where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

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

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

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

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

casinodesign3sp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mohharbplayhereimage

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

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

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

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

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

 

 

our “drive-thru” rotary

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

To the editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Giacalone, Editor, “snowmen at the Gates”

https://snowmenatthegates.com/

Schenectady, NY

DSCF1991

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

hviccaro July 21, 2016, 12:20 p.m. 

David,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Haley

Here are my replies at the Gazette website:

12:59 p.m.

Haley,

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

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

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

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

2:14 p.m.

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

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

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

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

TrafficMemo18Jul2016

 

sidewalks vs. trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree Removal and Replacement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Promote conservation of tree resources.

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

19. Resolution of conflicts between trees and structures

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

●  Priority of trees over street improvements (hardscape)

●  Responsibility for approving corrective measures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The essay continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trees take decades or even centuries to get big.

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

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

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

Trees to Retain….Trees to Remove and Replace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 4 –  4.3.2 Changes in levels

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

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

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

Continue reading

N. Ferry St. then and now

NFerryCorner-Aug2007  . . NFerryCorner-Apr2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFerry1

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

SOSTrees2

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

the No. Ferry St. version of “streetscape improvement”

Take a look at a 2007 Google Map Street View photo of North Ferry St. the year before it was repaved:

NFerry2007a . . .

Here’s the same view from the next Google Street View (2011), after the “streetscape improvement” deforestation of 2008:

NFerry2011

The only shade tree survivors in view are not along the City’s right of way, but are (fortunately) located on the property of St. George’ Church.

According to a report in the March 2016 Stockade Spy (at 6), the Stockade Association’s Infrastructure Committee met with Schenectady City Engineer Chris Wallin and staff members on February 15, and:

City staff stated that the process used to improve the streetscape on Ferry Street was preferable to the one for Washington Avenue.

SOSTNoFerry How do the two approaches differ? The No. Ferry project took out all mature trees between the curb and sidewalk, it also replaced all sidewalks (regardless of their composition or condition). The Washington Avenue repaving spared the trees, leaving decisions about the sidewalks for future resolution. [To see more No. Ferry St. Deforestation, click on the collage to the right.]  Assistant City Engineer Pete Knutson confirmed the Office’s preference for the No. Ferry process in a series of emails with the editor of the weblog on March 22, 2016.

Which post-paving streetscape do you prefer?

No. Ferry Street [L] or Washington Avenue [R]?

NFerry2011 . . 2CucNov-IMG_6519

.. with leaves, above ..

.. without leaves (in March 2016), below ..

NFerry-March1-DSCF1560 . . . WashAv18Mar2016

The City Engineer and, obviously, our Mayor Gary McCarthy, prefer to clearcut the trees in the City’s right of way to avoid any (tenuous) future liability should a tree which remains after losing some of its root system topple many years later. What is it worth in dollars, environmental, social, and economic benefits, civic pride, and aesthetic pleasure for residents, visitors, and tourists, to save our street trees?  Shouldn’t we take the time to seriously consider the options available to us other than virtual clear-cutting, before needlessly taking down a tree that is not dead, dying, or dangerous, in the name of “streetscape improvement” or liability avoidance?

Improved? Here is the 2007 Google Street View pre-improvements, looking south mid-block on N. Ferry St.[L], and the view in mid-April 2016, after 8 years of new-tree growth [R]:

Screen shot 2016-03-21 at 9.45.53 PM .. NFerry-DSCF1706

S.O.S.Trees, the Save Our Schenectady Trees campaign, is being launched this month, in response to the City Engineer’s revival of a method we thought we had beat back for good in 2010. For more information and links to photos, click on the Save Our Trees tab in our masthead.

checkedboxs And, please come to the S.O.S. Trees information and organizing Meeting, at Arthur’s Market, Noon on Saturday, April 30th.  

Mtg30Apr2016e Click for a printable copy of our Meeting Announcement

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stockadeathonimg_6774-002 . . .   p.s. To the left is another view of what Washington Avenue looked like a few weeks after it was repaved in 2014, looking north toward the River from Cucumber Alley, with its trees spared and sidewalks untouched:

what comes after a rush?

 RushPWD Well, Schenectady’s roadway into its future Casino Compound will not be named to honor its proud ALCO past and its faith in a productive future. It instead will be named for the effect that drug, alcohol and gambling addicts seek so desperately: a rush. Which is, of course, always followed by a crash and a craving for more.

And, it will also be named after:

  • a glitzy street in Chicago that is unknown in our region
  • a Founding Father who led the fight to ban gaming in the newly formed United States (and coincidentally thought being black was a form of leprosy and that the right treatment could cure the patient and make him white); and
  • a casino developer and owner that treats Schenectady like a second-rate City; makes demands but offers nothing more than the State law demands; and sells casinos when a better offer comes along (or they fail to achieve a 50% property tax cut).

Our prior posting “Rush Street is simply the wrong name” explains the above assertions. For press coverage, see: “No stopping Rush Street for casino site” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 28, 2016); and Council approves Mohawk Harbor street names” (Schenectady Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, March 28, 2016)

Only Council members Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi stood up against the demands of the Casino Gang. The 5 other Council Members continued echoing their masters’ commands, making arguments too specious for any self-respecting developer to make itself. As I wrote this morning in a comment to the Gazette article, “Let’s hope this ventriloquist dummy act is limited to casino matters.” Otherwise, this precedent will bring more developers, all primed by Metroplex, seeking concessions that hurt our City and its residents. Of course, if it looks to prospective investors that Schenectady is just a Casino Town ruled by Rush Street, they might decide this small pond has one big fish too many, and is unsafe for other new businesses.

“Rush Street” is simply the wrong name

chi_rush_370-003

not in Schenectady!

rushpwdbottle-001 . . . . . follow-up (March 29, 2016): see “what comes after a rush?“. The City Council voted last night, and let’s just say “the fix is on” at Mohawk Harbor.

original posting:

 Rush Street Gaming, owner of the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, wants to name the main entry road being constructed in Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street.” Tomorrow, Monday, March 14, the Schenectady City Council is holding a public hearing on the naming of the three planned streets in Mohawk Harbor, at 7 PM in Room 209 of City Hall. [See, e.g., “Rush Street Gaming CEO defends road-name proposal” (Daily Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, Feb. 22, 2016); “Path to honor industrial past” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 7, 2016).] According to the Gazette article “Opinions mixed over street names“:

RushStreetSignXXX The proposed streets are Rush Street, which is an extension of Nott Street off the roundabout entering the site. Off of Rush Street to the right is the proposed Harborside Drive, which runs parallel to Erie Boulevard. Off Harborside Drive to the right is the proposed Mohawk Harbor Way, which is an extension of Maxon Road.

Although she has no problem with the name Rush Street, City Council President Leesa Perazzo proposed holding a non-mandatory public hearing on the street name resolution, to seek the public’s input, and the Council unanimously concurred. Perazzo acceded to the opposition of council members Marion Porterfield (Dem.) and Vince Riggi (Ind.), who expressed concerns about having a street named after the casino operator, and refused to vote the resolution out of the Public Services and Utilities Committee.

update (March 15, 2016): The Gazette reported late last night that “Mohawk Harbor street names draw few foes: Schenectady business leaders back choices; three residents voice opposition“, by Haley Vicarro; and the Times Union‘s Paul Nelson wrote, “Council asked to approve street names: Developer says Rush Street is appropriate despite objections“, by Paul Nelson (March 14, 2016). Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group proved again that they can pull the strings on our political and business leaders to get them to show up anywhere/anytime, say virtually anything, and even embrace a name they never would have dreamed up on their own. County leaders demonstrated both (1) that they had rushed last week to announce their naming the bike trail in honor of ALCO to give Rush Street cover for their eponymous street name; and (2) their continued disdain for the majority of County voters who said “No” in November 2013 to Proposition One and having commercial casinos anywhere in Upstate New York. [Click here for my written submitted Comments opposing the name Rush Street]

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ALCOlogoY Below, I offer several reasons why “Rush Street” is an inappropriate name at Schenectady’s Casino Compound. First, though, I acknowledge that there are many other suitable names for the roadways in Mohawk Harbor. My personal preference is that this piece of our City and its history, which for generations was the location of the American Locomotive Company’s headquarters and primary manufacturing operations, and which for the past few decades has been called the Old ALCO site, be commemorated for its role in Schenectady’s proud history of Hauling the World and strenuously contributing to our nation’s war efforts. That can and should be done by paying tribute to ALCO and its workforce in the street name of the roadway used to enter the casino compound at Mohawk Harbor, and perhaps the two other streets. [Click here for a brief history of ALCO, and here for a nostalgic image of the ALCO works; and see the Gazette Editorial. “Honor Alco’s history in Mohawk Harbor street names” (Feb. 18, 2016.)]

ALCOlogo

AMERICAN LOCOMOTIVE Drive

I’d like to suggest that the words “American Locomotive” be used in the street name, whether it is dubbed a street, avenue, boulevard, or lane.  In addition to paying tribute to the site’s past, the name American Locomotive, or similar words, will suggest that Mohawk Harbor and its Casino can be an Engine for Economic Growth in Schenectady, without suggesting that Schenectady should be or somehow already is proud of the City’s role in the Gaming Industry and related businesses. For myself, and many other people in our City and County, the existence of a casino in Schenectady may be seen as potentially good for employment and our tax revenues. It is not, however, a matter of civic “pride”. A casino does not and will not invoke for the City a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure taken from its achievements, nor a feeling of dignity, value or self-respect. Even if well run by a committed workforce (with their own personal pride in a job well done), and if enjoyed by customers for its entertainment value, it is merely a part of the leisure industry. A casino will “produce” entertainment for some, riches for a very few (mostly living elsewhere), but nothing that speaks of greatness and of a community’s special skills and dedication. And, although denied by its cheerleaders, a casino has the potential to have a significant negative impact on many aspects of the life of our community and its families.

I am proud of Schenectady’s connection to ALCO (and to GE), but I will never be proud of our City’s connection to the Gaming Industry, or to Rush Street Gaming. Honoring our past with a name like American Locomotive Drive — or simply the powerful “Locomotive Drive” — would be an important reminder to our residents and visitors of our proud and productive past, and of our faith in a future beyond the narrow scope of the gaming industry.

Rush-Street-004

What’s wrong with the name Rush Street?

  1.  RushStreetPostCard-001Name it after Rush Street in Chicago? No, thanks.  With yet another hard-to-believe explanation aimed at our City Council, Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin says they are not naming the street after themselves, but are instead hoping to invoke the energy and aura of Rush Street Chicago.  His letter to the Council says, “Rush Street in Chicago is a renowned entertainment destination. It sits just one block west of the ‘Magnificent Mile,’ an internationally known shopping district. Some of the finest dining and nightlife options in the city of Chicago are on Rush Street. I can tell you the atmosphere on this mile-long thoroughfare is electric. We want to bring that same excitement and success to the Electric City.” Indeed, according to Wikipedia, Rush Street Chicago “continues to be part of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country and has businesses that correspond to the demands of its residents. The neighborhood hosts highly rated restaurants, five-star hotels, four-star spas, an elite senior citizen residence and prominent bars.” From my perspective, there are at least two big problems with invoking Rush Street Chicago:
    1. The vast majority of people considering or actually coming to Mohawk Harbor do not have the slightest idea what Rush Street Chicago is. That name is highly unlikely to draw any significant numbers of people from our very local/regional geographic market. If Rush Street Gaming truly wanted to make Rivers Casino in Schenectady a world-class entertainment destination, it would not have given us a casino designed to look like an outdated shopping mall (while proposing imposing casinos elsewhere), and it would not be requesting a pylon sign so huge and homely that it would never be permitted within several miles of Chicago’s Rush Street.
    2. WallStreetCompare

      our Wall Street analogy

      Those who do know what Rush Street in Chicago is like, can only be disappointed, and maybe even insulted, by the comparison once they arrive at Schenectady’s version.  Councilman VInce Riggi is correct to say that it is pretentious of Rush Street to name the street after itself, but it is probably even more pretentious to suggest their investment here will produce results comparable to even a tiny part of Chicago’s Rush Street. It is not too farfetched or cynical to predict, especially given the physical limitations of the site, that Schenectady’s Rush Street will be to Chicago’s Rush Street as our Wall Street is to Manhattan’s Wall Street. (see collage to the Right, and click on it for a larger verison)

  2.  Benjamin_Rush_Painting_by_Peale Name it after Benjamin Rush? Please, no, for his sake and ours. Rush Street in Chicago is named after Dr. Benjamin Rush [1746-1813], a physician who signed the Declaration of Independence, is called a Founding Father, was a leader of the American Enlightenment, perhaps the most prominent physician in the nation at the time, and wrote the first book in America on psychiatry. He was also a well-known abolitionist. Of course, it makes little sense to name an important thoroughfare in Schenectady after a man who has no local ties. More important, however, before doing so, we should consider, among other peculiarities, that:
    1. Ironically, Dr. Rush was a prominent advocate for temperance. He fought to include bans on “gaming, drunkenness, and uncleanness” along with “habits of idleness and love of pleasure”, in the U.S. Constitution.  He also campaigned against taverns and “clubs of all kinds where the only business of the company is feeding (for that is the true name of a gratification that is simply animal) are hurtful to morals”.   [See”The Benjamin Rush Prescription“, by psychologist Romeo Vitelli.] This leads me to believe Dr. Rush would strongly oppose naming the casino roadway Rush Street.

    2. Although Dr. Rush was a leading abolitionist, it should be noted that “In 1792, Rush read a paper before the American Philosophical Society which argued that the ‘color’ and ‘figure’ of blacks were derived from a form of leprosy. He argued that with proper treatment, blacks could be cured and become white [Wikipedia]  Also, despite his public condemnations of slavery, “Rush purchased a slave named William Grubber in 1776. To the consternation of many, Rush still owned Grubber when he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1784.” [Id.]

    3. While other physicians gave up the practice of bloodletting and purges, Dr. Rush did not, and his practice waned. Indeed, “Some even blamed Rush’s bleeding for hastening the death of Benjamin Franklin, as well as George Washington . . ” [for more, see Wikipedia]

  3. RushPWD The Many Meanings and Connotations of the Word “rush”:  The word “rush” has many meanings as a verb, adjective, and noun, and quite a few of the meanings conjure up notions that seem unseemly, misleading, or unworthy for a great City and sober community to be pushing.  One example, of course, is the rush one gets from taking certain drugs. As described at Dictionary.com: “the initial, intensely pleasurable or exhilarated feeling experienced upon taking a narcotic or stimulant drug.” The little yellow bottle seen on the right contains a product deemed a liquid incense or aroma popper, thought of as cheap form of “club drug”. No matter what fans of the product my say or feel, neither the item nor the word comes to mind when I think about responsible gambling.  And, even if lots of the old rockers on the Senior Casino Tour buses arriving at Mohawk Harbor are fans of the band Rush, I’m finding it hard to fit the lyrics to their biggest hit, Tom Sawyer, into a useful mindset relative to the future of the City of Schenectady.
  4. RushStreetGamingLogo Naming the Street after Rush Street Gaming. Pretentious. At-Best Premature. Surely proof that Fools Rush In. Rush Street Gaming has yet to prove that it will be a good corporate neighbor or citizen in Schenectady, and thus perhaps the recipient of an Honorary Street Name some day. At “Snowmen at the Gates” (f/k/a Stop the Schenectady Casino)), there is plenty of proof that RSG asks for much and gives virtually nothing it is not forced by law to give. It certainly has been far more generous at its other casino locations with extra funding for local development and community services, and general mitigation of impact expenses, than in Schenectady, where the Mayor and City Council have given it all it wants, and more. Moreover, Neil Bluhm is far too good of a businessman to refuse to listen to offers to buy him out at Mohawk Harbor.  E.g., in 2012, he and Greg Carlin sold their Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., just four years after it opened, and after failing in their quest for a 50% reduction in their property tax assessment. That makes the Rush Street connection less than solid. Our elected leaders should have some self-respect and say no to this name grab.  That could start a great new precedent, asserting that Schenectady has a casino, but is Not a Casino Town.

Conclusion: Even if “Rush Street” were tolerably acceptable as a street name in Mohawk Harbor (which it is not), honoring our ALCO history and signaling our belief in a future that will once again be productive and worthy of civic pride are goals that point strongly to rejection of the street name Rush Street.

 

City Hall is wrong about crime going down in Phila. and Pitts. casinos


LaughingMayorBW  M
ayor Gary McCarthy and electioneering Democratic Council members Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur want us to believe that crime has gone down near the two casinos operated by Rush Street Gaming in Pennsylvania and, therefore, we should have no problem with the Mayor not seeking an agreement with Rush Street Gaming for funds to mitigate the adverse effects on Schenectady and its budget due to increased crime. In the two following comments to recent Schenectady Gazette articles, I have stated as concisely as I can the error in City Hall’s facts and reasoning about the casino and crime, offering links to fuller discussion and supporting materials. There is also some discussion below on the Mayor’s failure to seek various mitigation agreements with Rush Street, which has been very generous to other cities where the administration negotiated on behalf of the people, rather than seeing itself as Partner and Cheerleader for the casino applicants.

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Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Mayoral candidate debate” (October 8, 2015):

smallquestionmark  CRIME? Mayor McCarthy has not been honest about casinos and crime. He and Rush Street like to claim that crime actually went down around its SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia. The study Rush Street cites actually tells a very different and complex story. For a full analysis and links to the actual study go to http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime .

  Here are some of the things McCarthy has not told the people of Schenectady about crime near the SugarHouse casino:

  • Philadelphia PD created a 14-man unit that solely patrols a one-half mile semi-circle around the casino. [A patrol that size would cost $1 million annually in total compensation in Schenectady, or mean even less coverage elsewhere.]
  • The Study did not include DUI or prostitution, two crimes very important to several nearby neighborhoods. .
  • There has been “displacement” of crime from the heavily-patrolled area to an area just past that half-mile radius (analogous to East Front Street, Stockade, College Park, Little Italy, Goose Hill) which has seen very large increases in vehicle theft and vehicle break-ins.
  • That study also says that “Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area”,* although the increase was only statistically significant in the first couple of years.

  NEWBURGH. Rush Street’s actions in its application for a casino at Newburgh, NY, in 2014 also tell a very different story than its assurances here there will be no more crime increase from the casino than from a WalMart. At Newburgh, Rush Street acknowledged there was likely to be increased crime, spreading into other jurisdictions, and an increase in problem gambling. Mitigation dollars adding up to $2.5 million dollars annually, were promised in Memoranda of Understanding signed with the Cities of Newburgh, Beacon and Middletown, plus three school districts, and nearby Dutchess County. [For more detail, go to the end of the posting found at http://tinyurl.com/casinoMOTT2 ]

  In Schenectady, Rush Street and its “partner” Mayor McCarthy deny there will be an increase in crime, so the Mayor never asked for any payments to help with added public safety expenses, and Rush Street certainly never offered a penny over the gaming revenue tax it will pay to the State, which then sends funds to the County and City. We do not need a Mayor who calls a business that will take hundreds of millions of dollars from some of our poorest and most vulnerable people, and send it to owners in Chicago, his “Partner”. We do not need a Mayor who is deaf, dumb and blind about the problems caused for the residents and businesses of Schenectady by his Partners.

[footnote added] * For example, see “SugarHouse attacks concern casino neighbors” (CBS News10, David Change, Nov. 13, 2010); “Philadelphia casino winner robbed of $13,000“, New York Daily News, May 18, 2015).

 

Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Schenectady Council election forum” (Oct. 9, 2015):

LeesaPSmiles  Sadly, Ms. Perazzo will say just about anything to defend the Casino and its Partner the Mayor, without bothering to check the facts or curb her enthusiasm.

  Residents concerned with the crime problem and expenses the Casino is likely to bring have again this week refuted their claim that crime went down at Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse [see http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime ]. In response, Ms Perazzo and Mr. Kosiur tell us that crime has gone down at Rush Street’s Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, and stress that we will have a State Police Barracks at the Schenectady Casino.

  There will be no “barracks” at Mohawk Harbor, but maybe an office for NY State Police (with a cot?). They will only be policing the actual casino grounds, and not following gamblers who have been drinking for hours onto the nearby streets or watching for car break-ins and prostitution a few blocks away. State Police also do the on-site patrol in the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino, and year after year, that casino has the highest number of crimes out of the dozen casinos in Pennsylvania. A State Police representative told the Pitts. daily newspaper that its high numbers were due to its urban setting. (Well, that’s a relief.)

   Has crime gone down around the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino? After five years of operation, Pittsburgh police are not talking about a reduction of crime. Unlike our Gazette, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will print negative news about its casino. It reported that “Although the casino has brought more crime simply by being there, Pittsburgh police have ‘not seen the type of crime increase everyone has been predicting,’ said Commander RaShall Brackney of the Zone 1 station.” I think Perazzo, Kosiur, and McCarthy know the difference between Not As High As Predicted by Opponents and “Went Down.”

GMcCarthyMug  Finally, the Mayor and his Council handmaidens want us to believe there is no reason for them to have pressed Rush Street Gaming for contributions above the mandatory taxes they will be paying. Tell that to the people of Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in its first five years, the casino estimates that it has paid out $744.7 in state and local taxes AND AN ADDITIONAL $48.6 million in contributions, including $37.5 million for Consol Energy Center [home of the Pittsburgh Penguins and rock shows], $3 million each to the Hill District and the Northside Leadership Conference, and $531,112 in donations to community groups. Imagine what such funds could be doing for our community.

p.s. Mr. Mayor, please stop counting your Casino Chickens based on Rush Street estimates. Pittsburgh Rivers was projected to generate $427.8 million in slot machine gross terminal revenue in its first year but after five years has yet to come close to that number. Last year, the Post-Gazette said it produced $284.3 million in such revenue in 2013. “We’re really happy with the performance,” said Greg Carlin, Rivers CEO.

By the way, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article mentioned above in my Comment about Pittsburgh is titled “After 5 years Rivers Casino seen as good neighbor” (by Mark Belko, August 9, 2014). How did it “earn” that local response? By working with and acceding to the demands of local interest groups. For example:

  • By reversing its attempt to charge $50 to park in its garage during a Stealers pre-season game.
  • By giving millions of dollars to neighborhood groups and community organization.
  • By agreeing to pay over $7 million a year for 30 years to the sports authority that operates the home arena of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and puts on rock shows.
  • By making important road and traffic improvements “after the Steelers and Pirates forced the issue” to avoid impending chaos.
  • By reaching out to an opponent, the community group Riverlife, for help in shaping the casino’s riverfront. The result, according to Riverlife’s CEO, is “one of the most beautiful privately funded public riverfront parks in all of the Downtown area.” [In contrast to a beautiful park, Rush Street Rivers Schenectady had demanded the removal of a public access guarantee from our riverfront zoning, and appears to be providing no area for sitting or picnicking along the riverbank for the public, but only a bike-ped path, which is an amenity that will help attract upscale residents to Mohawk Harbor.]

red check For more information that you have never seen in the Gazette that helps to explain why we opposed the casino, now work to avoid casino-related problems, and fault the Mayor for walking away from millions of dollars and guarantees that other Mayors would have won from Rush Street Gaming, see:

  1. Rigging the news: The Gazette and the Schenectady Casino“.
  2. Money on the Table“, and linked materials

This chart shows just how generous Rush Street has been when seeking to operate a casino in other cities or towns (from “Rush Street’s Giveaways“; click on it for a larger version):

Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon sign

mayorgarymccarthy2013sep Gary McCarthy used last night’s League of Conservation Voters mayoral forum on energy and environmental issues to insist that the monster pylon sign would be a “Community asset” and to incorrectly state it is “smaller than the GE sign.” See “Mayoral hopefuls discuss environment, casino at forum” (Daily Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, Sept. 22, 2015) Here is the rebuttal to the Mayor that I left this morning at the Gazette website:

Mayor McCarthy has finally stated that having a casino “is not without risk”, but he offered no suggestions on how to reduce its likely negative impact. Instead, he continues to distort or ignore facts to defend the unnecessary pylon sign.

The Mayor’s comparing the unsightly and hazardous pylon to the GE sign should make us shudder. The circular GE logo is 36′ in diameter, which means it is less than half the height of the 80′ Casino Pylon and three feet narrower, and is only slightly taller than the 32′ LED screen, which will be far more intensely lit and directly aimed at Erie Blvd. traffic and drivers on the new rotary. More important, the GE sign is distant from traffic and residences, and not merely a few yards from Nott and Front Streets and Erie Blvd., and short blocks from several neighborhoods.

GESign2 Even worse, the Mayor confirmed for us that the Casino Pylon Monster has the purpose of “branding” Schenectady as a Casino City, by saying the GE sign did a good job of branding our City. I am proud of Schenectady’s relationship to GE, but having the Rivers Casino sign as the symbol of our City — which is clearly the goal of Rush Street Gaming — will be a source of embarrassment for myself and the majority of people of our City and County.

Our next Mayor should, at the very least, demand that Rivers Casino use the Cisco LCD technology highlighted by Mayor McCarthy to significantly dim the lights on the Casino pylon during all overnight hours. For more on the pylon mess, see
http://tinyurl.com/PylonPosting

  • The Mayor also again denigrated those of us who are working to protect the residents of our City from negative Casino effects such as increased problem gambling, crime, bankruptcy, family violence, traffic hazards, and disruptive lighting, by saying there are people who had opposed the casino and are now “trying to slow or even stop it.” He indicated that the process of approving the Casino has been open and that every time there has been a public hearing changes have been made in response to public comments. That is a very different history from that chronicled here.

As the Gazette reported, Roger Hull said “Why does one need to have a sign that size? It’s not like people are going to be unaware of where the casino is.” But, Hull avoided a question asking whether the Casino should be required to comply with a maximum brightness rule during overnight hours. He also avoided a softball question asking whether the Planning Commission should be given the authority to fund independent studies of complicated issues, rather than merely accept the assertions of applicants such as the casino. Instead, Hull seemed to suggest that the Planning Commission was still “looking into” issues such as the height and location of the pylon sign. In fact, the Commission has already decided on the size and location of the pylon (accepting Rush Street’s proposal), and will apparently only be considering relatively minor design questions.

follow-up (6 PM, Sept. 22, 2015): Talk of open government is refreshing but, as I stated in a Letter to the Editor published last Sunday in the Gazette (“Planning commissioners must have gumption“, September 20, 2015), transparency is a prerequisite for good government, but will mean little if our administrative and quasi-judicial bodies, such as the Planning Commission and Zoning Board, do not demand full information from applicants, obtain independent expert studies as needed, ask tough questions, and engage in full, independent deliberation before making decisions.  The text of the Letter is immediately below.

Continue reading

restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor

In all their dealings with Schenectady casino applicants Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, Mayor Gary McCarthy, City Council, the Planning Office, and indeed all of City Hall, have acted as if “Schenectady” is the old Mohawk language word for “Second-rate-City.” That supine posture was particularly noteworthy and blameworthy, last February, when our municipal leaders ripped the guarantee of public access to and enjoyment of the riverbank from our Zoning Code’s C-3 Waterfront District requirements, at the request of the Casino Applicants.

This posting argues that, as soon as possible, before construction makes alterations impracticable, our City Council must restore the right to public access to the riverfront. That is not only because riverfront access is the acknowledged best practice for all urban riverside development, and because Rush Street Gaming allows generous public access at both its Pittsburgh and Philadelphia casino locations, but because to fail to restore that right leaves Schenectady in the status of a second-rate City with second-rate citizens. The next two collages tell an important part of the story: 1) the preferential treatment Rush Street has given to two Pennsylvania riparian casino cities compared to the step-child treatment for Schenectadians, and 2) the total lack of rational and persuasive explanation from our City Hall.

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RushStreetAccessEd

– click on each collage for a larger, more revealing and legible version – 

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RestoreAccessE

When our Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 was written, and the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use zoning district was created, back in 2008, our leaders understood the importance of public access to the riverfront and acted according. Then City Council President Gary McCarthy was proud of both the Plan and the forwarding-looking requirements of the Waterfront District, which mandated a recorded easement granting permanent public access. For more than half a year, therefore, I’ve been wondering just what the Casino Gang could have said, promised, threatened to change City Hall’s attitude toward riverfront access. Or, was the mere request to strike the access guarantee enough to persuade our timid, starstruck, supplicant “leaders” to forfeit the rights of the people they represent and are obligated to serve?

Three documents show the practices of modern, responsible city and State governments when treating the revitalization of their urban riverfronts, and demonstrate that the “right” to pass through on a bike-ped path does not fulfill a public access requirement:

StayOnPathSign The overly credulous regulatory policy suggested by City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo is, at best, silly. Perazzo trusts the Casino Gang so much that she stated at the City Council meeting where she voted for the C-3 amendments, that the Public Access Guarantee was not needed, because “they’re going to do it anyway.” The response to an applicant who says, “We’re going to it anyway,” is “Good, then you shouldn’t mind that we keep the law on the books for those tempted to ignore the rules.”

The Mayor, as mouthpiece and enforcer for the Casino Gang, was somehow so mesmerizing that even the educated, experienced Director of Development, Jaclyn Mancini, forgot all she knew about the meaning of the words “public access”, and insisted, “They will have access to the retail shops.” “Customer access” is not what is meant by “public access,” and the main purpose of public access is for the people who comprise the public to enjoy the riverfront, not to bring in more shoppers for the retail establishments or gamblers for the casino. When told the access guarantee would be stricken from the Code, Mancini’s zoning and planning staff were apparently too astounded to inform the public of what we were losing, or to quit in protest.

While Schenectady revoked the public access guarantee on the rather small piece of riverfront that was available in our City, even Cities with miles and miles of riverfront have strict riverfront public access requirements for all new development or redevelopment. Philadelphia, where Rush Street has its SugarHouse casino is a prime example.  A Pennsylvania State tourist site tells us that Rush Street’s SugarHouse “casino . . . allows the public access to a luxurious promenade along the river.”  As suggested in the first (green) collage above, in June 2014, while Rush Street was maneuvering in Schenectady for the repeal of riverfront access, it broke ground on an expansion project that would enlarge its grand public access promenade, which was already almost 2000 feet long, and the biggest in a city with a dozen miles of riverfront.  (See, this 2011 article and this 2013 article in Philly.com). As discussed in our prior post “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table“:

SugarHousePromendade

Rush Street’s SugarHouse public promenade

 Public Access to the Riverfront: Philadelphia has miles of usable waterfront accessible to the public (along two major rivers, as well as creeks, lakes, and ponds), but it nonetheless continues to demand significant public waterfront access to its riverbanks, even from gaming facilities that it hopes will produce major tax revenues.  In contrast, Schenectady has virtually no private waterfront beyond Mohawk Harbor that could offer the public increased access to the Mohawk River, but it has revoked the public access guarantees just when they would be applied for the first time.

Philadelphia Public Access: Under the Philadelphia Zoning Code for its SP-ENT District (which includes gaming facilities as a permitted use):

§14-405(9) Design Standards

“(c) Siting and Access: (.2)  A permitted use developed on a waterfront site must provide dedicated public access to the waterfront, open to and connected from a public street. Public access will be provided along the site’s waterfront length at a width of at least 12 ft.”  . . .

 Setback: “[A]ll lots must provide an unencumbered waterfront setback [of 50 feet] from the top of the bank of any river to allow for unrestricted public access to the river’s edge,” in addition to a public pedestrian-bicycle path. Specifically,

•This waterfront access must include open space that is accessible to the public at a width of at least 30 ft., plus a right-of-way dedicated for pedestrian and bicycle traffic at a width of at least 20 ft.

•If the Commission reduces the waterfront setback requirement due to site-specific conditions, the setback may not be less than 30′ in width and must include the bike-ped right-of-way that is a minimum of 20′ in width. [See §14-405(3)(e), which is a portion of  the “Yards” section of Area Regulations for the SP-ENT casino district.

PiitsburghAmphitheater Is there something about the residents of Schenectady and our County, or about our visitors, that makes us less worthy of full public access to the Mohawk riverbank than the people of Philadelphia are to their rivers? Or, less worthy than the people who get to use the lovely park and amphitheater along the River at Rush Street’s Pittsburgh casino? (click on the image to the right)

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 . . Casino3rd-rear2-001 There is no indication in the latest, limited rendering of the riverfront view of the casino complex from Rush Street (see above), that there will be any public access “amenities” other than the pedestrian-cyclist path along the River.

NoPicnicSignThere appear to be no spots for anyone other than casino patio customers to sit down, and no space for picnicking or similar waterfront activities.  Whether you are a senior citizen, a tired runner, a family with children, or a couple on a date, “keep moving” and “stay on the path” will apparently be the message from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, compliments of Mayor McCarthy.

WalkPath-MH-Gaz02Jun2015-001The steep drop-off from the pathway shown in the June 30 Gazette photo (see Left) of the construction site may not be indicative of the final grading along the riverbank, but in combination with the benchless, treeless, rendering, it surely suggests that the public is invited to use the path that takes them through Mohawk Harbor, but not to dawdle along the Mohawk.

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We are 18 months or more from the opening of a casino at Mohawk Harbor. Quick action by City Council and the Mayor to restore the public right to riverfront “access and enjoyment” can fairly re-impose this obligation, which existed long before Mr. Galesi purchased the old ALCO site for future development of Mohawk Harbor, and for the entire time Rush Street Gaming was applying for its casino facility operating license before the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.  Indeed, nowhere did Rush Street inform the Location Board that it planned to ask that riverfront access be ripped from the existing Schenectady Zoning Code. Is there no City Council member who is interested enough in restoring the riverfront public access promised in the City’s Comprehensive Plan to come forward with a proposal to restore that right? Is the Mayor finally willing to declare his independence from the Casino-Galesi Gang and Metroplex and come to the defense of his public and their riparian rights? Or, am I about to be knocked off my quixotic horse one more time?

the Commission should require a better pylon

SampleCasinoSigns

– click on the above collage to see sample signage designs for casinos other than the “shopping mall” colossus proposed for Schenectady, and to read a short explanation of why we deserve much Better than Big & Bland from Mr. Bluhm.  Share this posting with the short URL http://tinyurl.com/betterpylon

Rush Street has proposed a pylon sign design as mediocre as its overall casino design, and wants to place it at the worst possible location when safety and aesthetics are taken into consideration (find full explanations in the posts listed in our Pylon Directory). Rather than allow the Rivers Casino to foist its monster pylon on this City, the Planning Commission needs to decisively wield its authority under the City’s Site Plan review process, instead of yielding it to Rush Street and the Mayor’s Office.  The Commission should re-read the clear language of its duties and powers under our Zoning Code, and not be swayed by any pressure from the Mayor or advice from Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico to stand down on this matter (as happened during the Commission’s review of the C-3 amendments in February).

update (July 23, 2015): see “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015); and click here for a pdf version of my July 22 Comments to the Commission.

Mr. Falotico has apparently left the Planning Office and Commissioners with the impression their “hands are tied” concerning the pylon, because the C-3 district rules for casino signage now say (emphasis added):

“Multi-sided pylon signs shall be permitted, with a height not to exceed 80 feet.”

At the most, those words mean the Commission cannot refuse to approve locating a pylon sign, up to 80′ tall, somewhere on the 25-acre casino compound.  The prior sentence in §264-14(H) as amended 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.”  And, Zoning Code §264-92(b) makes it plain that (emphasis added):

“The Planning Commission’s review of the site plan application shall be guided by the elements listed in §264-89 of this article.”  

Among the §264-89 factors that “shall” be applied by the Commission to all casino signage, including the pylon, are:

  • 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.

Who agreed with the above interpretation just last February?  According to a Gazette article, “Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor: Riggi wants city to reiterate Planning Commission’s authority” (Haley Vicarro, Feb. 3, 2015), Carl Falotico did:

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

In “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW,” the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, explains:

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

We urge each of the nine Planning Commissioners to take those words and their oaths of office to heart when reviewing the most important Site Plan they are ever likely to encounter.  As we have repeated often, there is no urgent need to sacrifice a full review merely because Rush Street keeps making the same false claims of deadline pressure. It will not have to open its casino for at least 26 months, and an appropriate pylon sign structure can be designed and installed in a couple of months.

dontforgettack  Because a thorough review requires a full set of Site Plan documents from the applicant, we also urge the Commission to demand all necessary documents, as mandated in §264-91 Application and Required Information, before granting the requested Site Plan Permit. If necessary with this complex, multi-faceted Plan, the Commission should consider approving various portions in stages, reserving final approval until it has received all required documents, and sought any expert opinion need to supplement the knowledge of staff and Commissioners.

  • The expert opinion of the New York State Department of Transportation on assessing the safety of electronic message displays could be particularly helpful when located close to busy intersections, and the Commissioners should not let inter-governmental rivalry, or a false sense of deadline pressure, keep it from asking for DOT assistance. (see this discussion)
  • RNBL4EMCs Similarly, the brightness and distraction of a huge electronic display (proposed to be 32′ by 19′) raises such significant issues with glare, driver confusion, particularly in inclement weather on unfamiliar roads, and the disturbance of nearby residences, that the Commission should take advantage of the International Sign Association’s “Recommended Nighttime Brightness Levels for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers [EMCs]“. The Commission should (1) consider adopting ISA’s Illumination Limits: “The difference between the off and solid-message measurements using the EMC Measurement Criteria shall not exceed 0.3 footcandles at night,” and possibly contacting the Statement’s primary authors; and (2) specifically ask Rush Street to demonstrate the proposed LCD screen will meet the ISA brightness standard. 
  • Additional information and explanation from the Applicant should also be required concerning how the siting of the pylon is likely to impact on nearby traffic and nearby residences, including those in the East Front Street and Stockade neighborhoods, on Goose Hill, and in Union Colleges housing, including the 7- story dormitory a block away.

Indeed, because getting the casino right is so crucial to the City and its residents and visitors, the Commission should use its power under §264-91 (G) to probe topics that are important for a casino compound and its signage (including, e.g., a Visual Impact Analysis and proof that brightness standards will not be violated). The Commission should require:

§264-91 GSuch other and further information or documentation as the Zoning Officer and/or Planning Commission may deem to be necessary and appropriate to a full and proper consideration and disposition of the particular application.

. . click to compare the Schenectady pylon to the Cincinnati Horseshoe pylon marquee.. CinciHorseShoeSignageCompared

Better Design.  Any large pylon or “marquee” signage meant to draw attention to Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor may become the primary image of Schenectady for many prospective and actual casino patrons, and will be a constant presence for a very large percentage of City and County residents. Its appearance should be much better than simply “okay enough” or “not particularly ugly.” It must be better than “good enough” to be approved. Although it is a matter of taste, the Commissioners are called on to make such judgments often and should not shy away from doing so on the casino project.

DesPlaines68

Des Plaines Rivers Casino pylon

 A lengthy search online has resulted in my discovering only one casino pylon somewhat similar in height, bulk and blandness to the one proposed for Schenectady, and that is the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines, Illinois. The Des Plaines pylon [image at the right] would, in my opinion, be rejected for use as a shopping mall monument sign in even a less-than-trendy suburb.  Its Schenectady sibling will surely not improve its appeal merely by being significantly taller and wider. A new design with more “style” and artistic impact is called for, simply from the standpoint of what makes effective signage.

As with the overall Schenectady casino design, which is quite uninspiring compared to proposed casino plans in other cities and towns wooed by Applicant Rush Street (see “why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps“), Neil Bluhm and his casino subsidiaries seem to have taken a much different approach at their other locations to the need for or design of major outdoor signage.  Thus, Philadelphia’s SugarHouse and Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino have no pylon or similar giant freestanding sign, despite being in cities filled with skyscrapers blocking views.

FallsView However, the Neil Bluhm-developed and managed Fallsview Casino and Resort in Niagara Falls, Canada, does have a relatively tall sign. It is, nonetheless, definitely not recognizable as a relative of the Des Plaines or Schenectady pylons. The Fallsview sign, seen in the rendition to the left of this paragraph but better viewed on the upper left portion of the collage at the top of this posting, was aptly desribed in a release by its corporate creator:

“The ‘traffic-stopping’ craftsmanship of this Diamond Vision display will be a beacon to the millions of tourists who visit Niagara Falls each year, and an integral part of Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort’s allure,” said Mark Foster, general manager of Diamond Vision. “As with all Diamond Vision installations, we worked closely with the architects and designers to create a display that complements the resorts theme and personality.”

Naturally, I’m not saying Schenectady should have a pylon-marquee sign just like Fallsview. For one thing, the LED screen ( 25′ x 12.5′) may still be too large for a streetside sign. And, at about 70′ tall, it might fit the scale of nearby buildings better in Niagara Falls than in our City. But, we do deserve an image that shows some of the thought and art that went into the Fallsview sign.  It could perhaps reflect the presence of a lovely Mohawk River location, or the ALCO history of the site, or Schenectady’s colonial past. Most important, it should reflect something unique, fresh, and aesthetically pleasing, and be designed at a size and with electronic display elements appropriate for its location.

My first set of pylon-related Comments to the Planning Commission (June 17, 2015) contains additional discussion on issues raised above, especially the safety problems posed by placing large digital displays close to busy intersections.

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pylon options

– above: a few more examples of casino pylons –

ALCOlogo Afterthought: Looking into the “casino problem” over the past year, I’ve came across some of the interesting logos used by the Alco company over the decades. [see example at the head of this blurb] Perhaps one of them could be a starting point for a theme showing Schenectady’s past and strength aiming toward the future. (June 17, 2015)

the Lago casino HCA and the Mayor

GMcCarthyMug In his June 19th Guest Column in the Schenectady Gazette, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy attempts to answer critics who have asked why he never tried to negotiate a “host community agreement” [“HCA”] or similar benefits package with Rush Street Gaming [“Rush Street”]. (Guest Column, “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) The issue was first raised at this website in late April, in the posting “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table“, with follow-up postings on May 18th, “Money on the Table, Part 2“, and May 27th, “Rush Street’s Giveaways“. Schenectady resident and business owner Mohamed Hafez, asked the Mayor directly about host community agreements at a City Council meeting on May 11th, and at subsequent meetings.

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 Mayor McCarthy replied to Mr. Hafez that such agreements are not required here, as they are in Massachusetts, and are not feasible in New York, because gaming tax revenues are paid directly to the State which redistributes a portion to the Host County and City.  That attempt by the Mayor to excuse his failure to seek a community benefits package from Schenectady’s casino applicant led both this website and Mr. Hafez to refer the Mayor to the Host Community Agreement [“HCA”] signed last year by the Town of Tyre with Wilmorite, the developer of the Lago Resort and Casino, in the Fingerlakes County of Seneca New York (which is described in detail at the bottom of this posting).  On June 5, 2015, the Gazette published a Guest Column by Mr. Hafez explaining the need for a host community agreement in Schenectady, and describing aspects of the Lago HCA. “Schenectady in need of host deal for casino” (reprinted here). That column led the Mayor to ask the Gazette for an opportunity to reply. [To see David Giacalone’s Letter to the Gazette Editor in response to Mayor McCarthy, click this link: “Mayor missed point on casino package“, June 27, 2015, C5.]

Mayor McCarthy wrote in the resulting Gazette Guest Column that the casino deal Schenectady has with Rush Street Gaming is superior to the Lago-Tyre Host Community Agreement. The Mayor compares select figures from the Lago HCA and the Tax Accord between Lago and the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) and declares the “Schenectady deal” (there is no agreement) to be better. That is apparently because Lago received tax incentives/abatements not granted by Schenectady or Schenectady County to Rush Street, and the projected annual share of gaming tax revenue for the City of Schenectady, $4.1 million, is larger than the estimate of $3.9 million for Tyre/Lago.

TyreLogo Comparing individual, selected pairs of numbers from Seneca County and Schenectady proves little when Schenectady, with a population of 66,000, has nearly 70 times more residents than Tyre, and Seneca County, at 35,000 residents, has less than a quarter of the population of our County. The important point is that both the Town and the County IDA decided to do their homework (i.e., learn what potential host communities have done elsewhere and what the Town’s legal rights are, while commissioning a study to identify likely impacts, and quantify costs and benefits), and then to actively negotiate with their suitors. As a result, they each believe they have negotiated very favorable terms with Lago.

For example, Wilmorite is investing $425M at Tyre (40% more than Rush’s plans at Mohawk Harbor); the jobs it brings will cut the County’s unemployment rate significantly more than similar numbers of employees could do here; and the sales taxes generated due to Lago’s construction and operation will be significantly more than the annual sales tax abatement it has been offered. Seneca County will also receive payments during the period of its IDA accord with Lago that will offset the mortgage tax abatement granted to Wilmorite.

ida-lago-cost-benefit-analysis-table11 The IDA’s Lago Cost/Benefit Analysis concluded that the benefits from Lago for the County will be 51 times greater than its costs (including tax abatements), without counting the enormous benefits of the largest construction project in the County’s history. [summary chart at left; click on image to enlarge] And, Tyre, by the way, is expecting about $4000 in annual gaming revenues per resident, whereas Schenectady’s share of gaming revenues will be about $62 per resident. Moreover, the millions in extra mitigation payments by Lago that are scoffed at by Mayor McCarthy will be about $500 per Tyre resident per year, while Schenectady won’t be getting one cent.

According to the Seneca County IDA (Q & A on the Lago Resort & Casino Tax Accord, Feb. 12, 2015; empasis added):

A study commissioned by the IDA estimates the project will have a $1.8 billion economic impact in Seneca County. The project would also generate $45.3 million in payments to Seneca County; the Waterloo Central School District; infrastructure improvements; and more over 20 years.

As part of the proposed agreement, Seneca County would receive $3.83 million more than it would have expected to receive thanks to efforts by the joint IDA and County project advisory committee. This level of payment would exceed the level that would be projected to be paid under the already available New York State statutory 485-b property tax exemption program that this project would qualify for. For nearly 40 years, New York State has offered this 50 percent property tax exemption to businesses that invest $10,000 or more per year on building enhancements.

All of this is in addition to the Host Community Agreement with the Town of Tyre that will generate a projected $10.5 million in payments over 20 years to provide additional services such as fire, ambulance, and sheriff.

This said, Wilmorite has applied for a tax agreement covering sales, mortgage and property taxes. These include $16 million in New York State, regional and local sales tax exemptions, and $3.35 million in New York State and Seneca County mortgage tax exemptions.

As part of the accord, the developer has committed to purchasing construction materials and supplies from Seneca County vendors whenever possible, offsetting the local sales tax exemption.

In addition, as part of the accord, Seneca County would receive payments in future years, offsetting the mortgage tax exemption.

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For the reader’s convenience, we are repeating below our lengthy discussion, from the earlier posting “Money on the Table, Part 2“, of the Host Community Agreement between the Lago Casino and the Town of Tyre.

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 Lago at Tyre. More telling than Albany’s efforts to obtain a community host agreement is what happened with the Lago Casino & Resort in the Town of Tyre, a tiny agricultural community in Seneca County, NY, which was the eventual “winner” in the Finger Lakes Region. Although Tyre has a population below one thousand, its leaders had a thoughtful and thorough response when they learned that the Wilmorite Corp. [also known as Wilmot] wanted to put a casino on a parcel within the Town. Beyond getting itself good legal advice and keeping its residents fully informed and involved, the Town commissioned the study “Impacts of Wilmot Casino on the Primary Impact Area: Emphasis on Socioeconomic & Public Safety” (June 2014, 44-pages), which was prepared by the Center for  Governmental Research, in Rochester, NY. Tyre also requested Cornell University to review and summarize a compilation of Canadian studies on the impact of casinos, especially problem gambling.

The well-informed leaders of the Town of Tyre Board of Supervisors were, therefore, prepared to negotiate a Host Community Agreement [“Tyre HCA”, June 2014, ] with the Applicant. (The HCA notes on its title page that the Agreement constitutes a “Community Mitigation Plan, as Contemplated by the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013.”) The lengthy list of responsibilities accepted and covenants made by Wilmorite, the Tyre-Lago Applicant, is a testament to the thoroughness of preparation of the parties, and also to the strong desire of Wilmorite to secure the approval of the Town Board and be a good neighbor if it were selected for the Finger Lakes Region gaming license.  (For a good summary of the terms of the Tyre HCA, see “Details of casino host community agreement unveiled“, Finger Lakes Times, by David L. Shaw, June 13, 2014.)

 The Lago Casino owner-devloper agreed that, among other things, it would:

• Pay all costs and expenses incurred by the town for attorneys, accountants, engineers, consultants and others in connection with the casino review process.

• Pay the town $100,000 annually from 2016-21 for the purchase of development rights or other action related to the preservation of agricultural land in the town, to mitigate the loss of farmland.

• Preserve the graves in six known burial sites on the land.

• Pay for the training of a security force acceptable to the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office; for special training of deputies, as needed; and up to $100,000 a year for the anticipated hiring of an additional deputy because of the casino.

• Pay the cost of a new high-rise firefighting equipment for six Magee Fire Department firefighters and will pay the cost of a ladder truck for the department.

• Pay for any medical training required by North Seneca Ambulance personnel who respond to the casino for emergencies. If North Seneca handles a casino patient whose insurance does not cover the entire cost, the company will make up the difference.

• To fulfill a previous agreement with Seneca County Mental Health Department, pay for hiring one additional problem gambling treatment and one additional problem gambling prevention specialist. [Note: the protocol for setting up a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program looks like a good place for Schenectady County to start to construct its own program.]

• Pay all on-site employees wages no less than 75 percent of the national average for each occupation.

•  To mitigate impacts on town services, pay the town $750,000 in 2015, $2 million on Jan. 15, 2016 (prior to operation), and $2 million on Jan. 15, 2017. For 2018 and beyond, the impact fee will be at least $2 million and be adjusted by formula. Once it begins operation, the Casino will receive credit for Gaming Tax Revenues received by the Town. That is, the Casino must make a prepayment of the annual minimum Impact Fee each January 15, with the Town refunding to the Casino the amount that it receives as Gaming Tax Revenues each year.

• Construct, install, operate and maintain, a six-inch private-force sanitary sewer main from the casino to the existing Petro orRoute 414 pump station.  And, construct and install a new water-line connection to the existing 12-inch water line located on the east side of Route 414, and work to create or extend a water district that includes the casino site. [Note: as anticipated by the Location Board’s application form, the Schenectady casino applicant has stated it will make analogous necessary utility improvements.]

• Design a telecommunications infrastructure for the casino, with at least one strand of fiber-optic cable dedicated to the town and its residents.

  • Implement, at its sole cost and expense, all actions described in the Engineer’s Report prepared for the SEQRA review, and perform all other traffic improvements recommended or required by the New York State Department of Transportation. [Lago estimates that the traffic mitigation measures will cost $4,152,500.]

• Apply to the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes on property and other taxes. [In the resulting accord with the County IDA, Lago agreed to pay $45.3 million over a 20-year period. That amount, according to the Agency’s estimates, is $3.83 million more than Lago Resort would pay if the project were fully taxed under the New York State statutory 485-b exemptions (which have long been available to businesses that invest $10,000 or more per year on building enhancements). See IDA Press Release, Feb. 12, 2015.]

  • Recognize the right of property owners near the Project to continue farming consistent with past practice using good agricultural practices.
  • Limit its lodging facilities to no more than 220 rooms, unless the Company provides the Town with independent forecasts that demand exists in the area for additional rooms, in order to limit the impact on other lodging establishments in the region, during the first ten years after gaming operations open to the public.

• Take out a $4 million mortgage on the project to secure the company’s obligations to the Town and County. The town will be given first priority lien on the mortgage.

  • Engage in Periodic Review and good-faith negotiation to deal with additional payments for unanticipated or miscalculated impacts, up to $1 million per year.

In accepting the Tyre HCA, the Lago Casino developer acknowledged that construction and operation of Lago would have both direct and indirect impacts on the community. Unlike the Mohawk Harbor Applicants in Schenectady, who denied or trivialized any impact on Schenectady or nearby communities, Wilmorite signed an Agreement stating:

Direct Impacts. The Company acknowledges that the construction and operation of the Project will cause direct impacts on the Town and its residents, including but not limited to impacts on Town infrastructure, environment, public safety, emergency services, social and other impacts (“Direct Impacts”). The Company shall mitigate the Direct Impacts in the manner described in this Article III.

. . . [And]  Indirect Impacts. (a) The Company acknowledges that, in addition to the Direct Impacts described above, the Project will also have known and unknown indirect impacts on the Town and its residents, related to or indirectly resulting from the construction and operation of the Project from time to time (“Indirect Impacts”). Indirect Impacts include, but are not limited to:

(1) increased use of Town services;

(2) increased use of Town infrastructure;

(3) the need for additional Town infrastructure, facilities, equipment and employees;

(4) increased traffic and traffic congestion;

(5) issues related to public health, safety, welfare and addictive behavior;

(6) issues relating to quality of life; and

7) costs related to mitigating other indirect impacts to the Town and its residents.

Schenectady’s City Hall never demanded a benefits or mitigation agreement with Rush Street and Galesi.  Indeed, the Mayor and his Administration, Metroplex, County officials, the Chamber of Commerce, and hopeful casino vendors, have never admitted to any likely negative effects. As a consequence, the City never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib and facetious claims of the Schenectady Applicant that its casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, nearby neighborhoods or towns, or the County. This lack of vital information caused the only non-Democrat on City Council, Vince Riggi, to refuse to vote in favor of the proposed casino.

answering Mayor McCarthy on HCAs

mayorgarymccarthy2013bwWe’re pleased that the Schenectady Gazette Editorial Page allowed us to respond yesterday (Letter to the Editor,“Mayor missed point on casino package“, June 27, 2015, C5) to the Guest Column by Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy panning the Host Community Agreement notion. (see “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) Due to space limitations, our Letter to the Editor was limited to 400 words. The longer 1st Draft follows. [Also see, “the Lago casino HCA and the Mayor”]

Lago Lessons the Mayor Missed

In Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy’s June 19th Gazette Guest Column, he answers critics who have asked why he never tried to negotiate a “host community agreement” [“HCA”] or similar benefits package with Rush Street Gaming [“Rush Street”]. (Schenectady Gazette, “Mayor: Schenectady casino deal better than Seneca host package“, June 12, 2015, C8, pdf. file) It is gaming industry practice, and common sense, for a potential host community to use its inherent leverage to bargain for impact mitigation funds, goodwill payments, revenue guarantees, or other concessions. But, Mayor McCarthy has chosen to be chief cheerleader and backroom muscle for Rush Street, rather than chief negotiator for the people of Schenectady.

We pointed the Mayor to the Lago-Tyre Host Community Agreement to rebut his excuse that such agreements were not feasible in New York State, not to recommend slavish adherence to its particular terms. Rather than learn from the Lago example, McCarthy made a two-pronged attack on the HCA: (1) Dismiss the messengers as foes of the casino with an “ironic” new cause, and (2) stress cherry-picked and unexplained numbers. It is, of course, not at all ironic that those who opposed the casino due to its expected negative effects are taking the Mayor to task for leaving millions of dollars on the table that could have been used to mitigate those impacts and improve Schenectady. Casino supporters also expect the Mayor to maximize casino revenues, jobs, and community benefits.

HCAs are not cookie-cutter affairs, but are tailored to each community’s situation. Comparing selected pairs of numbers from Seneca County and Schenectady proves little when our situations are so different. Schenectady has almost 70 times more residents than tiny Tyre, and Seneca County has less than a quarter of the population of our County, and far less development momentum. Unlike Schenectady, both Tyre and Seneca County did their homework: They learned what host communities have done elsewhere, they commissioned studies to understand the impact of a casino and to quantify its costs and benefits, and they actively and successfully negotiated with their casino applicant.

TyreLogoB&W As a result, Tyre and Seneca County believe they have negotiated very favorable terms with Lago. For example, an extensive study by the County Industrial Development Agency claims that the benefits from Lago for the County will be 51 times greater than its costs. Wilmorite is spending 40% more developing Lago ($425M) than Rush is at Mohawk Harbor. And, the property tax accord will bring in $3.83 million more over the next 20 years than the County would have otherwise expected.

For a detailed discussion of the Lago agreements, see tinyurl.com/InfoLago .

In contrast, the Mayor’s approach has earned Schenectady not one penny more than the law will demand from Rush Street once its Mohawk Harbor casino is in operation, and nothing prior to opening. Moreover, Schenectady has no reason to believe Galesi will freely give up its scandalously low PILOT payments, nor that Rush Street is likely to give up its practice of challenging tax assessments and seeking every available exemption. More important, with no pressure from the Mayor and no cost analysis undertaken by the City, Rush Street has never stepped up, as Lago did, to acknowledge both the reality of negative impacts and its obligation to mitigate them with payments in addition to the gaming revenue taxes it must pay.

Schenectady could have done much better. Rush Street has offered each of its other existing and proposed casino locations various payments and community benefits beyond what the law requires, including millions prior to opening, millions in guaranteed annual revenues, large ongoing community benefit and mitigation payments, local job and vendor preferences, and more. It even agreed to guarantee waterfront access and build a Green Roof in Philadelphia, and to give Brockton a guaranteed $10 million a year in benefits, along with its beautiful casino design.

To see how generous Rush Street has been outside Schenectady, and what Mayor McCarthy might have achieved, go to tinyurl.com/RushGiveaways .

David Giacalone

Editor, StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com

Schenectady, New York

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.

shrink that casino pylon! (with updates)

 How Big? See “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?“, and click on the collage to the left. Yep, it’s bigger than the façade of Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple.

 casinopylonTree . . . update (June 17, 2015): Click for Comments to the Planning Commission regarding the proposed Casino Pylon (9-page pdf.). The submission collects, organizes, and amplifies points made below, arguing that the Pylon is the Wrong Size and in the Wrong Place. Rush Street’s argument that the pylon is needed because the STS Steel Building blocks the view of the Casino is rejected, and elements making this location highly hazardous for traffic are detailed. [a Wrong Size/Wrong Place collage, which is part of the submitted Comments, can be found at the bottom of this posting.]  Incidentally, the proposed location would require removing a large, healthy tree — probably the loveliest tree on the overwhelmingly barren Mohawk Harbor property (see photo at the left). Site Plan review factors include “the maximum retention of existing vegetation” [§264-89(G)]. We need a tree-hugger or two on the Planning Commission.

Haley Viccaro at the Gazette covered the Commission meeting in an article you will find here; the Times Union‘s Paul Nelson blogged about it here. The Gazette reported that East Front Street Neighborhood Association’s Mary Ann Ruscitto opposed the pylon, saying “We don’t want the giant big sign at the entrance to our neighborhood.”

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

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original posting:

Which sign would you prefer as the symbol of Schenectady?

GESign2

General Electric’s famous sign, atop historic Bldg. 37 

 . . . or

DPCpylon4border  . . .  DesPlaines68

. . . an even larger version of the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines IL, which is shown above and to the right of this caption.

Imposing as it is, the Des Plaines pylon would be the shorter little brother of its Schenectady sibling. If the enormous “pylon edifice” proposed by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is erected at the size and the location (close to Nott & Front Streets, and Erie Boulevard) requested by Rush Street Gaming and developer Galesi, it will almost certainly become the new symbol of Schenectady for all outsiders and newcomers, and soon local residents, too.  A few facts:

  • The Des Plaines pylon above is a mere 68′ tall, with a digital display about 25′ tall, plus an additional light-box taller than its digital sign.  When presenting their requested Schenectady zoning amendments earlier this year, David Buicko of Galesi Group said the Des Plaines pylon was similar to the one he was proposing for Schenectady. The slide showed to the Commissioners was a daytime photo of the Des Plaines pylon, in which the lightbox did not appear to be illuminated.
  • CasinoPylon-4Jun2015

    proposed pylon

    The proposed Schenectady pylon is significantly larger: It would be 80′ tall, 38′ wide, with a digital display 32′ high and 19′ wide, and it would have an edge design the entire height of the pylon that we presume is also a light-box.  The only explanation given for the increased size by Galesi Group COO David Buicko was that they needed it to be visible above the STS Steel Building so that the Casino could easily be found. The STS Building is, in fact, only 49′ tall. More important, it blocks only a fraction of the view from the street to the Casino, and none of the riverside view. Ironically, the tall and broad pylon will block the view of the casino for traffic heading east on Erie Boulevard far more than does the STS Building.

    • It was finally announced at the July 22 Planning Commission meeting that the “multisided” pylon will not simply have a message on the front and back. It will by “v” shaped, with wing of the vee facing toward Nott and Erie, and the other facing westward toward Erie and Jay St.
  • The GE sign’s giant letters are only 10′ tall, and its circular logo is 36′ in diameter, only 4 feet taller than the Casino pylon’s digital sign, and with a simple “message” considerably less distracting and less visually intense, due to the “dead space” between the illuminated portions of the logo. The GE signs sits upon historic Building 37 (site of the first corporate research facility in the nation), which is 73.89 feet tall, and sits far back from the street and from any residential or commercial neighborhoods.
  • The new Waterfront Zoning amendments allow the casino to have more than one 80′ pylon, with no stated limit.
  • Philadelphia has a lot of tall buildings that could block the view of a pylon or other freestanding sign. Nevertheless, in its Casino Zoning District, where Rush Street has its SugarHouse Casino, no freestanding sign may be taller than 40′. [Philadelphia Code, §14-405(8)] In addition, and also for safety reasons, the City of Philadelphia allows no digital displays within 200′ of an intersection. [Philadelphia Code, §14-904 (1) (b) Digital Display]

pylonrenderlocation

– above: location and size of proposed Schenectady Casino pylon –

pylontree2 . . . pyloncorner

– above (click on image to enlarge): corner where 40′ tree would be replaced with 80′ casino pylon, with Erie Blvd. a short block to the south; and see Pylon Collage 2, below –

ParkerBldg

How wide is 38 feet? It is the length of two large SUVs parked nose to nose. The Parker Building, next to Proctors, is only 24 feet wide. (For many decades the tallest building in Schenectady, it is 99 feet tall.) As mentioned above, the giant GE Logo is only 36′ in diameter.

  • For safety reasons, the NYS Department of Transportation cautions that off-site variable electronic signs should not be located so as to distract from nearby traffic control devices, nor be closer than 300 feet apart if more than one variable sign is visible to a driver at the same time. In addition, DOT requires that such digital signs appear no brighter at night than during the day, and no brighter than other signage such as billboards. See Criteria for Regulating Off-Premises Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS) in New York State (2014).

casino-accessplan-frontst update (June 15, 2015, 5 PM): A visit to review the site plan this afternoon at the Schenectady Planning Office confirmed that the proposed pylon would not be located within the Casino Compound, nor merely close to Nott St. and Erie Blvd. It would be at the SW corner of the intersection of Front St. and Nott St., a few yards down from Erie Blvd., on what must be the shortest block in Schenectady. That short, narrow block will also be the point where vehicles will be exiting the planned traffic rotary, with drivers craning their necks to read the messages on the giant digital display. The plat detail to the left of this paragraph shows the pylon’s location and proximity to Erie Boulevard and the Rotary. (And, see this annotated detail from the Site Plan.)

Moreover, Front Street will be extended across Nott St. into the casino compound, rather than dead-end at that point, as it does now.  The intersection of Nott and Front Streets will be busy, and particularly confusing to first-time visitors to the Casino, or to customers leaving under the influence of alcohol.

SchdyPylonSketch2

To the right is a sketch of the proposed Schenectady pylon from the Site Plan submission. (Click on it to enlarge.) It shows the color scheme and gives the dimensions of various portions of the sign.

Thanks to All Over Albany for linking to this posting and covering the re-design issue.

It is worrisome that our City’s planning and development staff are now in the position of supporting signage of this nature along such a busy and important stretch of roadway. In 2008, the proposed City of Schenectady Comprehensive Plan would have inadvertently required the GE Sign to be removed within two years, because rooftop signs are no longer allowed, and the Plan called for all illegal signs to be removed by 2010. They wisely ended up declaring that only illegal freestanding signs must be removed by 2010. Ironically, Schenectady chief zoning officer Steve Strichman stated back in 2008 that their goal was to remove “oversized signs that have been more recently installed in front of other businesses.” As the Gazette put it (in “Rule nearly brings down GE icon“, by Kathleen Moore, February 2, 2008):

Strichman aims to rid Schenectady’s streets of highway-oriented signs that are “out of pedestrian scale.”

If there were ever to be a freestanding, roadway-oriented sign in front of a business in Schenectady that is “out of pedestrian scale”, it would be the pylon monstrosity proposed for our Rivers Casino. casinotownlogo I’m hoping that Steve Strichman is as chagrined about the Rush Street/Galesi pylon proposal as we are. And, that Steve is pressing hard in the Planning Office to shrink that pylon to a manageable size. Of course, we cannot know what size is truly manageable without line-of-sight studies that have yet to be done. For additional discussion of issues raised by erection of the proposed pylon, see our recent post “lessons learned from the Des Plaines casino“; and, see our Pylon Collage at the bottom of this posting.

Symbol of Schenectady? In addition to the GE Logo Sign, Schenectady residents might prefer the Stockade’s statue of Lawrence the Indian (a mere 13 feet high, including base), the new, human-size memorial to Edison and Steinmetz, or Union College’s splendid Nott Memorial (103′) as Schenectady’s symbol.  Casino Town is, however, the wrong image for Schenectady, whether done in futuristic, shopping mall retro, or faux-factory style. We are a proud City preparing for a casino, not a desperate one willing to be branded a Casino Town. No matter what the Mayor, Metroplex or the Chamber of Commerce want us to believe about the Casino honoring our past and symbolizing our future, that pylon needs to be cut down to size and put in its proper place.

PylonCollage

-click on the collages above and below to enlarge the image –

PylonCollage2a

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:

Continue reading

lessons from the Des Plaines casino

DesPlainesCasinoCollage

Des Plaines Casino Collage

  The release of the new design for Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (see our June 6th posting) has started a robust debate that we hope will stir the City’s Planning Commission to actively evaluate and appropriately modify the casino Site Plan, which they will first treat in public on June 17, 2015.  Press coverage has included: Schenectady Gazette (subscription needed): “Reaction mixed on new casino design” (by Haley Viccaro, June 6, 2015); “Rethink the new casino design” (Editorial, June 7, 2015); “History shouldn’t repeat itself at casino” (column by Sara Foss, June 7, 2015); and Letters to the Editor: “Casino design could use historic charm” by Virginia Newton, and “New design of casino screams out ‘cheap’” by Suzanne Miller (June 10, 2015, scroll to 3rd Letter). And, Albany Times Union (subscription needed): “Redesign of Schenectady casino is a dud” (column by Chris Churchill, June 9, 2015).

TU‘s Chris Churchill rightly points out that:

[T]he city should demand better. The casino is a once-in-a-lifetime project and opportunity.

It’s too important to get wrong. It should be a knockout. 

photos taken by visitor at DPCR

photos taken by visitor at DPCR

Churchill also noted that the Planning Commission “would probably approve the casino if it looked like a giant Taco Bell.” Indeed, so far (e.g., with the C-3 zoning amendments), the Commissioners and Planning-Development Staff have acted like sleepy, toothless watchdogs, deaf to the requests and opinions of anyone other than the Casino Applicant (operator Rush Street Gaming, and The Galesi Group, site owner and developer), our Mayor Gary McCarthy, and County Planning satrap Ray Gillen. We hope the photos and images in this posting from Rush Street Gaming’s Rivers Casino at Des Plaines (Illinois) [“DPRC”] will prove more persuasive than the previous arguments and suggestions of many well-intentioned Schenectady residents.

The Des Plaines casino images in the Slideshow below teach us at least three important lessons:

  • As Rush Street has indicated over the past year, the first Schenectady Casino Design, from June 2014, is like a fraternal twin to the Des Plaines casino, with minor cosmetic changes and element slightly re-arranged. We got hand-me-downs from our Midwest sibling, not a Schenectady-specific design.*/

DPCrender2  . . .  Casino-RenderResort

– renderings: [L] Des Plaines Rivers Casino and [R] Schenectady’s Rivers Casino –

  •  The “reality” of the Des Plaines casino’s exterior is significantly less sparkling, futuristic, or inspiring than its artist renderings.  (That might be why DPRC’s Facebook page still has a 5-year-old rendering, rather than a recent photo, in its masthead.) The reality of the Des Plaines design might lessen the grief of many who, after seeing the Second Schenectady Design, are praising the First Schenectady Design for the first time and bemoan its demise. They should perhaps not urge the Planning Commission to revert to the First Design, but instead ask how the Second Design might be improved so that it is worthy to represent the best of Schenectady’s past accomplishments and future prospects.
  • real DPRC pylon at dusk A proposed pylon can be far more imposing once built than suggested in artistic “daytime” renderings. The brightness of the digital display at night and the size and intensity of the lightbox built into the pylon structure must be taken into consideration.  The shorter height of the Des Plaines pylon (68′ as compared to 80′ in Schenectady) and of its digital signage area (25′ tall approx. compared to 32′ in Schenectady), as well as its apparently narrower width, should give pause to Schenectady’s Planning Commission as it evaluates the proposed Schenectady design and its proximity to a vital and complicated intersection. It should ask whether the non-sign portion of the pylon “cabinet” will be lighted; and, demand a line-of-sight study of the proposed pylon edifice, in daylight and at night. For safety’s sake, it should also keep in mind the reasons behind the Philadelphia ban on digital signs within 200 feet of an intersection (§ 14-904 (1) (b) Digital Display), and the insistence of the NYS Department of Transportation that digital signs appear no brighter at night than during the day, and no brighter than permitted roadside billboards.
    • The Gazette June 7th editorial noted that “Judging from the new renderings, [the electronic signs are] as big and clunky and awful as some had feared. Interesting how those were the only things missing from the original design.”
    • Rush Street’s primary justification for its giant Schenectady pylon was that it had to be tall enough to be visible despite the STS factory building on the site.  The renderings show no connection between the pylon and the STS building, which is in fact 49′ high and not being raised up above the 100-year flood plain like the casino compound.

PylonCollage Click to see our Pylon Collage.

follow-up (July 17, 2015): In deciding whether the Big Brother of the Des Plaines pylon should be located near Erie Boulevard, the planned traffic rotary, and narrow Front and Nott Streets, they should take note that the Des Plaines pylon has a lot more “breathing room” than the Schenectady pylon would have.  Here’s a collage showing it is in a much different kind of location (click on it for a larger version):

DesPlainesVicinityE

This Slideshow shows a lot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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We’ll let readers decide if we have drawn the correct lessons from the Des Plaines Rivers Casino. As we did in the posting “tips for the Planning Commission,” we urge members of the public to let the Planning Commission know their feelings on the overall casino design, the pylon issues, the proximity of the big, bulky hotel to the riverbank, the need to secure public access to the riverbank, and all the other issues that must be part of a Site Plan Review.

update (June 19, 2015): See “Why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps.”

CasinoJune2015  *It is surprising that the Gazette editorial on June 7, and then the June 9 Churchill Column in the Times Union, concluded that the new Schenectady Design looks like the Des Plaines casino. Compare the renderings of the Second Schenectady Design in the collage at the beginning of this paragraph with the Des Plaines images in the above Slideshow.

TIPS for the Planning Commission

 The Planning Commission of the City of Schenectady will begin, but hopefully not end, its Site Plan review of the Rush Street Gaming casino compound in Schenectady, on Wednesday, June 17, at 6:30 pm, in Room 101 the City Hall. (See our recent posting “Schenectady Casino redesigned“.)  We did not hide our disappointment over the Planning Commission’s “review” of the C-3 Waterfront Zoning Amendments, nor of the related actions of our City Council. But, despite recent history, we refuse to believe that the Planning Commission will shirk its duties in performing its review of what is surely the most important site plan to come before it so far this century (and millennium). See Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq. for relevant factors.

CasinoPylon-4Jun2015

80′ “pylon edifice”

There’s No Rush. There really is no excuse for a less than thorough review. The Commission justified its lightweight review of the Zoning Amendments by saying it would take a much closer look at the details when presented in the casino site plan review. It also has the final say here, and should not allow the City Council, the Mayor, or Corporation Counsel to cajole them to produce a particular result.  Equally important, it is now clear that Rush Street is under no looming construction deadline as they insisted last January when the Amendments were pushed through. Before the gaming license is issued, the Gaming Commission plans to release its proposed set of regulations for casino operation in three areas: problem gambling, disability access, and workplace diversity. There will then be a 45-day public comment period on the Regulations, with no license being issued during that period. It is highly unlikely the gaming licenses will be issued, therefore, prior to September, and the Commission said in May that it hoped to issue them before the end of 2015.

For well over a year, Rush Street has bragged that it could complete construction and open the casino for business within 18 months of getting needed permits and licenses.  Recently, Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin gave a 16-month completion estimate once it has its gaming facility license.  The Gaming Commission wants each casino operating within 24 months of receiving its license.  At the earliest, that 24-month deadline appears to be 26 months away. With Rush Street and Galesi promising completion much sooner than that, and their facing merely fines, and not loss of the license, should the deadline be missed by a modest amount, the Planning Commission has no need, and no excuse, to give less than a thorough review, including asking for all additional information needed to evaluate the proposal, and allowing time for meaningful public review of the final Site Plan proposal.

Given the importance of this matter, we want to urge all interested persons to submit comments to the Planning Commission, either in writing or in person at their Meeting.  At this website, there will be a series of suggestions to the Commission over the next couple of weeks, on questions the Planning Commission needs to ask and homework it should do in its Casino Compound Site Plan Review.

Topics will include: In addition to the lack of urgent time limits that prevent full evaluation, 1) the Giant 80′ Pylon and 32′-tall digital sign, including finally doing a Line of Sight profile, and evaluating its closeness to the intersection of Erie Boulevard and Nott Street; 2) ways to improve the newest Casino Design;  3) the overall need for signage, especially the bright, moving, changing kind; 4) the design, bulk and appropriate proximity to the riverbank of the very large hotel being proposed for along the Mohawk (see this photo-collage); 5) indications that the Casino and property owner is serious about allowing meaningful public access to the riverbank.

 Tip #1: The 80′ pylon “sign”, with 32′ digital display. We hope the Planning Commission will think hard about having such a giant pylon so close to Erie Blvd. and Nott Street. Below: Comparison of pylon signs at Rush Street’s Des Plaines [IL] Rivers Casino and at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady (click to enlarge). See our post “shrink that pylon!” for additional factors to be considered and photos. update:  Click for my Comments to the Planning Commission regarding the proposed Casino Pylon (9-page pdf., June 17, 2015). 

PylonCollage

  • In general, you can get a good feel for our dissent to the Planning Commission’s treatment of the important Zoning Amendments in this post, which discusses public rights and protections loss in the new amendments.
  • Readers are invited to leave comments in response to ideas presented here and also to report their own tips for the Planning Commission.

RUSH STREET’s GIVEAWAYS (a letter to City Council)

RushStreetGiveaways

Rush Street’s Giveaways

 Following up on the first two postings in our Money on the Table series (Part 1, and Part 2), the following email message was sent to City Council Members this afternoon (May 27), via City Clerk Chuck Thorne, along with a chart labeled Rush Street’s Giveaways. (click the link for a pdf. version, or the image to the right for a jpg. version). The Chart shows the many benefits Rush Street Gaming [RSG] has bestowed on each of its other casino communities, in commitments made prior to opening, while offering none to Schenectady. We believe Mayor McCarthy has left Money and More on the Table in its dealings with RSG and the Galesi Group concerning Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.

To: City Council Members

Re: Chart entitled Rush Street’s Giveaways

The attached chart shows that Rush Street Gaming has given or promised significant voluntary (non-mandated) payments and other benefits to every one of its casinos, and in every casino application, while offering no such giveaways to Schenectady. Many of these giveaway payments have been made in the years prior to the opening of a Rush Street Casino. I am hoping that these documented facts will start a conversation among City leaders and perhaps the public and media about:

  • why the City has been so generous to Rush Street, and not the other way around (Rush Street wants a casino at Mohawk Harbor and Mr. Galesi is not able to move the location)
  • which neighborhood and community projects could have been funded with an extra $1 million, or even $100K, payment this year and next year?
  • has the City lost all leverage with RSG, or are there still things the Casino needs from the City or its residents that might inspire RSG to offer “goodwill” payments?

The Mayor referred to the Stop the Schenectady Casino website as “that blog” at the last Council meeting, and suggested the website has misinformation. I assure you that we’ve always done our best to present the facts and objective reading of laws concerning this Casino, and have often been the only source in this City for any stories, research, facts, etc., that show the casino or RSG in a bad light, or that even ask that the City Council and Mayor do some homework and stop to fully consider issues. We will correct any factual mistakes, if they are pointed out.

At this link, you will find documents and articles supporting our assertions, and find discussion countering the excuses that have been made to date by the Administration. You can use this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/casinoMOTT2

Please feel free to contact me with any questions and comments.

respectfully,

David Giacalone

Schenectady, NY

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MONEY ON THE TABLE, part 2

emptyPockets Summary: Mayor Gary McCarthy of Schenectady failed to obtain a host community agreement or impact mitigation plan from Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group, either prior to approving their Mohawk Harbor casino proposal, or later when granting major zoning and planning concessions to the casino.  In contrast, as in Massachusetts and across the nation, several of the other potential host municipalities in Upstate New York did successfully enter into such agreements with their local casino applicant.

Those Host-Casino agreements included benefits such as: Substantial payments to the Host prior to the opening of the casino, guaranteed amounts of annual revenues, lump and annual payments to mitigate direct and indirect negative impacts from operation of the casino, funding for community and neighborhood projects, real estate tax commitments, local hiring preferences, and more. [For example, see the Host Community Agreement, of the Town of Tyre, which will soon be the home of the Lago Casino, and which is discussed in detail below.]

Mayor McCarthy owes us a full, honest explanation for the failure of his Administration to protect and promote the interests of our City and community by insisting on a host community or mitigation plan agreement, when the leaders of so many other cities and towns undertook that crucial task. Why did Mr. McCarthy leave so much Money On The Table (“MOTT”) and ask so little of his “partners” Rush Street and Galesi?

– share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/casinoMOTT2

mayorgarymccarthy2013

Mayor Gary McCarthy

 In our prior posting, “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table (April 26, 2015),” we asked our Mayor how it could be that Rush Street Gaming was willing to give so much to the cities of Philadelphia PA and Brockton MA, but has been able to achieve its entire wish list in Schenectady without making firm revenue guarantees to our City, offering pre-opening payments, or granting funds for the benefit of the community and neighborhoods. On May 11th, two weeks after that posting, a Schenectady resident raised that question at a City Council meeting, and a red-faced Gary McCarthy accused the speaker of getting misinformation from “that blog” [that is, us], and offered two excuses: (1) Massachusetts law requires such agreements and (2) in New York, the casino pays gaming taxes to the State, which distributes them to Host counties and municipalities, so applicants can’t promise payments to the host community.

We anticipated and explained the fallacy of the Mayor’s 1st Excuse in the earlier post. Massachusetts law mandates only that mitigation payments be addressed and responsibilities of host and casino be stated in a Host Community Agreement. It otherwise neither requires that any particular topics be addressed nor specifies the types of outcomes that must be achieved.

We note here that the 2nd Excuse completely overlooks at least two important facts: (1) Nothing in New York law prohibits a municipality from asking for, or a casino from giving, firm guarantees and additional payments to the Host government and community, and (2) New York’s gaming laws and regulations do in fact obligate a casino applicant to document the plans and commitments it has made to mitigate the impact of their proposed casino.  Moreover, the Gaming Commission has stated that “The Applicant is encouraged to work with a Host Municipality to reach what each considers appropriate mitigation”. It also answered a direct inquiry as to whether tax and fee payments made by the gaming facility may be “considered as part of the mitigation measures for the host municipality and nearby municipalities” with a very clear, one-word answer: “No”. (See Round 1 – Q&A, Location Board Report and Findings, at 489) That is contrary to Rush Street’s repeated refrain in Schenectady that revenues paid to the City from casino operations would cover any potential impacts, thereby requiring no additional payments to mitigate expected negative impacts.

smallquestionmark In this posting, we ask what may be an even more important question: Why is it that so many potential host municipalities in upstate New York not only asked their Casino Applicant for specific promises and additional payments but succeeded in entering into generous agreements with casino developers and operators long before the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board made its selections on December 17, 2014? Whether they called them Community Benefit Agreements, Host Community Agreements, or Impact Mitigation Plans, other New York State towns and cities got significant promises from applicants hoping to making scores of millions of dollars from operating a gaming facility, but who first needed the approval of the proposed host municipality. Indeed, at times it was the applicant who opened the discussion of benefit agreements and mitigation plans.

For example, click on the Casino Benefits Chart compiled by the Times-Herald Record last July, showing nine applicants in the Catskills/Hudson Valley Region. The accompanying article “Casino developers offering towns pot of gold” (July 28, 2014), notes: “As casino developers vie to get a piece of New York’s gambling pie, they have offered the moon and more to communities where they hope to build. And municipalities aren’t shy about driving a hard bargain, as consultants paid for by the developers tell them it’s an industry practice.” (As discussed near the end of this posting, Rush Street Gaming was one of the applicants bestowing largesse in the Hudson Valley, and in fact giving it out to nearby governmental entities, rather than to the Host Municipality.)

red check To protect the interests of their residents, other potential Host towns (as well as nearby municipalities) did what any good businessman or politician would do: They negotiated from strength with casino hopefuls who needed local approval before they could even submit an application to the Board. They leveraged the requirement stated in the authorizing statute [Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013§1316(5-7)], the resultant Gaming Commission Regulations [§5300.1(f)], and the Location Board’s Request for Applications, that each developer submit a description of its commitments to mitigate impacts of the proposed casino on each host municipality and nearby areas. As one news report stated, casino applicants “must provide studies completed by independent experts showing the impacts and submit copies of all agreements demonstrating mitigation commitments.” See “Casinos prepare applications for final review”, pressconnects.com, June 21, 2014.

Just a dozen miles down Route 5, Kathleen Sheehan, the Mayor of Albany, was in the same position as Mayor McCarthy and local leaders across the State: This was the first time her City and Administration ever faced the prospect of a gaming facility coming to town, with any potential casino applicant needing the approval of the local legislative body before it could apply for the casino license. Sheehan had the expected and appropriate response of the head of a municipal government to the challenge: She wanted to learn the City’s rights and options, and to know what cities had done elsewhere, as preparation for discussions with any Applicant. In the words of columnist Michael DeMasi at the Albany Business Review (March 26, 2014):

Mayor Kathy Sheehan wants to hire a law firm with expertise in casino gambling, land use and community benefit agreements as Albany, NY considers a developer’s proposal to build a $300 million-plus resort casino on the outskirts of the city.

“We think it’s very important that the city’s interests be well represented as we consider this opportunity,” Sheehan told me today. “We need to understand what our legal rights are and what we need to be advocating for in the context of the size and scope of this project.”

She added, “We have not had a $300 million, private-sector project ever [in the city] to my knowledge.”

The city on Monday issued a Request for Proposals for legal services, just a week after Sheehan first learned of the project being pursued by Flaum Management Co. Inc., a large commercial real estate developer based in Rochester.

. . . Sheehan does not know how much the legal services will cost, but said it’s possible the city would seek to have the fees paid for by the developer as part of the review process.

As a result, Mayor Sheehan hired attorney, Jonathan Silverstein of Kopelman and Paige P.C. in Boston, who had negotiated more than a dozen Host Community Agreements on behalf of cities and towns in Massachusetts. And, potential applicant Flaum Management paid lawyer Silverstein’s fees on behalf of the City. (See Albany Business Review, May 15, 2014). Meanwhile, Mayor McCarthy apparently decided to go with the minimal in-house expertise of his own Law and Planning Departments, and to look to the Applicant for good faith actions and advice.

In addition, whereas Albany council members wanted to be actively involved in the negotiation process and “want[ed] a host benefits agreement to include an upfront payment to the city (Id.),” McCarthy’s majority on the Schenectady City Council were satisfied with being cheerleaders and adopting a passive legislative and policy role predicated on implicitly trusting the casino partners and their Mayor.

 TyreLogo Lago at Tyre. More telling than Albany’s efforts to obtain a community host agreement is what happened with the Lago Casino in the Town of Tyre, a tiny agricultural community, which was the eventual “winner” in the Finger Lakes Region. Although Tyre has a population below one thousand, its leaders had a thoughtful and thorough response when they learned that the Wilmorite Corp. [also known as Wilmot] wanted to put a casino on a parcel within the Town. Beyond getting itself good legal advice and keeping its residents fully informed and involved, the Town commissioned the study “Impacts of Wilmot Casino on the Primary Impact Area: Emphasis on Socioeconomic & Public Safety” (June 2014, 44-pages), which was prepared by the Center for  Governmental Research, in Rochester, NY. Tyre also requested Cornell University to review and summarize a compilation of Canadian studies on the impact of casinos, especially problem gambling. 

The well-informed leaders of the Town of Tyre Board of Supervisors were, therefore, prepared to negotiate a Host Community Agreement [“Tyre HCA”, June 2014, ] with the Applicant. (The HCA notes on its title page that the Agreement constitutes a “Community Mitigation Plan, as Contemplated by the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013.”) The lengthy list of responsibilities accepted and covenants made by Wilmorite, the Tyre-Lago Applicant, is a testament to the thoroughness of preparation of the parties, and also to the strong desire of Wilmorite to secure the approval of the Town Board and be a good neighbor if it were selected for the Finger Lakes Region gaming license.  (For a good summary of the terms of the Tyre HCA, see “Details of casino host community agreement unveiled“, Finger Lakes Times, by David L. Shaw, June 13, 2014.)

LagoLogo The Lago Casino owner-devloper agreed that, among other things, it would:

• Pay all costs and expenses incurred by the town for attorneys, accountants, engineers, consultants and others in connection with the casino review process.

• Pay the town $100,000 annually from 2016-21 for the purchase of development rights or other action related to the preservation of agricultural land in the town, to mitigate the loss of farmland.

• Preserve the graves in six known burial sites on the land.

• Pay for the training of a security force acceptable to the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office; for special training of deputies, as needed; and up to $100,000 a year for the anticipated hiring of an additional deputy because of the casino.

• Pay the cost of a new high-rise firefighting equipment for six Magee Fire Department firefighters and will pay the cost of a ladder truck for the department.

• Pay for any medical training required by North Seneca Ambulance personnel who respond to the casino for emergencies. If North Seneca handles a casino patient whose insurance does not cover the entire cost, the company will make up the difference.

• To fulfill a previous agreement with Seneca County Mental Health Department, pay for hiring one additional problem gambling treatment and one additional problem gambling prevention specialist. [Note: the protocol for setting up a Problem Gamblin g Prevention, Outreach and Education Program looks like a good place for Schenectady County to start to construct its own program.]

• Pay all on-site employees wages no less than 75 percent of the national average for each occupation.

MoneyBag neg To mitigate impacts on town services, pay the town $750,000 in 2015, $2 million on Jan. 15, 2016 (prior to operation), and $2 million on Jan. 15, 2017. For 2018 and beyond, the impact fee will be at least $2 million and be adjusted by formula. Once it begins operation, the Casino will receive credit for Gaming Tax Revenues received by the Town. That is, the Casino must make a prepayment of the annual minimum Impact Fee each January 15, with the Town refunding to the Casino the amount that it receives as Gaming Tax Revenues each year.

• Construct, install, operate and maintain, a six-inch private-force sanitary sewer main from the casino to the existing Petro orRoute 414 pump station.  And, construct and install a new water-line connection to the existing 12-inch water line located on the east side of Route 414, and work to create or extend a water district that includes the casino site. [Note: as anticipated by the Location Board’s application form, the Schenectady casino applicant has stated it will make analogous necessary utility improvements.]

• Design a telecommunications infrastructure for the casino, with at least one strand of fiber-optic cable dedicated to the town and its residents.

  • Implement, at its sole cost and expense, all actions described in the Engineer’s Report prepared for the SEQRA review, and perform all other traffic improvements recommended or required by the New York State Department of Transportation. [Lago estimates that the traffic mitigation measures will cost $4,152,500.]

• Apply to the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes on property and other taxes. [In the resulting accord with the County IDA, Lago agreed to pay $45.3 million over a 20-year period. That amount, according to the Agency’s estimates, is $3.83 million more than Lago Resort would pay if the project were fully taxed under the New York State statutory 485-b exemptions, which are available to businesses that invest $10,000 or more per year on building enhancements. See IDA Press Release, Feb. 12, 2015.]

  • Recognize the right of property owners near the Project to continue farming consistent with past practice using good agricultural practices.
  • Limit its lodging facilities to no more than 220 rooms, unless the Company provides the Town with independent forecasts that demand exists in the area for additional rooms, in order to limit the impact on other lodging establishments in the region, during the first ten years after gaming operations open to the public.

• Take out a $4 million mortgage on the project to secure the company’s obligations to the Town and County. The town will be given first priority lien on the mortgage.

  • Engage in Periodic Review and good-faith negotiation to deal with additional payments for unanticipated or miscalculated impacts, up to $1 million per year.

In accepting the Tyre HCA, the Lago Casino developer acknowledged that construction and operation of Lago would have both direct and indirect impacts on the community. Unlike the Mohawk Harbor Applicants in Schenectady, who denied or trivialized any impact on Schenectady or nearby communities, Wilmorite signed an Agreement stating:

Direct Impacts. The Company acknowledges that the construction and operation of the Project will cause direct impacts on the Town and its residents, including but not limited to impacts on Town infrastructure, environment, public safety, emergency services, social and other impacts (“Direct Impacts”). The Company shall mitigate the Direct Impacts in the manner described in this Article III.

. . . [And]  Indirect Impacts. (a) The Company acknowledges that, in addition to the Direct Impacts described above, the Project will also have known and unknown indirect impacts on the Town and its residents, related to or indirectly resulting from the construction and operation of the Project from time to time (“Indirect Impacts”). Indirect Impacts include, but are not limited to:

(1) increased use of Town services;

(2) increased use of Town infrastructure;

(3) the need for additional Town infrastructure, facilities, equipment and employees;

(4) increased traffic and traffic congestion;

(5) issues related to public health, safety, welfare and addictive behavior;

(6) issues relating to quality of life; and

7) costs related to mitigating other indirect impacts to the Town and its residents.

Schenectady’s City Hall never demanded a benefits or mitigation agreement with Rush Street and Galesi.  Indeed, the Mayor and his Administration, Metroplex, County officials, the Chamber of Commerce, and hopeful casino vendors, have never admitted to any likely negative effects. As a consequence, the City never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib and facetious claims of the Schenectady Applicant that its casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, nearby neighborhoods or towns, or the County. This lack of vital information caused the only non-Democrat on City Council, Vince Riggi, to refuse to vote in favor of the proposed casino.

TuxedoMasthead Sterling Forest at Tuxedo. Like the Town Supervisor and Board in Tyre, the leadership in the Town of Tuxedo, NY, negotiated with its casino Applicant, Genting, and achieved a comprehensive and generous Host Community Agreement related to the Sterling Forest Resort proposal.  In his Supervisor’s Update to the residents of Tuxedoon July 21, 2014 Town Supervisor Michael Rost summarized:

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