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.
.
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.

C-3 zoning amendments would axe access guarantee

NoRiverfrontAccess

– signs you may see at Mohawk Harbor’s riverfront –

Neither Schenectady’s Mayor nor the Daily Gazette has let the public know that its existing right to permanent access to the scarce riverfront being developed at Mohawk Harbor has been deleted in the City’s proposed C-3 district zoning amendments [which were adopted on February 9, 2015]. This is one of the many significant changes that City Hall development and legal staff “negotiated” with the future casino’s developer and owner. The amendments are the subject of a Public Hearing before City Council on Monday, January 26, 2015.  Click here for the Final version of the City’s proposed Schenectady C-3 Waterfront-Casino zoning amendments.

  • RiverbankAccess-Trail2009Currently, there is a requirement in the 2008 C-3 Waterfront Zoning Ordinance, at p. 28) that an owner of C-3 waterfront property file a permanent easement “for the purpose of assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront,” with the owner responsible for upkeep (see image to the right). There is also a requirement that a minimum of 10% of linear dock space be available for the public. Both those sections have been completely eliminated from the version of proposed amendments that will be addressed at the City Council’s public hearing on January 26. The public version does not even show the sections with the traditional strikethrough type to highlight their proposed deletion.

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Here are the two provisions that the City-Casino Coalition wants to eliminate, with the strikethroughs City Hall apparently did not want you to see:

Screen shot 2015-01-024§264-14(F) 

(2) Public access and recreation features.

(a) Waterfront surface easement. Public access shall be dedicated in the form of a perpetual surface easement, duly executed and in a proper form for recording in the Schenectady County Clerk’s Office and satisfactory to the City Corporation Counsel, for the purpose of assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront.

§264-14(H) Docking requirements. PrivateDockSign

(1) Residential: A minimum of 10% of linear dock footage must be made available for public, day use.

(2) Commercial: Docking requirements are flexible based upon the following considerations: parking adequacy, river width, navigation channel width, and water surface use.

Loss of required dock and riverfront access by the public surely will shock and surprise individuals and families throughout the County. It is inconsistent with both the spirit and the text of the Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 (adopted 2008). On page 48, in the section enumerating Goals and related Action, the Plan says:

Goal Seven: Promote Waterfront Planning, Access and Redevelopment.

Action 2: Expand Public Access to the Waterfront

Tasks: Expand public access to the Mohawk River and create opportunities for recreational boating.

Action 4: Protect Waterfront Resources and Views

Tasks: Implement view protections and provisions to ensure that new development encourages public access to the water.

 The Comprehensive Plan’s Environmental Impact Statement also addresses the creation of a waterfront zoning district, and notes the two goals for that district (at 15):

“Created waterfront district:

  • Mixed use, walkable, live/work/shop community
  • Preserve public areas.” (emphasis added)

images-7 The Gazette has not yet mentioned that the C-3 amendments remove the public access elements of the ordinance. In fact, on Jan 15, in reporting on the January 14 Planning Commission special meeting, Haley Vicarro wrote for the Gazette that “The site . . . would allow for public access to the river with biking and walking paths and a proposed harbor with 50 boat slips.”  Well, with §§264-14(f) & (H) eliminated, the “site” would allow for public access as long as the Owner allows it. 

Should we just trust these casino guys? Galesi Group COO David Buicko (and not the City’s Development or Legal staff) led the presentation at the Planning Committee on January 12, and was careful not to mention granting public access as of right when mentioning the riverfront and docks.  He made remarks more than once reminding the Commission that “it’s private property” and that Galesi and Rush Street Gaming want people to come who will use their facilities. (An appropriate desire, but not one that bodes well for permanent public access.)

Note: It would be very bad public relations for Mohawk Harbor to open with a riverbank that is only available to persons who are “customers”, or to have absolutely no amenities near the riverbank for people who might want to just sit and enjoy the view.  However, the lack of  mandated access for the public means the area might be closed for special events; or, problems along the riverbank (e.g., excessive rowdiness, litter, noise) could cause management to start restricting access based on age, time of day, adult supervision, etc., or to “cut their losses” and close Mohawk Harbor’s riverbank completely.

Note, also, that a pedestrian-bicycle path that followed the River and circled the condo and office marina buildings, as planned by Galesi, would make a very nice amenity and attraction for people who live, work, or stay at the hotels, of Mohawk Harbor. Thus, putting in the path would not be a totally undesirable expense for the developer/owner of Mohawk Harbor, nor useless if public access is not allowed.

It is true that under the amendments the owner must put in a ped-bike path and there was a lot of talk before the Planning Commission about the meaning of the word “esplanade” in the text of C-3. But, there would no longer be a requirement that the owner permanently allow the public to use the riverfront, and also no requirement that the owner install an esplanade or add any amenities beyond the barebones bicycle-pedestrian walkway.   If they do put in public access facilities, they would be allowed an even bigger footprint for the buildings at Mohawk Harbor. approved-rubber-stamp This is perhaps why Commissioner Matt Cuevas lamented at the Planning Commission Meeting last week that (paraphrasing): “This is not at all the kind of public access we were thinking about when we drafted the C-3 provisions 6 years ago.”  Nevertheless, despite the fact that five of the nine current Commissioners were on the Commission when the Comprehensive Plan was written and the C-3 Waterfront district was created, they voted to recommend adoption of the proposed amendments (with only a couple of very minor tweaks).

The Planning Commission voted in a rush, without having any materials from their staff or the Mayor or Corporate Counsel explaining the meaning of the proposed changes, or discussing the pros and cons — and, visibly (often admittedly) without basic knowledge or understanding of zoning for something as complicated and exotic as a casino, especially one on a scarce riverfront. Nevertheless, by recommending that the proposed amendments be adopted, the Planning Commission handed the Mayor and City Council president, as well as the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, a fig leaf for concealing the open secret that this set of zoning proposals gives the casino partners virtually everything they wanted, and in fact more than they have said they needed in past public statements. [update: At the Jan. 26. City Council meeting, several of the supporters of the amendments stressed the significance of an 8-0 vote of approval by the Planning Commission.]

red check This zoning calamity cannot even be slowed down, much less prevented, without the vocal and public opposition of people from throughout Schenectady County, even those who favor the casino and marina at Mohawk Harbor.  Please come to the Public Hearing on January 26 and tell the City Counsel that you want the principle and the promise of public access fulfilled.

 For the convenience of those who have not seen our prior posting that contains a summary of the proposed changes, here is an encore:

Highlights of Changes:

  • public access to riverfront: the requirement of a permanent easement granting a right to public access to the riverfront has been deleted; developer must build a bike-ped path (which it might have wanted anyway for those living in its condos and apartments), but there is no longer guaranteed public access
  • the right to 10% of dock space reserved for public use in the daytime is deleted
  • maximum building height would be 110′ with no special use permit needed; the exception is a 56′ height limit within 100′ of a residential district (current law is 56′ permitted in C-3, with special use permit needed for higher)
  • setbacks are a minimum of 50′ from the river’s mean high water mark (had been 40′ from the high water mark)
  • Article IX – Signs, which contains rules, limitations, sizes, etc. for signage of all types, no longer applies to the casino and attached uses, but continues to apply to all other zoning districts and outside the casino compound in C-3 (Art. IX does apply to the district under the current C-3 ordinance)
  • 19,000 sq. ft. of signage is permitted, with review Site Plan review, which looks at colors, style, location (currently, Art IX limits aggregate square footage to 150 sq. ft., with 25% more if owner has a single lot with more than one principle building).
  • directional signs do not count as part of the signage limitations and may have the logo of the establishment (Art. IX does not allow logos on directional signs)
  • Multi-sided pylon signs are permitted, with a height not to exceed 90 feet. (Article IX now allows one freestanding sign with a maximum height of 7′ in C-3)
  • electronic message board may change every 8 seconds; Planning Commission may reduce the minimum interval (currently, a CEVMS may only change every 60 seconds, and a special use permit is needed, with a  public hearing and demonstration that there is no significant impact on surrounding neighborhoods, traffic conditions, health and safety; 8 seconds is the minimum standard now at NYS DOT; a City may increase the interval, but contrary to the provision in the Amendment, it may not reduce it).
  • the embayment (man-made bay) may now be included in calculating how big the aggregate footprint of the casino compound may be, with 50% of the size of the embayment added to the total allowable footprint of the buildings (the subject not in current version of C-3; if the embayment is 5 acres in size, 2.5 more acres of footprint allowed; many, perhaps most, jurisdictions would not allow a body of water on a site to count toward the footprint allowance)

the final C-3 Waterfront-Casino zoning proposal

Click for the Final version of the City’s proposed Schenectady C-3 Waterfront-Casino zoning amendments, which will be the subject of Monday’s Public Hearing (Jan. 26). It shows proposed insertions in the current C-3 ordinance (but fails to show with strike-throughs a few of the important deletions). There are no accompanying materials explaining the changes in the proposed amendments.

 For the final Ordinance, click here: Local Law 2015-01, §264-14, Amendments to C-3 Zoning District, adopted February 9, 2015, signed by Mayor, Feb. 10, 2015.

Click to access zoningamend-c-3ffinal.pdf

dontforgettack to voice your opinion at the Public Hearing before the City Council, Monday, January 26, 2015, at 7 PM, Rm 209 of City Hall (use the Jay St. entrance). Get there before 7 PM to sign up to speak.

Share this posting with the short URL:  tinyurl.com/C-3Changes

Below, without editorial comment, I have listed all the major changes being proposed, with the current zoning law in Schenectady stated in parentheses.  There are many good reasons to oppose the Amendments; see “the house is already winning” for opening discussion of height, setback and signage issues. Additional postings are listed at the top of the site’s righthand Margin, in the Recent Posts menu.  For an extensive list of questions that should be answered before a vote is taken on the C-3 Amendments, and a description of the inadequate consideration given by the Planning Commission to the Amendments, see: “Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber-stamp in a company town?“.

Highlights of Changes:

  •  public access to riverfront: the requirement of a permanent easement granting a right to public access to the riverfront has been deleted; developer must build a bike-ped path (which it might have wanted anyway for those living in its condos and apartments), but there is no longer guaranteed public access
  • the right to 10% of dock space reserved for public use in the daytime is deleted
  • maximum building height would be 110′ with no special use permit needed; the exception is a 56′ height limit within 100′ of a residential district (current law is 56′ permitted in C-3, with special use permit needed for higher)
  • setbacks are a minimum of 40′ from the river’s mean high water mark (had been 50′ from the high water mark)
  • Article IX – Signs, which contains rules, limitations, sizes, etc. for signage of all types, no longer applies to the casino and attached uses, but continues to apply to all other zoning districts and outside the casino compound in C-3 (Art. IX currently applies to the district under the C-3 ordinance)
  • 19,000 sq. ft. of signage is permitted, with review Site Plan review, which looks at colors, style, location (currently, Art IX limits aggregate square footage to 150 sq. ft., with 25% more if owner has a single lot with more than one principle building).
  • directional signs do not count as part of the signage limitations and may have the logo of the establishment (Art. IX does not allow logos on directional signs)
  • ArtIXsignregs Multi-sided pylon signs are permitted, with a height not to exceed 90 feet [at some point changed in the final version to 80 feet]. (Article IX now allows one freestanding sign with a maximum height of 7′ in C-3)
  • electronic message board may change every 8 seconds; Planning Commission may reduce the minimum interval (currently, a CEVMS may only change every 60 seconds, and a special use permit is needed, with a  public hearing and demonstration that there is no significant impact on surrounding neighborhoods, traffic conditions, health and safety; 8 seconds is the minimum standard now at NYS DOT; a City may increase the interval, but contrary to the provision in the Amendment, it may not reduce it). [Note, an amendment the night of the Council vote, proposed by Marion Porterfield and passed, removed all mention of electronic message displays from the C-3 amendment.]
  • the embayment (man-made bay) may now be included in calculating how big the aggregate footprint of the casino compound may be, with 50% of the size of the embayment added to the total allowable footprint of the buildings (the subject not in current version of C-3; if the embayment is 5 acres in size, 2.5 more acres of footprint allowed; many, perhaps most, jurisdictions would not allow a body of water on a site to count toward the footprint allowance)

RIGGING THE NEWS: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino

images  Tomorrow, Dec. 17, 2014, the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board is expected to finally announce its selections for up to four Upstate gaming facility licenses. Before the winners and losers are chosen, however, we would like to set out our perspective on the coverage given to the casino selection process by the Schenectady Daily Gazette, which has editorially supported the Schenectady casino application.

  Whether we “win” or “loose”, we believe it is important for the people of Schenectady to know how poorly the Gazette has performed the role of presenting the relevant casino news and helping the public (and our leaders) understand the issues and the likely impact of a casino on Schenectady and nearby communities. They 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 and personal demands on members of a small community of local leaders. In a way, “locally owned” can lead too readily to “locally bought”.

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Our posting this weekend (which we urge you to read), “the Gazette continues the ALCO tunnel coverup“, describes only one of the many ways in which the Schenectady Gazette appears to have skewed its coverage of the news of the casino application process, in order to present the Schenectady applicants and their proponents in a way that paints them in the best light, by avoiding tough questions, ignoring negative facts, and pretending that there is no organized, serious opposition locally to the casino.  Any semblance of evenhanded news coverage ended June 9, 2014, the night the Schenectady City Council voted to support the application of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group to operate a gaming facility at Mohawk Harbor, the former site of Schenectady’s ALCO plant.  See the resulting Gazette editorial Casino would provide needed boost (June 10, 2014)

Meeting with Gazette Officials. Yesterday afternoon (Monday, Dec. 15, 2014), the Publisher of the Gazette, John DeAugustine, the Editor, Judy Patrick, and Miles Reed, the City Editor met with Stop the Schenectady Casino members Mohamed Hafez and myself (David Giacalone) to discuss our belief that the Gazette’s news coverage has favored the casino.  They gave us a considerable amount of their time and made the valid points that they have a limited amount of resources to cover the wide world of local news and that they are bombarded by complaints they have not given enough coverage to particular issues or have not been impartial. The Gazette officials insisted they are proud of the wide coverage they have given the casino issue and seemed not to understand why we would want the Gazette to report the positions and arguments of Stop the Schenectady Casino, as opposed to merely vaguely mentioning concerns of those against a Schenectady casino.

We wanted (and needed) the public to know and the media to report there is a serious opposition campaign, because the Location Board wants to know the extent of local opposition, and because not mentioning our specific arguments and background information serves the interests of the casino applicant by default.  To “write about” (usually, merely mentioning) crime, traffic, the proximity to Union College, and potential harm to the Stockade Historic neighborhood, etc., without mentioning our consistent focus on those issues, and our very specific research on the facts and research literature, not only has left the articles almost content-free, but fails to show the seriousness of the problems.

newspaper  The Gazette‘s editorial board endorsed the casino on June 9th, and — viewed from the outside as casino opponents, and also perhaps to the objective observer — its newsroom became a virtual public relations department for the Schenectady casino, with news editors seemingly reining in reporters who were initially curious and conscientious in covering casino issues. Despite the public’s desire to know more about the applicants and the pros and cons of locating a casino in Schenectady, the Gazette newsroom did little to counter the propaganda of local political leaders, the pie-in-the-sky predictions of Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group CEO David Buicko, and the incessant cheerleading of Metroplex and the local Chamber of Commerce, with facts and investigatory reporting.  It failed to look beyond the conclusions and soundbites of casino proponents and to present the facts and arguments behind the concerns of opponents.

Here are some examples:

  • The Gazette‘s coverage of the City Council meeting of June 9th and its 5-2 vote approving the casino application failed to mention that a large group of local religious and community leaders submitted a Statement to the Council strongly opposing the casino; instead, the Gazette merely mentioned that the group asked the Council to delay its vote in order to hold a public hearing on the issues and consider public comments and the social effects of a casino on the City and its residents.  Similarly, while reporting that the Council chambers were filled with blue signs and buttons saying Yes for the casino, the Gazette did not mention that virtually no hands went up when Rev. Sara Baron asked the audience who supported the casino and lived in Schenectady, while many hands were raised in answer to her asking who were against the casino and live in the City. See Schenectady City Council backs casino proposal (June 10, 2014)
  • checkedboxs The Gazette also ignored a press release by many of the same religious leaders, dated September 30, 2014, telling of a campaign among various faith congregations in Schenectady to make their opposition known to the proposed Schenectady casino.  [See our posting of Oct. 1, 2014; and click for a pdf. version of the Press Release]  The campaign provided an information packet with documents to aid in writing the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.  I personally brought up the topic to a Gazette casino reporter, supplying the phone number of Rev. Phil Grigsby, who was a contact person for the group behind the Press Release and anti-casino campaign.  Rev. Grigsby made several direct attempts to speak with the reporter and Gazette, but was never able to do so.

 According to the ministers’ press release:

Of major concern is that “Rush Street Gaming invests in Ruby Seven Studios, which develops, markets, and distributes casino games such as slots and poker through social network and smart phone ‘app’ websites with terms of service that expressly allow children as young as 13 to play without any age or identity verification.”

   It is that “major concern” that might have kept the ministers’ news-worthy campaign out of the Gazette. The Press Release was referring to a study, Betting on Kids Online, released in early September by a major hospitality and casino worker union, stating that Rush Street Gaming is investing millions of dollars with the aim of becoming the industry leader in “building a bridge” between children playing casino-like games on social media and smartphones and their going to brick-n-mortar casinos to do real gaming once they are old enough.  As we stated in our posting “Rush Street takes aim at adolescents” (Sept. 11, 2014): Knowing that the earlier you begin to gamble, the more likely you are to gamble often and obsessively, Schenectady’s proposed casino operator is sowing the seeds digitally to grow the next generation of problem gamblers.

I personally corresponded with a Gazette reporter a few times on Betting on Kids, sending a link to the study and related website.  The Gazette chose to censor this important news about a casino operator who wants to locate a gaming facility a block away from a giant Union College residence hall filled with potential young gamblers.  It also failed to report that Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino was specifically aiming at young potential gamblers by creating a simpler form of craps called “props and hops” and building a large poker hall.  See this posting.

Captured Videos1 The Gazette newsroom has also, by commission and omission, acted to erase the existence of the group Stop the Schenectady Casino from the minds of its readers.  Indeed, when WAMC’s Dave Lucas first contacted me in November, he started the conversation by saying, “I didn’t even know there was a group in opposition to the Schenectady casino.”  Also, at the September public presentations by the Applicants to the Location Board, one Board member told the East Greenbush applicant that they were the only casino with any public opposition.  Mr. Lucas and the Location Board staff  must have blinked and missed the initial coverage the Gazette gave to our group when we were first formed at the end of May, in our attempt to prevent the City Council from approving the Schenectady casino proposal.  See “Neighbors rally against Schenectady casino plan” (Sunday Gazette, by Ned Campbell, June 8, 2014); and our posting on “our June 7 opposition meeting” at Arthur’s Market.

In fact, in the four months since the Gazette’s June 9th editorial supporting the casino, there has only been one mention of the existence of a group in Schenectady opposing the casino.  That was in a piece on June 23 about my complaint to the NYS Attorney General, alleging that the efforts of the Fair Game theater coalition to force applicants to accept a list of their demands violate the antitrust laws.  [see our post “arts venues want more than a Fair Game” June 28, 2014] The very next day, the Gazette printed an editorial praising Fair Game, and calling it good for the theaters, the City and the casinos.  Despite the editorial staff’s usual CYA approach, in which it states “on one hand, on the other hand”, concerning most issues, it did not even acknowledge that Fair Game’s activities could increase entertainment prices and limit entertainment options available to Schenectady County residents, while also damaging non-favored entertainment and leisure establishments.  Perhaps because I was attacking our biggest local sacred cow, Proctor’s and its director Philip Morris, I have subsequently been relegated to being called a Stockade resident and/or outspoken casino critic, not the leader of an opposition group.

erasingF  The worst example of the Gazette magicians making Stop the Schenectady Casino almost disappear is certainly our treatment relative to the all-important Location Board public comment event on September 22nd.  On September 21, the Sunday Gazette published the article “Public to have its say on casinos: Supporters, foes to lobby board at Monday hearing” (by Haley Viccaro). In a section that begins “Here’s a sample of what to expect during the hearing at the Holiday Inn at 205 Wolf Road in Colonie”, the article has two sentences about an out-of-town labor group, Unite HERE, that was to appear to complain about labor complaints against Rush Street Gaming.  The only other discussion of expected opposition at the public hearing to the Schenectady casino says:

“Also speaking against the proposed Schenectady casino are some residents of the Stockade Historic District. David Giacalone is set to speak at 10 a.m., while Mohamed Hafez has a reserved slot at 6:15 p.m.”

Reporter Viccaro had been in frequent touch with me the days before the Board’s public comment event.  She knew that I was scheduled to appear on behalf of the group Stop the Schenectady Casino, and that the reserved spots were in fact meant for representatives of groups.  I told her Mr. Hafez also had a time slot, and she sent me an email specifically asking if Hafez was a Stockade resident. I immediately wrote back, saying he lived in Mt. Pleasant, not the Stockade, with an insurance office on Guilderland Ave., and was appearing to present the perspective of a landlord on the negative impact of a casino.

To the typical Schenectadian reading the Gazette, the term “Stockade resident” often means “spoiled elitist opposed to anything new that might be an inconvenience.”  It does not suggest serious opposition and a coalition of people with a wide range of reasons to fight against a casino.  The impression is strengthened by failing to mention (as the article does for opponents of other Capital Region casinos) any actual issues and concerns of the Group.

threemonkeys Worse than the relegating us to the issue-less category of Stockade resident prior to the Public Comment Event, the Gazette‘s multi-piece coverage of the 12-hour public hearing never mentions that there were local opponents of the Schenectady casino present at or making presentations to the Location Board, much less that a spokesperson appeared on behalf of Stop the Schenectady Casino and presented a 20-page Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino to the Location Board, along with our signed Petitions against the casino.  [Even Galesi CEO Dave Buicko and Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen later congratulated us on the quality of the Statement.] Nor did the Gazette mention Mohamed Hafez’s presentation, and his attempt to share some of his five minutes with Rev. Philip Grigsby of the group of Schenectady religious leaders against the casino.

Captured Videos1 Did we just get lost in the overkill of a day-long hearing?  Well, Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro watched my presentation and when I finished it, we talked, joked, and schmoozed on and off for well over 30 minutes; she even strongly advised me to check out the fancy room reserved by the Schenectady applicant for the comfort of its supporters.  She was also very pleased when I handed her a flashdrive that held our Statement, its attachments, and copies of the petitions.  Instead of mentioning our group in her pieces, Haley ended up marveling over a cake baked by one of the businesses that plans to partner with Rush Street Gaming at the Schenectady casino.

  The worst example of blatant pro-casino “news” was surely the front-page article on Sunday August 4, 2014, entitled “Schenectady Casino Group Praised: Host communities say Rush Street lives up to its billing” (Sunday Gazette; by Haley Viccaro).   As was stated in our posting that day, “a few things the Gazette forgot to mention“, the puff piece gave Rush Street a lot of free public relations propaganda. [update (Feb. 7, 2017): The Gazette is at it again, playing public relations patty-cake with Rush Street; see “Rush Street Gaming properties hint at what to expect in Schenectady“, by Brett Samuels.)

In addition:

 DSCF3276-001 Haley’s article is filled with quotes from local development and business officials and Rush Street Gaming’s CEO Greg Carlin, without a word from their detractors, such as Casino-Free Philadelphia, or the Worchester MA citizens group  that was successful in keeping RSG out of their city, nor even from the Stop the Schenectady Casino gang.  We speculated in August that perhaps the article was the Gazette‘s penance and mea culpa to Casino proponents for an earlier article titled “Officials in other cities warn of pitfalls, failed promises by Rush Street“? (June 8, 2014, by Bethany Bump).

Indeed, Rush Street Gaming liked the August 3rd article so much, it included a Power Point image of the headline in the “final”, public presentation it made to the Location Board in September. (click the image at the head of this paragraph)  In our posting on what the newspaper forgot to mention, we walk through a number of very important facts the Gazette should have mentioned as a matter of fairness, but also of journalistic duty and pride.  For example, it failed to mention the many facts that refute the claim by a Philadelphia official that, rather than crime rising, it actually got safer near Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino.  In addition, it allowed a company official to brag that they even help customers find other hotels for their stay in Philadelphia, without noting that the particular casino has no hotel of its own and must assist customers to find lodging if it wants to lure them to their facility.

Traffic & Crime Concerns. The Gazette also managed to write an article on the traffic problems in the Stockade, and to occasionally mention concerns over increased crime, without ever including mention of Stop the Schenectady Casino, which has focused on those issues, and researched and written on them in some detail.

For example, see the Gazette piece “Stockade group frets over potential traffic: Mohawk Harbor access a concern” (Sept. 30, 2014, by Haley Viccaro). Ms. Viccaro decided to only speak with Mary D’Allesdandro, Stockade Association president concerning the Stockade’s traffic worries.  Not only is Ms. D’Allesandro a supporter of the casino, she never did anything about the traffic issue until a non-officer member of the Association asked at the September Stockade Association that they give comments to Metroplex as part of the environmental review.  The Comment was hammered out at the end of the Meeting, and is filled with generalities.   The Gazette article is so troublesome, that I left a lengthy comment at their website, and repeated it in a posting on October 1, titled “the Gazette gets stuck in Stockade traffic” (October 1, 2014).  That posting has links to the work done by Stop the Schenectady Casino on the traffic issue, including discussion on our Statement in Opposition of September 22, 2o14.

checkedboxs Crime. The Gazette has also failed to address in any meaningful way an issue of great concern to neighborhoods near the proposed casino: the likelihood that the casino will bring an increase in crime.  We were told in the Gazette, with no explanations, that Stockade Association President, a casino booster (and mayor-appointed member of the City’s Board of Zoning Review), Mary D’Alessandro didn’t think there would be an increase in crime; that East Front Street Association officer Mary Ann Ruscitto, an “excited” casino booster, wasn’t worried, because we already have crime in the Stockade area; and that a Rush Street Gaming proponent stated that crime went down around its Philadelphia SugarHouse casino. As you can see in our posting “will a casino bring more crime,” and at pages 6 -8 or our Statement in Opposition to the Casino, there is much to say about crime and an urban casino that goes far beyond one-sentence gut feelings.  The Gazette could have added to that debate, but I believe doing so would have made more of their readers and their allies supporting the casino nervous.

In addition, the Gazette newsroom:

  •  Never wrote about the County Legislators and town leaders ignoring the November 2013 vote on Proposition One, in which a majority of county residents opposed having any casinos upstate, with large majorities in opposition in Niskayuna and Glenville, which are the towns closest to Mohawk Harbor.  In addition, it never wrote that, despite its claims, the County Legislature, had absolutely no power to approve the casino application if the City did not do so.  My own presentation to the Gazette staff of the relevant provisions of the law and Request for Applications, which clearly state that only a city or town could give the necessary local approval, were ignored. [See our posting “Schenectady County ignores its voters and plain English” (June 2, 2014)]
  • threemonkeys Often mentioned that the East Front Street Association supported the casino, but never reported on how few people were members nor how its leaders concluded the majority of neighborhood residents supported the casino.  Every resident of that neighborhood asked by us said no one asked them their stance on the casino.
  • Gave no coverage to the Statement of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation to Metroplex, asking Metroplex to act to protect the Stockade from the negative effects likely to be caused by having a casino a half mile away. See our post on October 2, 2014.
  • OriginalMohawkHarbor Gratuitously, with no source given, asserted  in the piece”Automated Dynamics weighs relocation options” (Haley Viccaro, Nov. 27, 2014) that “If [the Alco site is not chosen for a casino], the portion of the site dedicated for the project would probably remain undeveloped.”  I think Mssrs. Galesi, Buicko and Gillen would be trying hard to find a substitute use of that land, even if it is only the major amenity of a park setting with walking and bike trails along the Mohawk, next to the Mohawk Harbor hotel, condos, marina, office buildings, retail shops, etc. on the west end of the plot. [The image to the right is an original rendering of Mohawk Harbor released by the Galesi Group, showing the project filling the entire riverbank site, with much-needed green space, as well as trees and setbacks along Erie Blvd, and its first phase constructed in 2015.]

This is, we submit, not a record that should make the Gazette proud, unless its goal has been to give Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor a better shot at being selected by the Location Board.

update (Dec. 18, 2014): Well, at least they’re consistent.  The following is apparently the only mention of an Opposition in the Gazette’s massive coverage of the casino selection in today’s newspaper: “Some Schenectady residents, including those in the nearby Stockade neighborhood, have voiced concerns about a potential increase in crime and traffic due to the casino.”  

follow-up: Why No East-Greenbush Effect? (Dec. 22, 2014):  The opponents of the East Greeenbush casino won a well-earned victory, and they show what was needed to attract the attention of the Gaming Facility Location Board. You need a large number of truly upset, directly-affected homeowners (especially middle-class ones), with organization skills and at least a modest war chest, and with lots of publicity that garners more publicity, and the kind of Town Council monkey-business to make a lawsuit at least colorable, and gives the  media a hook for covering the topic repeatedly. See “Churchill: East Greenbush casino opponents win big” by Chris Churchill,” Albany Times Union, Dec. 18, 2014). With the Gazette ignoring us, and the Stockade Association hampered by a President who favored the casino and would not call a meeting on the casino nor put the issue on the agenda, the anti-casino crowd in Schenectady never got the nucleus of publicity that would let them grow into as thorny an opponent as those in East Greenbush.  The Stockade had voted against Proposition One in the November 2013 election. Had the Stockade Association voted to oppose the casino and opened its treasury to the cause, the Gazette would not have been able to ignore us. Ifs, buts, regrets.

Irony Update: See “Gazette decries ‘fake news’” (Nov. 6, 2016)

the Gazette continues the ALCO TUNNEL COVERUP

controversial

photo of ALCO tunnel taken by DEC engineer 08Aug2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

About eight weeks ago, “Stop the Schenectady Casino” learned that the Applicant/Developer of the proposed Schenectady casino at the Old ALCO Plant site failed to disclose to Metroplex in its environmental statements its discovery of “tunnels” under historic ALCO Building 332, and that the Schenectady Gazette helped in the coverup.

For the bigger story of how the Gazette has served the interests of the casino and ignored the opposition and the needs of the City and people of Schenectady, see rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014)

The Rotterdam-based Galesi Group is the owner of the Mohawk Harbor site and the developer of a planned marina and mixed-use complex there, and hopes to include a casino on the 60-acre site.  As the owner-developer, Galesi is responsible for submitting an environmental impact statement [“EIS”] to the Metroplex Authority, which is the lead agency for purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.  As such, in attempting to obtain approval of a final EIS, Galesi has an ongoing responsibility to report any new facts that raise a significant question of potential harm to relevant aspects of the environment, including elements of historical or archeological importance.

galesiwelcomecasino31jan2017Galesi CEO David Buicko has taken the lead as spokesman for the proposed Mohawk Harbor projects before local government bodies as well as the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board, and is well known in the business, development, political and educational sectors of Schenectady County and the region. Rush Street Gaming, which is headquartered in Chicago, is the primary Applicant for a casino license and would operate the Schenectady casino, called Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, if granted a license by the Gaming Commission.

Because the Gazette has failed to clarify what happened on the site, at Metroplex, and in its newsroom and editorial enclave concerning the uncovered utility tunnels, I sent the following proposed opEd piece or guest column Letter to the Gazette on November 14, 2014. There has been no response of any kind from the Opinion Staff.  Here is the piece the Gazette refuses to publish, followed by additional explanation and discussion, including communications between myself and both the Gazette reporter who admitted she was asked not to report on the tunnels and the one purportedly assigned to find out what really happened.

To the Editor:

Three weeks ago, I was told by a Gazette reporter that the paper would be following up on its incomplete and one-sided article “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014), concerning the failure of the ALCO/Mohawk Harbor developer (Galesi Group) to disclose in its environmental impact statement its discovery of tunnels under Building 332, and its request (honored by the newspaper) that the Gazette not report on the discovery. [the portions of the Oct. 22 article relevant to the tunnel issue are quoted below] So far, not a word has been printed about an issue that draws into question the credibility of the Applicant for a Schenectady casino license, Metroplex’s environmental review, and the Gazette‘s coverage of the casino selection process.  Is the Gazette waiting until the NYS Casino Facility Location Board makes its decision awarding a Capital Region casino license, so that the credibility of the Schenectady Applicant won’t be undermined prior to the selection?

The Oct. 22 article correctly points out that I and Mohamed Hafez had written to Metroplex chair Ray Gillen just prior to its Board meeting that day, asking for a postponement of its approval of the environmental review, because we had just learned that the ALCO contractor had uncovered tunnels under the century-old ALCO Building 332 while demolishing its foundation.  The discovery was in early August, prior to the approval of the draft environmental impact statement, but Galesi Group never brought in an archeologist nor reported the discovery to Metroplex.

The article then fails to mention any of my supporting information, although it was supplied to the reporter along with the Memorandum to Metroplex. Instead, the rest of the article debunks my Tunnel Coverup claims, by quoting Mr. Gillen and Galesi CEO Buicko denying that there were any tunnels and that there was any historical significance to the “utility corridors” they did find and demolish.  It then quotes from three Galesi consultants denying the existence of tunnels or saying that what was found was expected.  In addition, the letters by the consultants were described as having been “written this week,” although the reporter knew that they had been written that very evening specifically in response to our Memorandum to Metroplex.

The article also fails to mention that our Memo to Metroplex specifically alleged, using information verified by another Gazette reporter, that “When a reporter from the Gazette attempted to learn about the tunnels [in early August], the Applicant refused to give an interview on the record and would not allow photos to be taken; it also appears that the Applicant specifically requested that the Gazette not report on the discovery of the tunnels.” Not having mentioned our coverup claim, the article does not tell us whether Mssrs. Gillen and Buicko denied the request for a coverup or somehow justified it.

At the very minimum, your readers show have been told in the original article, or by now in a follow-up article, that:

  • Contrary to the letters of the Galesi consultants, the DEC engineer stated twice that it would have been virtually impossible for the contractor to know the tunnels existed prior to demolishing the building’s foundation.
  •  In addition to the original Gazette reporter calling the so-called “utility corridors” tunnels and not questioning our using that word, the Department of Environmental Conservation engineer heading up the remediation project at the ALCO site spoke with me at length by telephone, and said that the “pipe chases” were indeed large enough to be more appropriately called tunnels, and he thereafter referred to them as tunnels.
  • The Gazette reporter, Haley Viccaro, wrote to me on October 20 in an email that: “Yes there are tunnels and they are working to get rid of them. I was asked not to report on that fact,” and complied after discussing the issue with Gazette editors.
  • On October 21, I emailed the six photos sent to me by the DEC engineer to Don Rittner, the former Historian of Schenectady County and the City of Schenectady, and an archeologist.  Dr. Rittner wrote back: “[A] professional archeologist should have been hired to document the site before destruction.  This was such an important part of Schenectady history [but] we may never know what those tunnels were for.” Dr. Rittner also concluded that the discovery should have been disclosed as part of the Environmental Impact review process.
  • photo of Bldg. 332 - by H. OhlhouseAccording to information at the Historic Marker Data Base website, “Building 332 was one of the longest structures in the world at nearly 1000 feet when it was completed in 1905.” (see photo to the right, taken and with commentary by Howard C. Ohlhous, Historian of the Town of Duanesburg, NY; click on the image for a larger version) Furthermore, according to DEC engineer Strang, the buildings on the ALCO site often were built over the foundations of prior buildings dating from the mid-19th Century, and “cells” found during its demolition suggest that was the case with Building 332.
  • Construction of ALCO Building 332 was completed in 1905, but its foundation was very likely to have been erected on the foundation of buildings dating back to before the Civil War, increasing the chance that the tunnels could have some important stories to tell us.

Whatever they are called, the uncovered hollow structures were part of or beneath the foundation of a building which played an important part in the history of ALCO, of Schenectady, and of our nation’s war efforts in the 20th Century.  A professional archeologist could have quickly examined and documented the tunnels, assessing whether they were standard, mundane utility corridors, or were indeed of archeological and historical significance.  We will never know, because the Applicant concealed their existence from all but DEC’s remediation engineer, demolished them and filled them over.

The goal of receiving environmental approval by Metroplex as soon as possible to gain an advantage in the casino licensing process is understandable, but in no way justifies the Applicant’s covering the tunnels over without archeological examination, nor asking the Gazette to cover up the story.  To the extent the Gazette allowed itself to be part of the Applicant’s concealment efforts, it has also failed to serve its public.

Readers can learn more on this topic, and see the photographs and documents mentioned, at
http://tinyurl.com/ALCOCoverup

David Giacalone
Editor, Stop the Schenectady Casino, http://stoptheschenectadycasino.com/

_____

Instead of reporting our supporting information to its readers, the article dismisses me as “an outspoken critic of the casino,” and tried to make me look unreliable.  See “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014, by Bethany Bump). Here is the Gazette’s total discussion of our tunnel coverup claim:

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decision time: 2 PM Wednesday, December 17

The NYS Gaming Facility Location Board issued a Public Notice this morning stating it will meet at 2 PM, Wednesday, December 17, in Rm. 6 of the Empire State Plaza, for “Consideration of Selection of Applicants to Apply to the Gaming Commission for Gaming Facility Licenses.”   In addition:

• The meeting is open to the public. Seating is first-come, first-served.
• The meeting will be Web streamed on the New York State Gaming Commission’s Web site (www.gaming.ny.gov).
• Immediately following the meeting, there will be a media briefing for credentialed press only in Meeting Room 7 of the Empire State Plaza.

In reporting this news, the Capitol Confidential blog at the Times Union has again pointed to its July 7th piece “handicapping” the casino race, where the Schenectady casino application is said to be the Capital Region favorite, with 5-2 odds of being selected.  We believe the five members of the Location Board have fully considered our 20-page Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino, and will decide that one of the three other Capital Region applications better fulfills the standards and goals they are to apply in  making their selection.

You can use this short URL to see our full Statement in Opposition, including its Twelve Attachments, and decide for yourselves:  http://tinyurl.com/NotSchenectady

A brief summary of our five major points, along with thumbnails and links to the twelve attachments, can be found at this posting.

cropped-nocasinoschdy.jpg OUR FIVE MAIN REASONS for OPPOSING the SCHENECTADY CASINO, as fully explained in our Statement in Opposition:

  1. Unlike the other Capital Region locations proposed to the Board, the Schenectady Casino is the only Location Well on its Way to Being Fully Developed without a Casino, and Schenectady already has a Vibrant and Successful Development Process.  In addition, the Applicant claims that the casino would remove the largest brownfield in New York State, but the site remediation process is almost complete and will be completed without the casino, as it is an integral part of the developer’s $200 million Mohawk Harbor mixed-use project.  The Board should choose a location that is more in need of casino investment to spur development.
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposal that directly threatens the welfare of a treasured Historic District – the Schenectady Stockade Historic District
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposed location and Applicant that directly threaten the welfare of a full campus of potential young gamblers living no more than a few blocks away.
  1. Mohawk Harbor’s Urban Location has More Disadvantages than Advantages –e.g., increased probability of social ills due to problem gambling, more crime, a more regressive tax structure. It is not a likely “destination casino” and cannot be expected to produce the most revenue and tax benefits for the State and its municipalities.
  1. The Applicant’s Local Support is Less Significant than It Claims and Weaker than in Competing Communities.

 

a casino is coming to Schenectady (with updates)

Published December 17, 2014

The group Stop the Schenectady Casino is, naturally, disappointed in the selection of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor by the Location Board to apply for a gaming license.  We have, however, shifted our perspective from a fight to stop the casino in Schenectady to a mission to help prevent casino-made problems that can be anticipated once it begins operation. (see our  last casino masthead, with its new notation in red) We believe Schenectady is strong, creative and capable enough to have continued its revitalization without the problems created by reliance on a casino for jobs and revenues.  However, now that our political and business leaders no longer have to pretend that only good things will come from a casino in Schenectady, our hope is that the City and County of Schenectady will work closely with the casino operator, affected neighborhoods, and interested community and business groups to limit the potential adverse effects of having a casino in our community. We cannot afford for a Schenectady casino to fail.  If it does, it will be a gradual process in which we would be faced with waves of job losses, foreclosures and bankruptcies, steep reductions in revenues for government coffers, pleas for subsidies, and finally a huge white elephant carcass along the Mohawk — while also suffering from the likely social problems. We especially hope that local government and groups will work to

  • reduce the harm caused to families and the community by excessive gambling by persons without the financial ability to sustain significant losses
  • assure that various types of expected street crimes will not increase around the casino or overflow into neighboring communities
  • prevent environmental damage caused by increased traffic, light pollution, flooding hazards, threats to historic buildings, and lost enjoyment of riverfront resources
  • protect the Historic Stockade neighborhood from an increase in traffic that will almost surely reduce the quality of  life in the neighborhood, and threaten the integrity of its historic structures
  • ensure that the local entertainment and leisure business community is not harmed by the many competing elements that are part of the casino project
  • ensure that the casino operator cooperates with experts educators to keep problem gambling from infecting young potential gamblers

We members of Stop the Schenectady Casino and our allies in opposition to the casino hope to work in good faith with government and community leaders, along with the casino operator, to gain the most benefits for the community from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor while producing a minimum of negative effects.  If the casino is indeed a reality, we need to turn our efforts from a short-term “fight” to try to stop a casino from being located in Schenectady into a longterm “mission” to make Schenectady the first city to avoid the social harm that comes with any urban casino.  That is a goal that both casino proponents and opponents can surely agree upon and unite their talents and resources to meet. The good news is that we have a couple of years to think through the issues and work on solutions (and perhaps the funding many of them will need).

  newspaper Although the Schenectady Gazette continues to pretend there never was an opposition group, and even ignored our Letter to the Editor outlining the forward-looking policy presented above, media outlets with no agenda regarding the Schenectady Casino are presenting a fuller story. We’ll add them to the following list as they appear.

See, for example: The brief discussion at WAMC by Dave Lucas, of the early responses to the selection of the Schenectady casino application, “New York Board reveals winning proposals for casino reports” ( Dec. 17, 2014).  The Times Union editorial board’s thoughtful piece on “casino questions, still” (Dec. 18, 2014).  Another Times Union piece, by Paul Nelson et al, “Casino, fracking foes vow to fight on” (Dec., 19, 2014); Channel 13’s interview with two spokesmen for the Stop the Schenectady Casino group, “Anti Schenectady Casino Group” (by Dan Bazile, Dec. 20, 2014); and [stay tuned]

MohawkHarbor -BrownfieldSign

ongoing brownfield remediation at ALCO (with or without the casino)

  • You can read the Statement of the Location Board supporting their Selection choices by clicking here; at the foot of this posting, we have copied the section of the Statement explaining the choice of the Schenectady application (pp. 11 – 13). update: See our posting “Location Board gives us its findings” (Feb. 28, 2015), which voices doubts over whether the Location Board really did take a good faith hard look at the facts.

p.s. Although we believe the Location Board came to its conclusions in good faith, it is apparent that its investigation of the facts on the ground in Schenectady was insufficient.  For example, the Board stressed that Rivers Casino would result in the replacement of the State’s largest brownfield.  The brownfield at the old ALCO site has not only been largely remediated already, but its complete remediation was planned to be completed, and would have been completed in 2015, without the construction of a casino at the site.

In addition, the Board stated that the Applicant has taken efforts to mitigate the impact on local interests.  In fact, for example, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group have offered no plans or ideas for limiting negative effects on the Historic Stockade neighborhood, refusing to admit there would be any such effects.  We hope the cooperation Rush Street has claimed to be cultivating with the Stockade will become a reality.

 The collage below has renderings of the Schenectady Casino proposal from the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor application:

CasinoApplication-drawings

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proffedupS Below is the portion of the Location Board’s Statement concerning its choice of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor for the Capital Region (Region 2, Zone 2):

Region Two, Zone Two (Capital Region) The Board unanimously selects Rivers to apply to the Commission for a gaming facility license in Region Two, Zone Two.

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this poll we like

ABRcasinoPoll03Dec2014

. . . Polls asking website visitors to voice an opinion or make a prediction are far from scientific, and make no claim to having canvassed a representative sample of readers, much less the general population.   Nonetheless, I clicked on a link to an article in Monday’s Albany Business Review that gives the results of their current/latest un-scientific poll of readers as to which city will “win” theCapital Region casino license. (“Anticipation grows as casino decision approaches“, Dec. 1, 2014, by Todd Kehoe).” According to the article (emphasis added):

“An Albany Business Review poll published last week asked readers which of the four Capital Region communities will win the competition for a license. Of the nearly 2,000 people who voted as of 6:30 p.m. Sunday, 47 percent picked Cobleskill in Schoharie County. Another 22 percent picked Schenectady, 20 percent selected East Greenbush and Rensselaer grabbed the other 11 percent.

“The poll is not a scientific sampling and is intended to give insight into what readers are thinking.”

So, only 22% of the survey participants thought Schenectady was the most likely winner.  Particularly interesting to me is how different their poll results were last August:

In the August poll, 61.5 percent of those who responded, picked Schenectady as the most likely winner of a casino license. Rensselaer finished second with 21.7 percent of the vote, followed by East Greenbush with 9 percent and Cobleskill with 2.8 percent”. [emphasis added]

You can see a chart of the results of the latest ABR casino poll here (or by clicking the image at the top of this posting), and can go here to Vote (look for an image of two red dice with a green background).

dice A Schenectady Gazette Poll in October asked “What do you think of Schenectady’s chances of getting a casino?” It got a result similar to the Albany Business Review‘s August Poll:  58% of the 649 Gazette voters said Schenectady was the Heavy Favorite.  Naturally, it was easy for us to reject the Gazette‘s results in October as unscientific and the result of local bias.   Of course, we’ve got no more reason to have strong faith in the newer ABR results —  other than its having in general a less parochial readership.  Nonetheless, we hope its survey showing Cobleskill as the favorite is accurate.  And, until the Times Union explains its assertion, with sources and reasoning, that Schenectady is considered the favorite (repeated in an article today), we’re going to ignore TU‘s attempt at handicapping the competition.

The latest ABR survey shows only 11% of respondents naming Rennselaer as the favorite. It remains to be seen if the maneuvering of the Hard Rock folk at De Laet’s Landing in Rennselaer, offering Albany $1.1 million a year and job assistance and promising another half million dollars to build a permanent dock for the replica ship Half Moon, can win them a license for Rennselaer. (see the TU coverage here) Since there appears to be no real opposition to the De Laet’s Landing proposal, we at Stop the Schenectady Casino send them our best wishes, as we do for the Cobleskill application.

a tunnel cover-up at ALCO

controversial "utility tunnel" discovered at ALCO site in Schenectady

photo taken Aug. 8, 2014 at the ALCO plant by DEC remediation engineer John Strang, PE

 On Monday, October 20, 2014, I received a message through this website, asking me to investigate a rumor that the Applicant/Developer of the proposed Schenectady casino at the Old ALCO Plant site had discovered tunnels under the foundation of a building at the proposed casino location, and had asked the local media not to report on the discovery of the tunnels.  My subsequent investigation verified those two allegations, along with the fact that the Applicant never disclosed the existence of the tunnels to Metroplex, the Lead Agency in its SEQRA environmental review process, although they were discovered prior to the approval in August of the Draft Enviromenntal Impact Statement, and prior to the public comment period.

    Our attempt to delay the final approval of the environmental review by Metroplex at its October 22 board meeting was unsuccessful, with no public mention of tunnels, and with Metroplex chairman Ray Gillen insisting to me that there were no tunnels. Click here for our Memorandum to Metroplex about the ALCO tunnels, Oct. 22, 2014.

Last Monday (Oct. 27, 2014), on behalf of the Stop the Schenectady Casino group, Mohamed Hafez and I sent a Comment to the Gaming Facility Location Board setting out the results of my investigation, and stating the belief that the Undisclosed Tunnels Issue draws the integrity of the SEQRA review process into question, along with the credibility of the Applicant, and its appropriate regard for the importance of historic and archeological artifacts and their documentation.  These are further reasons, we argued, for the Location Board to reject the Schenectady casino Application.

The Comment to the Location Board contains full details.  Here are a few important points:

  • ALCOtunnel2 On October 20, I received an email reply from a Gazette reporter saying, “Yes there are tunnels and they are working to get rid of them. I was asked not to report on that fact.” [emphasis added] In a subsequent reply, she also wrote, “I did discuss it with my editors but we’re kind of limited if the developer won’t let us report on it or take photos.” Her attempt two days later to “clarify” away these statements were wholly unpersuasive.

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press release from the Schenectady Faith Community

Below is a Press Release, dated September 30, 2014, telling of a campaign among various faith congregations in Schenectady to make their opposition known to the proposed Schenectady casino. [click for a printable, pdf. version of the Press Release]  You are encouraged to bring the campaign to your own congregation. The campaign packet includes the following documents to aid in writing the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       September 30, 2014

Churches Conduct Letter Writing Campaign Against the Schenectady Casino

Members of two Schenectady area congregations today turned over 43 names of individuals signing either letters or petitions to the NYS Gaming Commission Gaming Commission Facility Location Board indicated opposition to the application by Rush Street Gaming for the license in Schenectady. Others took materials and will separately be sending in letters.

The letter submitted summarizes 7 reasons in opposition: that the site could and is being well developed without a casino; it directly threatens the Stockade neighborhood; affects the welfare of a college close by; the location has more disadvantages than advantages; the local support is less significant than it claims; there was no legal public hearing; and concern about Rush Street Gaming supporting “bridging the gap’ with youth between online applications and casino gambling.

Of major concern is that “Rush Street Gaming invests in Ruby Seven Studios, which develops, markets, and distributes casino games such as slots and poker through social network and smart phone ‘app’ websites with terms of service that expressly allow children as young as 13 to play without any age or identity verification.”

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the Gazette gets stuck in Stockade traffic

The Schenectady Gazette wrote yesterday that “Stockade group frets over potential traffic: Mohawk Harbor access a concern” (by Haley Viccaro, September 30, 2014).  They decided to only speak with Mary D’Allesdandro, Stockade Association president, concerning the Stockade’s traffic worries, although this group has raised the traffic issue since created at the end of May and deals with it specifically in our Statement in Opposition to the Casino.  Mary would not say anything negative about the casino, which would greatly increase traffic, but did admit that “Anytime there is development there are concerns, like with traffic.”

The Gazette article quotes from the Stockade Association’s letter to Metroplex commenting on the environmental review of the Mohawk Harbor:

“Because of these concerns, the association requests that, at a minimum, there be no direct connection from the development to Front Street and other measures are taken to reduce the likelihood of drivers using the Stockade streets.”

The article does not point out, as Stop the Schenectady Casino has done often, that the casino’s access plan shows traffic going directly east up Front Street from the casino parking lot, and that that the Mohawk Harbor traffic report insists there will be no harmful effects for traffic as it traverses Front St. and Green St. at Lawrence Circle.  Thus, the applicant recommends no changes along Front St. or at the Circle.

just-say-no-003 For a full account of the Stop the Schenectady Casino group’s position and conclusions on the traffic issues created by the casino in the Stockade, see pages 4 to 6 of our Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino, and the related attachments.

The article has so many flaws, including confusing the extra traffic generated by the casino at the morning rush hour with the number for all daytime traffic, that I left the following comment at the webpage of the article:

COMMENTS
Sept. 30, 2014, 1:17 a.m.

dagiacalone says…

I’m concerned that the Gazette has again forgotten to mention the strong Stockade opposition to the casino, which has focused on the traffic issue for the past two months. Instead, you speak with the President of the Stockade Association, who has refused to have a meeting on the casino, which she supports, and talk about a traffic letter that received a few minutes of attention almost as an afterthought at an Association meeting.
.
Casino opponents collected 126 signatures by Stockade residents on their petition, as compared to the membership of the Association which is under 100, and compared to the 18 people who voted for the “neutrality position” at the September Association meeting.
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Had you spoken with us, we would have pointed out, as was stated on August 14 at StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com, that the Applicant’s traffic study predicted casino patrons would generate 681 new vehicular trips during morning peak rush hour and 1,615 new trips during evening peak rush hour, not 680 during the day and 1615 at night, as your article states. In fact, the traffic report states that the peak rush hour numbers are those at the peak of the nearby roads, and that the casino’s even higher peak numbers come at different hours (which are never discussed in the Report).
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The Table from the Traffic Report with the trip generation numbers can be found at this webpage:
http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTripGen
.
It is strange that after 40 years of constant worry about traffic from development, the “leaders” of the East Front Street Neighborhood Association “don’t mind the traffic” from the casino. Yes, Front St. will get the traffic, and two-thirds of Front Street is very narrow and runs through a very densely populated portion of the Stockade neighborhood. For photos and description of the traffic problem likely to be created by the casino, see
http://tinyurl.com/CasinoFrontStreet
.
Finally, the Casino’s access plan has an arrow directing exiting traffic west up Front St. If that is any indication of the good working relationship between the casino Applicant and the Stockade Association, perhaps we are lucky the Association has decided to disarm itself and abandon its role of protecting the residential nature of the Stockade.

 

Rush Street takes aim at adolescents

noslots

According to a report issued September 9th by a major hospitality and casino worker union, Rush Street Gaming is investing millions of dollars with the aim of becoming the industry leader in “building a bridge” between children playing casino-like games on social media and smartphones and their going to brick-n-mortar casinos to do real gaming once they are old enough.  Knowing that the earlier you begin to gamble, the more likely you are to gamble often and obsessively, Schenectady’s proposed casino operator is sowing the seeds digitally to grow the next generation of problem gamblers.

bettingonkidsonline-cover Go to the website No Slots for Tots, which is sponsored by the Unite HERE, to see their informative, easy-to-read, and well-illustrated, 12- page report, “Betting on Kids Online: How One US Casino Company Hopes to ‘Bridge the Space’ Between Real and Virtual Casinos While Making Apps Available to Children via Social Networks and Smartphones.”  The introduction states:

[O]ne US casino company [Rush Street Gaming] has quietly pursued an Internet strategy that has sidestepped gambling regulators while also explicitly allowing players as young as 13″ to play their virtual games.

Who is Unite HERE? In their words, “UNITE HERE is the hospitality workers union representing workers in the gaming industry in North America. UNITE HERE Gaming Research provides analysis of the gaming industry from the perspective of those who work in it.”

Note: The Albany Times Union reported last night that “A large casino workers union [Unite HERE] has written to the state Gaming Commission complaining about Rush Street Gaming, the company trying to obtain licenses to run gambling houses in Schenectady and Newburgh. . . . The letter asserts that workers at casinos run by the Chicago-based firm have reported ‘illegal harassment by casino managers including threats, surveillance and other intimidation’.” TU reporter Jim Odato explains further and gives a little background on Rush Street and unions.

If Rush Street Gaming is rushing to create the next generation of casino gamblers, can there be any doubt that they will make a full-court (full-rink?) press to lure Union College undergraduates across the street to the old ALCO site?  For more on the increased vulnerability of young gamblers, see our posting “what will the casino mean for Union College students” and the materials referenced there.