated yesterday, April 8, 2017. In addition to the building’s history, it has a good description of the problems that began in April 2016 during excavation for the Electric City Apartments complex next door, and ended in the demolition. It also notes that Nicholaus building suffered a large explosion in 1975, and the recent widow Mary Nicholaus considered demolition, but decided to repair it and continue.
  2.  A weblog post at the Grems-Doolittle Library Blog of the Schenectady County Historical Society, Good Food Without Frills”: Nicholaus Restaurant in Schenectady (May 14, 2014, by Library Volunteer Ann Eignor), which has photographs of both the exterior and interior of the building (including its famous bar; see image to the right from the Larry Hart Collection), as well as the Nicholaus family and restaurant staff, and a menu with German Specials, plus Loppa, a macaw parrot that was a longtime mascot at the Bar and was stuffed upon its demise and later donated to the Historical Society.

A Gazette article from 2014 gives a quick summary of the building’s history. It has the now-ironic headline Schenectady’s iconic structures remain amid era of change: One of the city’s best features is its diverse stock of buildings, old and new, crumbling and stately” (by Bethany Bump, Sept. 7, 2014). The youthful Ms. Bump tells us:

Nicholaus Block (266-268 State St.): Modern day Schenectadians know the brick building at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street as the home of Thai Thai Bistro (and before that, Bangkok Bistro). One of the few remaining buildings from the Erie Canal-era, it features bay windows and an ornamental roof engraved with fleurs-de-lis.

The Nicholaus Hotel opened here in 1901. It housed the German-themed Nicholaus Restaurant until 1975 and then Maurice’s Readi-Foods until 2004. A good part of the building was actually built in the late 1820s, soon after the Erie Canal came through, and was used for many years as a saloon.

 

coming soon, without the Nicholaus Block gracenote

The editor of this website moved to Schenectady in the apparently pre-modern year of 1988, and my first residence in Schenectady was on the block across the street from the Nicholaus Building, at Barney Square. That was the era of the popular luncheon spot Maurice’s Readi-Foods. I immediately admired the style of the old building, as I walked to my first local job, at Family Court. Since then, I have admired the beautiful bar and marveled at the Hofbrau-Haus murals that still graced the main dining room of the two subsequent Thai restaurants. I’ve continued to admire the building over the years, and am happy to say that I walked past it almost daily in the past month, on a new strolling-exercise regime. I am going to miss the Nicholaus Building, and surely will be mumbling about the bland modern building that will soon dominate that block.

 . . click this image to see County Tax Records for the Nicholaus Building; Note: The lot size is 34 ‘ by 114’; it was assessed at 2016 for $315,200. A short link for the above Tax Info is http://tinyurl.com/NicholausTax

The Nicholaus Building holds far more “personal” memories for the residents of Schenectady than most of our other lost structures. I hope its demise will inspire sharing those stories (for example, by leaving a comment to this webposting). Whether it will cause the populace to be more vigilant and more vocal about our desire to preserve the dwindling stock of fine old buildings is another matter. Will Mssrs. Gillen, McCarthy, Gardner, and other decision-makers who act as if all development is good development, and all developers civic-minded heroes, get our message? We need to raise our voices much higher.

. . as if it were never there . . 

Postscript: I originally planned to keep this posting eulogistically upbeat, but the Snowmen At the Gates part of my brain has to gnash its teeth a bit. Yesterday, I wrote at the Gazette website in a Comment:

The fate of the Nicholaus building represents the further loss of our trust in the leaders of our City and Metroplex. After so many half-truths, so much deception, and so many promises of preservation not kept, we never know if we can trust the information and excuses we are given for their actions and inaction. We keep hearing about a Renaissance in Downtown Schenectady, but it often feels like the Dark Ages.

Last week, our leaders held a party to congratulate themselves for bringing the Casino to Schenectady, giving themselves far too much credit, in my opinion. They also boasted about spending two years orchestrating a free shuttle from Downtown to the Casino, at taxpayer expense. Perhaps Metroplex and City Hall should have spent a bit more time trying to save the Nicholaus Building.  They might have, for example, pried some money from Rush Street Gaming, which has voluntarily given millions to other cities for community projects, to use to fix the Nicholaus stability issue. Or, a Metroplex loan or grant for the Nicholaus might have been offered, as such architecture is also a draw for downtown.

Now, we hear the City “will be seeking to recover the $168,000 cost of the demolition from the Chompupongs.” I’m scared to speculate on what will replace the Nicholaus Building in that wedge at the corner of Erie Blvd. and State Street. Perhaps, we will have a little bit of lovely green space, to compensate a bit for all of the green grounds originally promised for Mohawk Harbor, but now covered with parking lots and crowded structures.  If it is eventually replaced by another building, I hope we will not get yet another less-than-mediocre façade slapped at too-little-expense on an unremarkable structure. Is that too much to ask? In Schenectady, perhaps it is.

See Sara Foss’s opinion column, “The Nicholaus Building could have been saved: Sometimes buildings fall into disrepair … but that’s not what happened here” (Daily Gazette, April 11, 2017). “How it will all play out is anyone’s guess, but if you ask me there’s plenty of blame to go around. The big losers are the residents of Schenectady, who lost a valuable piece of history last week and still don’t know exactly why.” And, see: “Need answers in Nicholaus demolition: Serious questions remain about building’s destruction” (Daily Gazette, April 17, 2017), an OpEd piece by Gloria Kishton, chair of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation. Ms. Kiston wrote:

After the building was damaged, it was appropriate for Metroplex to hire a well-regarded engineering firm to provide plans for stabilizing the building.

But, they should also have paid for the repair work. Highbridge/Prime is receiving a $1.2 million Empire State Development grant through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Council.

These funds should have been used to repair the building.

It was outrageous and unjust to expect the owners to pay for repairing damage others caused, and to recoup the expense through insurance or litigation.

Adding insult to injury, the city of Schenectady intends to hand them the bill for the “emergency” demolition!

Now that the pesky Nicholaus Building is gone, Highbridge/Prime will proceed full speed ahead with its development.

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For More Downtown Dismay, see:

 . . Nicholaus what?

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)

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.

. . share this post with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/CasinoOpenRevs

  • 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.

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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.

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)?

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:

Hull: Gazette no longer an objective critic

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

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

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

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

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

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

In our post on Rigging the News, we stated:

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

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

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COMING SOON: renaming and renewal of this website

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

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

a Pylon Precis (too big, too bright, too much)

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

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

NoSTSExcuseE

– click on each collage for a larger version –

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

NoSTSExcuseS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

third time is a bore

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

AOA-rivers_casino_schenectady_rendering_v3_front

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

Dear Mr. Galesi and Mr. Bluhm:

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

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

s/ Man on the Street and on the Web

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

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

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

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

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

detail2ndDesignEntrance . . . casino3rdDesignEntrance

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

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

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

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

PYLON DIRECTORY/Envy

 
Casino#3Pylon

July 2015 version

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fremont+Stthe+Nugget+Apache+Pioneer+MUST

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

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

Compare-Schdy-Sands-Pylons

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

In fact, the Classic Las Vegas piece continues:

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

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

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

VegasCompareCollage1

. .  . .

VegasCompareCollage2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?


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

  • FallsView

    Fallsview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment to the Gazette:

DesPlainesCasinoCollage

real photo from Des Plaines

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

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

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

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

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

a must-read Letter by Jessie Malecki

Jessie Malecki has a Letter to the Editor in today’s Schenectady Gazette that deserves wide distribution and much consideration at City Hall. (June 12, 2015, C6):

what was the rush for casino approvals?

I hope everyone in the city of Schenectady had the opportunity to read Mohamed Hafez’s June 5 guest column, “Schenectady in need of host deal for casino.” That surely is an eye opener showing us what our city administration has neglected to do in dealing with Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group.

It is one thing that a casino will be coming to our city, but it is another that this administration did not even give the slightest thought that we should have a Host Community Agreement (HCA). This was completely left out of any dealings with Rush Street Gaming or the Galesi Group. [see our posting “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table.“]

In other words, the administration of our fair city not only gave whatever was necessary for these two groups, but just about gave them the keys to our fair city — do what you want. No business is run like that — if it was, it wouldn’t last two days.

Even back in January, The Gazette had a great editorial (Jan. 29), “Public needs to see impact of zoning,” which is an important issue and should not have been taken lightly. Here again, most of the City Council members (except Vince Riggi), including the president, always had the inevitable “excuse” that there is a time deadline and a vote must be made as soon as possible.

There was and is always time to make sure things are done correctly and this was definitely one of them. This project will be here for a long time. By hurriedly voting on this important issue, they gave unlimited heights to buildings, signs, etc. to Rush Gaming and the Galesi Group.

hourglassAlmostFull What was all the hurry because we have a deadline all about? Rush Street Gaming has yet to receive a casino license from the state Gaming Commission, but it is said it will by the end of the year. Ms. King, among many other items needing immediate attention, what was the so-called deadline that you refered to back in January when you had to vote for the Alco site zoning change, which was something that should really have been thought about long and seriously?

The public needed to see the impact of the zoning change, which it did not because the “excuse” of a deadline in everything that was done.

Jessie Malecki

Jessie lives in the Stockade, in the North Street home she was born in during WWI. We are very lucky to have her among the founders of Stop the Schenectady Casino. She has been prolific telling the truth about the coming casino.

You can share this posting with this short url — http://tinyurl.com/LTEjm:

Bonus: Here’s the Guest Column by Mohamed Hafez mentioned above by Jessie:

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Schenectady casino redesigned

casinoFacilityRend-June2014  It took a year, but the Schenectady Casino Gods & Gremlins have finally answered one of my prayers concerning the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor: The rather tacky design (to the left of this paragraph) submitted to the public and Gaming Commission in June 2014, which mimicked Rush Street Gaming’s Des Plaines, Illinois, Casino, has been discarded for a design that is an improvement (in my personal view), even if disappointing. Below is a collage of the four images released today (and posted in a Sneak Peek by the Albany Times Union; the blog All Over Albany has high-resolution versions of the renderings, with comparisons to the 1st designs). They were submitted, along with many other documents, to the Schenectady Planning Commission for site plan review at its June 17th meeting, in 101 City Hall, at 6:30 PM. (Click on the collage for a larger version offering better detail.)

CasinoJune2015

– collage: renderings submitted June 2015 to Planning Commission –

According to Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro (“Schenectady casino seeks site plan approval“, online June 4, 2015)

The operator decided to make the two-story building less modern and instead play into Schenectady’s industrial history.

Instead of a white-colored building, the casino will be mostly brown with a large red sign mounted on its structure that says “Rivers Casino.” The casino will have metal panels, canopy ceilings and large windows.

CasinoPylon-4Jun2015The casino will be 71 feet tall and 72 feet from the River.  It will also have a pylon sign by the entrance to the site — at Erie Boulevard and Nott Street — that will be 80 feet tall with a 32-foot digital display.  I wonder if anyone considered, for aesthetic purposes, how wide the pylon should be. More important, I wonder if the Commission will insist on a line-of-sight study, and also take into consideration that an electronic sign at that location, so close to a major intersection that will have a new traffic rotary confusing people, changing every 8 seconds, is likely to be a significant safety hazard. (see our posting on the CEVMS at Proctors) By the way, under Philadelphia’s § 14-904 (1) (b), Digital Signs are prohibited within 200 ft. of any intersection of two or more streets.

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 It appears that the faux factory wall that would face the street and contain a large sign will be a portion of the casino gaming building that is around 70′ high. It is difficult to gauge its visual impact. Viscerally, it may remind us all that real things (many of them very important) used to be produced in Schenectady. It is somewhat ironic that Galesi Group CEO David Buicko told the Planning Commission the casino needed a tall pylon and lots of signage to overcome the effect of the STS Building, which is only 49′ tall, and does not appear to block the view of the casino from the street or the River.

The Gazette article also states there will be 14,929 square feet of signage.  It looks as if there will be no large, garish electronic display on the building as was shown in last year’s casino design.  It will be interesting to see how the pylon display is used, as to motion and brightness and frequency of changing. Rush Street said in its Environmental Impact statement that it would use up 15,000 square feet of signage. Nonetheless, our very generous Corporation Counsel, Carl Falotico, interrupted a Planning Commission member who questioned the 20,000 sq. ft. figure originally called for in the City zoning C-3 Waterfront amendment, and the City’s chief lawyer insisted he had looked closely at Rush Street’s needs and 20,000 was the very least they would need. That put an end to discussion and questions about the amount of signage. (Because Rush Street’s staff had mistakenly counted both sides of the pylon and our staff did not notice that mistake during its close review, the figure was reduced to 19,000 sq. ft. in the final amendment.)

CasinoHotel-4Jun2105

– above: the casino hotel: large and looming too close to the riverbank –

There are many facets the Planning Commission must consider in doing its casino site plan review (see our Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq.). I very much hope the Commission Chair remembers that she rushed through consideration of the zoning amendments because the members planned to look very closely at the details of the actual site plan. Another single review session would be a very bad sign.

BrocktonCasino

– proposed Brockton MA casino –

  .p.s. The first online Comment at the Gazette article described above states “Wow. The new one looks like a humdrum, suburban mall that you can find in Anytown, USA. Just what we always wanted in Schenectady. Uggh.” That was my instant reaction also, despite being pleased that the first design was being junked. In a way, we have replaced a tacky design like a 1970’s suburban mall with a more upscale 21st Century shopping mall design. The casino proposed by Rush Street’s Massachusetts division for Brockton (image above this paragraph), with its New England college aura, is clearly superior to the new Schenectady design.  As was the design Rush Street proposed in 2013 for a slots parlor in Worcester, Mass. (See Worcester Business Journal, April 25, 2013), and in 2014 in its joint venture with Saratoga Raceway for the Hudson Valley Casino & Resort:

– below: Hudson Valley Casino & Resort site rendition –

HudsonValleyCasino-Rush-Saratoga

RushStreet-Worchester2013

– above: proposed Rush Street slots parlor for Worcester MA (2013) –

Is PROCTORS jazzed-up MARQUEE a preview of Casino Town?

IMG_7488 Last Friday, upon seeing the new, hyperactive display on Proctors marquee for the first time at night, I had to wonder: “If this is what Schenectady’s culture mavens think is tasteful signage, what should we expect from the Casino Gang over at Mohawk Harbor?” Is this a glimpse of our gaudy, distraction-filled future as Schenectady the Casino Town?

For many images, and a video clip, of the marquee signage, and discussion of its threat to public safety and traffic conditions at State and Jay Streets, see our comprehensive posting: “Proctors accelerated marquee messages look unsafe and unlawful“, which is being released simultaneously with this post.

collage Speaking of Casino Town, the CEVMS “message board” on the front face of Proctors’ marquee is perhaps 50 sq. ft. of signage.  So, it would take almost 400 of them to equal the 19,000 sq. ft. of signs the City Council is allowing in just the casino portion of Mohawk Harbor.

Mohawk Harbor Site Plan released

Mohawk Harbor/Casino SitePlan03Mar2015

 – click on the above image for a larger version –

Above is the Site Plan submitted by The Galesi Group to the City Planning Commission yesterday, March 10, 2015.

red check Review of the Site Plan is slated to begin before the Commission on Tuesday, March 31, in a meeting to be held at 6:30 PM in Room 110 of the Schenectady City Hall. There is very little seating available, so plan to be there early, if you want to attend.

The above Site Plan is dated March 3, 2015, just 22 days after the City Council voted amendments to the C-3 waterfront zoning district, giving the Casino Gang everything they wanted (and more).  Galesi CEO and spokesman David Buicko said they could not let the public or the Council see a site plan until they knew how tall their buildings could be. Nonetheless, the Site Plan they have submitted does not does tell us how tall the casino facility or its 6-level associated hotel will be.  Over at the marina complex, we are told no specific height or even number of  floors, only “3-5” floors or “+/- 3 floors”.

As Applicants to the Siting Location Board, Galesi and Rush Street Gaming said they would be operating their casino 23 months after receiving a gaming license from the NYS Gaming Commission.  The gaming license has not yet been issued, and we must again ask just what all the rush was to force through the C-3 changes without first demanding more information from the Applicants and a lot more thoughtful evaluation by the Planning Commission and the City Council. See Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber stamp in a Company Town? and zoning vote hands Casino Gang a blank check. . ..

Location Board gives us its “findings”

LocBdReprot27FEb2015 The NYS Gaming Facility Location Board released its Report and Findings on its casino selection process yesterday, February 27, 2015.  In four decades of reviewing reports by government agencies as an attorney and/or an interested citizen, I have never seen anything quite like this one:

  1. The Location Board tells us what was wrong with the other Applications, but
  2. Does not list any of the weaknesses of the selected Applicant, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and instead
  3. Uses the assertions, projections, and promises — untested — of the Applicant as its Findings.

The Schenectady Gazette produced another of its cheer-leading articles today, in the piece “Report: Schenectady casino won on location, operator’s record,” by Haley Viccaro, Feb. 28, 2015.  This Comment at the Gazette website contains my response to both the Gazette article and the Location Board Report:

Comment by dgiacalone:

This is a most peculiar Report by a government Board. From its introductory “Disclaimer” page, we learn that:

  •  “In reaching its determinations, the Board has relied on the actual information or material submitted in [each] application.
  • “To the extent that this report contains any errors or omissions, the staff is solely responsible for such errors or omissions, and such errors and omissions are not findings adopted by the Board.” [note: This is a new one on me: “If we made a mistake, it is not our finding, and our staff is to blame” is an attitude that makes it hard to take these people seriously.]
  • “For the vast majority of Applicants, the results of the consultants’ estimates [of gaming revenues] were substantially lower than those of the Applicants.”

While the Board states the negatives of the other applications, it accepts all the Rivers Casino numbers, projections, promises at face value. The Report never mentions any of the opponents’ concerns over higher crime, proximity to Union College and the Stockade, traffic problems, impact on families, etc., much less explain why the concerns were not important. It also fails to explain how a site that already had a $200 million project, in a County that brags of its strong revitalization, meets the criteria of helping spur development.
.
The state traffic experts did not make “findings”, as reported by the Gazette above, but merely “suggest” that the Schenectady Casino’s traffic analysis is “highly detailed with specific analysis of intersections leading to the site,” without finding that the Casino’s analysis is competent or the details plausible.
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Most telling, the Board simply counts comments pro and con, without considering the source or the strength of the arguments. It is hard to take the Location Board’s analysis any more seriously than we should take Rush Streets projections and its promises to protect the interests of the people of Schenectady. Like our City Council, the Location Board has, in its words, “relied on the actual information or material submitted” by the Applicant.

Click here to see excerpted pages of the Location Board’s Report and Findings, showing its Disclaimer page, the one-page discussing the Public Support demonstration for the Schenectady Casino, and two pages on that topic for the East Greenbush Casino proposal.

follow-up: Hey, we’re wondering how the Location Board could be so solicitous of bat colonies 5 miles from a rival casino site, but not even mention the treasured Stockade historic district, 0.5 miles away from Mohawk Harbor.  Maybe we also need to send spare eyeglasses to the Board members, who rejected other casino designs as “not inspiring”, but chose the extremely uninspiring Mohawk Harbor casino facility.