Nicholaus Block building demolished amidst dissembling and dismay

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

detail from Howard Ohlhous photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

coming soon, without the Nicholaus Block gracenote

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

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

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

. . as if it were never there . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These funds should have been used to repair the building.

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

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

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

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For More Downtown Dismay, see:

 . . Nicholaus what?

Schenectady’s infamous February 8th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

did haters visit Lawrence Circle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subject: pride in Lawrence Circle

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

To: Historic Stockade <HistoricStockade@yahoogroups.com>

Cc:  Capital Region Media

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

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

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

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

thank you, 

David

at Cucumber Alley

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StockadeFlagDay2016Pride

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CircleBeforeLawrence

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LawrenceOutsideCircle

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

“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]

. . share this posting with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/NotRushStreet

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 immediate request for a 60% 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.

 

have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?

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. . click on the images above to go to their page in the New York Public Library Digital Collections . .

Yesterday was the 326th anniversary of the infamous Schenectady Massacre, which occurred on February 8, 1690. The Massacre was the source of the Snowmen at the Gates legend that inspired the name and header image of this weblog. As we wrote in explanation:

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

Perhaps out of embarrassment, this story was not often retold in our neighborhood. I lived in the Stockade for two decades before I learned about it from Bob Eckstein’s well-researched discussion in his book The History of the Snowman (Simon & Schuster, NY, 2007, at 210-212). In fact, a longtime Stockade resident and business owner who gives informational tours of the Stockade had never heard of the tale when I mentioned it to him last Fall. Bob Eckstein notes that:

The details of this event have been rewritten many times in the form of poems, song and history books, based mostly on rumor—often done to suit the desires of different political sides at work.

Quoting several historians, Eckstein discusses many of the reasons and excuses given for ignoring the warnings from Albany, and for the failure of the mostly-Dutch settlers to obey the orders of their hated English commander Captain John Sander Glen to close the gates.  Pointing out skepticism from some quarters about the snowman portion of the tale, Eckstein concludes that “Almost every historic source corroborates the snowman detail.” For example, he quotes Historian Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, from History of Saratoga County (1878), concerning the reaction to Capt. Glen’s wanting the stockade gate closed:[villagers] ridiculed him and placed a snow image as mock sentinel…before the open gate.”

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-f443-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w (1)  In addition, neither Bob Eckstein nor I have found any source that denies the gates were left open (stuck in the high snow) with no human sentinels in place when the French and Indians from Montreal arrived with malice in their hearts at Schenectady’s north gate. Like Eckstein, I agree that the villagers were wrong to assume that no human would be traveling, much less attacking, under such bad weather. That sounds like a lame excuse made up after the fact, as midwinter raids in deep snow had been made before, and blizzard conditions would make the raiders harder to detect and the guards perhaps less able to respond.

Others have filled in details of the night of the Massacre. Gaye Jeanes writes at Geni.com, in “The Schenectady (NY) Massacre of 1690“, that “The original target was Fort Orange (present day Albany), but when Schenectady was discovered [by a scouting party] to be defenseless the raiding party decided to attack [Schenectady] instead. Finding no sentinels other than two snowmen and the gate ajar according to the tradition, the raiders silently entered Schenectady and launched their attack . .”

In his “Why Schenectady was destroyed in 1690 (A paper read before the Fortnightly club of Schenectady, May 3, 1897)”, Jason S. Landon points to the “confusion and anarchy” caused when news of the abdication of James II and the ascension of William and Mary to the English throne reached New York, and disagreement arose as to the rightful governor of the colony. He then explains that:

[T]he people of Schenectady were divided in their sentiments, and though warned of their danger by the friendly Mohawks, still, incapable of union, they failed to obey either power and fell into anarchy and subsisted without any government. The result was that, though the village was surrounded by a stockade and had a garrison of eight soldiers commanded by a lieutenant, the gates of the stockade were upon this night of destruction left open and unguarded, and citizens and soldiers slept the sleep of the just.

snowmencameoBW-004 Eckstein sees no reasons why the snowman detail in the Massacre story would be a fabrication. One reason he gives is that “No one slanders a person by falsely accusing them of making a snowman of all things.” I agree with his conclusion, but not with that particular reasoning. Charging that a soldier or citizen detailed to guard the village went AWOL thinking snowmen would serve as adequate sentinels seems very serious to me, surely worthy of a courts martial, especially given the resulting massacre. Indeed the seriousness of the charge, made more scandalous by claiming the guards were drinking at a tavern rather than at their posts, seems like a very likely motive behind the people of the Stockade wanting to deny the incident and hushing it up. For one thing, descendants of some of those Dutch families are still living in Schenectady or its vicinity.

We’ll never know whether the AWOL guards really thought the snowmen would fool a raiding party. Eckstein is probably correct that no one was likely to stop to build snowmen in the middle of a blizzard in the dark. But, it seems highly likely that there would be snowmen built near the gates of the stockade. More than half of the inhabitants of Schenectady at the time were children, with no iPads or x-boxes or even tv’s available to keep them indoors. Building snowmen seems like a natural recreation, and would allow the kids to play soldier (and Indian). Given the treacherous surrounding countryside, parents and guards would almost surely have kept the children close to the stockade gates to monitor them better and help assure their quick return if danger arose.

The idea of the guards choosing a warm tavern over sentinel duty in a blizzard also makes a lot of sense. If you were going AWOL, would you return to your barracks or home, or would you sneak over to the pub? The Schenectady County Historical Society’s weblog tells us, in “Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part 1” (July 15, 2015), that:

Beer and heartier beverages were an important part of Colonial life and some of the more prominent original settlers of Schenectady brewed and sold these beverages in their taverns and inns. Alcohol was not just limited to the men in New Netherlands, women and children were also known to drink. Early Dutch settlers were so fond of imbibing that when Peter Stuyvesant became director-general of New Netherland, he passed several restrictions on drinking and selling alcohol.

Eckstein says the errant sentinels went to Douwe Aukes Tavern, “the center of most ruckus and riots in Fort Schenectady.”  That conjecture seems fairly likely, too. For example, in his 1914 book “Schenectady, Ancient and Modern” Joel Henry Monroe tells us (at 41):

 [Douwe Aukes De Freeze] kept an inn or tavern . . located at the corner of State street and Mill lane, near the first church erected in the village. Douwe Aukes’ inn apparently was the herding place of the villagers and the recognized center of festivities, for it is said that high carnival was or had been in action there the night of the massacre in 1690, which in some degree may  have caused the pervading insensibility to the impending slaughter of the citizens.

An 1898 Centennial Tablet located at Cucumber Alley and Washington Avenue states that there was a 24-man garrison located in the stockade the night of the massacre, and that “18 were scattered scattered through village, during the massacre.” I’m not certain, but that might suggest that six of the soldiers were at Douwe Aukes’ tavern when the raid took place.

DSCF1316-MassacreMarker Despite the weight of the evidence supporting the historical existence of snowmen outside the open stockade gate on the night of the Massacre, the very recently published February 2016 edition of the Stockade Spy, the newsletter of the Stockade Association, has a front page article stating that the tale “of the Snowmen Sentinels that failed to protect the village, remain[s] subject to skepticism and speculation.” The author, Samuel Maurice, also calls it a “tall tale.” In a similar vein, the historical marker to the left of this paragraph,erected at the Centennial of the City’s charter, says only that the raiding party “entered during night at north gate,” without mentioning it being rather easy to enter.

  • DSCF1319 Maurice gives more credibility to the Ride of Simon Schermerhorn that night to warn the people of Albany of the attack, than he does the snowman story. Some Schermerhorn Skeptics wonder if he wasn’t just fleeing or looking for medical help for his wounds. The people of Fort Orange at Albany, of course, knew the raiders were heading for Schenectady that night. Simon might have had mixed motives, but Schenectady needs as many heroes as it can get for the sad tale of its Massacre.

The skepticism over the snowman legend mentioned in the current issue of the Stockade Spy is rather ironic, for at least two reasons: (1) Sharing page one of the February Spy with Maurice’s “The Schenectady Massacre” is an article with the boldface headline “Celebrate the Snowman! A Winter Commemoration of the 1690 Massacre“. Despite a total lack of snow, the first-ever Snowman Celebration was held at Riverside Park, Saturday afternoon, February 6. (Go to “suns along the Mohawk” for photographic coverage of the event.) By promoting the Celebration of the Massacre Snowmen, the Stockade Association gave the legend its broadest publicity ever within our Stockade neighborhood. And,

DSCF1362

artificial snowmen celebrating fake sentinels

(2) The Stockade Association is perhaps the prime private organization targeted by this weblog when it asks whether Schenectady’s watchdogs are adequately on guard and acting to fulfill their duties to protect our community. (It is, of course, the one I know the best, as a resident of the Stockade.) Over the past few years, the leaders of the Stockade Association, and an often indifferent membership, appear to this observer to be sleepy, toothless watchdogs. They seem unwilling to fulfill the organization’s primary objectives, as stated in its charter and by-laws, especially: the “Promotion and preservation of the residential character of the Stockade Historic District”; the “Representation before any City or County governmental agency or component on matters affecting the neighborhood”, and enhancing the safety and beauty of the neighborhood. The most glaring examples are, first, the failure to put the issue of the Schenectady Casino (a mere half mile from the district’s western boundary) on its agenda, in order to allow full discussion, promote needed research, and gauge the support or opposition of residents and property owners. And, second, the current refusal, despite new leadership, to ascertain — and, more importantly, to simply ask the Planning Commission to find out through a competent Visual Impact Assessment — how the giant Rivers Casino pylon sign and LCD screens will affect our skyline, nightscape, and traffic safety.

(update) We need to add: (3) The failure of the Association to strongly protest the suggestion by the City Engineer early in 2016, that the office would continue to favor the “Ferry Street” process of repairing sidewalks and repaving streets, is similarly inexcusable. See information and commentary on our Save Our Trees portal.

  • No matter how successful and enjoyable events such as the Stockade Outdoor Art Show, annual Walkabout, or Valentine flamingo visitation, may be, thanks to the hard work of Association members and other residents; and no matter how neighborly individuals are toward each other, the Stockade Association cannot be taken seriously if it does not live up to the tagline on its website masthead: “Committed to protecting, preserving and improving New York’s first historic district.”

The lessons to be learned from the 1690 Schenectady Massacre and its Snowmen at the Gates are rather obvious, but well worth remembering, whether taken literally or metaphorically:

  • take warnings of danger seriously (including doing necessary fact-finding), even when you may not be friendly with the source of the warnings, or you hope your adversaries will only arrive when the weather is good
  • don’t leave your gate open to spite your unpopular boss or because digging it out is too difficult in a blizzard
  • when given or taking responsibility to protect the community, serve faithfully and diligently (and find able substitutes before heading to a tavern for a beer)
  • when choosing sentinels to stand guard or to police the community, make sure they have the heart, brains, and stamina needed to fulfill their duties. No Snowmen Need Apply.

snowmencameoBW-002 Have the people of Schenectady, its government, elected officials, civil servants, and community leaders and groups, etc., learned the lessons of the 1690 Massacre and put them to practice consistently? Far too often, it seems, the answer is no. That conclusion applies in spades when it comes to what is surely the most important continuing governmental role this Century: preparing for the selection, construction, and operation of a casino in Schenectady. (See the list of postings in the Home Page sidebar.) We need observant, curious, active, and diligent watchdogs — with a pulse, and both a bark and a bite.

One more thing about snowmen: beside serving no useful offensive or defensive regulatory or watchdog role, they are very averse to heat, hoping to avoid it and its damaging effects whenever possible.

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  • feb8infamy4x6we We belatedly realized that February 8, the day the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is slated to open, is the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre of 1690. See our posting “our infamous February 8th

McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission

 snowmencameoBW-002 Yesterday [in another February 8th disaster for our City], Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy made public his decision not to re-appoint to the Planning Commission its newly-chosen chair, Matthew Cuevas, ending Cuevas’ service after more than two decades. Clearly, the Mayor is not interested in keeping a Planning Commissioner, especially one with the powers of the Chair, who is actively interested in enforcing the zoning laws, fulfilling their promise to protect the interests of all residents of Schenectady, and not merely those of the Mayor’s favorite few applicants and their proposals. Gary McCarthy wants Commissioners who are mere snowmen, looking like sentinels but offering the community no real protection — and, like wise snowmen, avoiding the damaging effects of heat whenever possible.

cropped-snowmenheader.jpg . . . snowman14dec09demise

. . above: Snowman Sentinel before [L] and after Heat applied .

Here is the Comment I just left at today’s Gazette article, “Schenectady Planning Commission chairman bumped from panel” (February 9, 2016), by Haley Viccaro), giving my explanation for the dumping of Cuevas, and opposing making Bradley Lewis the next Commission Chair:

CityHallRubberStamp Why fire Matt Cuevas? Emperor McCarthy could not stand to have a Planning Commission chair who would occasionally ask questions at public sessions about the done deals sent to the Commission by his Zoning and Development staff and Metroplex. For example, Matt Cuevas noted during the Meeting on the amended waterfront district zoning that taking away the right of public access to the riverfront at Mohawk Harbor was inconsistent with the Commission’s Comprehensive Plan and 2008 Waterfront zoning goals.

Cuevas was also the only Commissioner to say that 20,000 square feet of casino signage seemed like too much, and that he was more comfortable with 15,000 sq. ft. That statement caused Corporation Counsel Falotico to stand up and reprimand Cuevas, with a lie about applicable zoning law, shutting down all conversation about limiting the signage. See http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTown

No matter what his qualifications might be, it is a conflict of interest for Brad Lewis to serve as both vice chair of Metroplex, which sends many of the most important proposals made to the Commission, and as a Commissioner. Lewis has never voted against a Metroplex-backed application. Instead, “Commissioner Quip” Lewis mocks any request from the public for additional information prior to voting and rejects out of hand suggestions that a proposal might have negative effects that need to be mitigated. For example, he once barked at me at a public hearing that “we should be so lucky as to have traffic or parking problems in Downtown Schenectady.” [The impact of a proposal on traffic and pedestrian flow and safety is, in fact, the first criterion listed in the section of our zoning law for review of Site Plans by the Commission.]

Schenectady needs a Planning Commission chair who takes seriously the role of protecting the interests of the people of this City and preventing unnecessary negative impact on our neighborhoods. We need a Chair who will ask the staff for full explanations of the pros and cons of proposals, and require that all information needed to make a responsible decision is obtained before decisions are made by the Commission.

snowmencameoBW-003  update (March 16, 2016): Our sheep-herding Mayor continues his deterrent-minded culling of the flock on his volunteer regulatory boards. Of course, he is not culling out the weak, he is removing the independent members who refuse to act like sheep. See Faces changing on Schenectady planning board (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 15, 2016; subscription req’d). The Mayor has failed to renew the appointment of Planning Commissioner Thomas Carey, who was the only member to vote No last year on the Site Plan review of the Casino compound plans. Mitchell Miller, a Key Bank executive, is replacing Carey. Former-Commissioner Carey, a certified planner, told the Times Union:

“It seems to be a systematic effort to get rid of any independent thinkers on these boards. I’ve been an outspoken critic of the design review for the casino and other downtown projects.”

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

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

The TU article notes that “McCarthy shrugged off the criticism and denied he ever tried to exert an influence on any of the volunteer commissioners who serve at his pleasure.” Parsing his words, and forgetting about setting Sheep Dog Falotico on board members, the Mayor said, “I have not called people or told them how to vote or asked them how they voted.”

p.s. McCarthy has named Albany lawyer Randall S. Beach to replace Matt Cuevas. Mr. Beach gives the following as his “representative accomplishments”:

  • Assists various developers in obtaining financing, local permits and SEQRA approval for large commercial, housing and retail developments.
  • Negotiation and drafting of complex commercial leasing, acquisition and conveyance agreements in connection with commercial office, retail, hotel and industrial properties.

By The Way: Beach’s law firm now rubs elbows every day with Metroplex staff at Center City, as one of the five initial members of the newly announced innovation Incubator.

update (February 11, 2016): The Gazette editorialized yesterday with a thoughtful piece, “Schenectady Planning Commission chairman’s removal is questionable” (February 10, 2016). It speculates on why the Mayor would fail to reappoint Matthew Cuevas. With a bit of skepticism about the “needing new blood” explanation, the piece notes “Maybe it’s because Cuevas has a reputation for not just rubber-stamping proposals, but instead publicly raising questions about plans that might otherwise have gone through unchallenged.”

Hull: Gazette no longer an objective critic

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

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

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

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

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

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

In our post on Rigging the News, we stated:

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

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

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casino site plan approved (including the pylon)

CasinoPylon3rd

bait ‘n’ switch?

 follow-up – no full images for public review (Friday evening, July 24, 2015): It was disappointing to be told at City Hall this afternoon that there were no additional renderings or sketches available to let the curious public see the final design of the Schenectady Casino. The unveiling of the 3rd Design on July 9th by Rush Street Gaming merely gave us a peek, with a detail from the front and one from the rear, of the make-over they performed on the unpopular 2nd Design.

Although their Power Point presentation for the Special Site Plan Review Meeting of the Planning Commission on July 22nd offered a more complete set of sketches (not detailed renderings) of the nearly 300-feet long casino facility, those images were apparently not made into hardcopy form for submission to the Commission or for public viewing.  Rush Street has not posted any additional images at its Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor website, as of 10 PM this evening. (It does still have a video clip with the original casino design from last year on the home page).

Casino#3Pylon
[R] photograph of pylon image presented to Commission meeting on July 22 in Power Point display, showing the white branding section as contrasting greatly with the darker body of the pylon.

Nonetheless, one accomplishment of my visit was being able to snap a clearer photo [see and click on image to the left at the top of this follow-up section] of the sketch of the pylon design that was presented to the Commission for the Special Meeting, and which was approved as to height, width and location (with possible changes in color and materials to be considered). Looking closely at the new version, I realized that it is actually worse than the prior version in several ways relevant to the complaints of many thoughtful folk: It is boxier (no narrow light-box “lantern” at the top), brighter (a pure white background on the Rivers branding section of the pylon, instead of black), taller in the sky by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (its main “branding” sign having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

– Regarding the lack of openness in the Commission process, see the Gazette Editorial: “Schenectady Commission still operates in shadows over casino” (July 27, 2015)

Below is a collage illustrating the sneaky new problems with the latest version of the Casino pylon. (Please click on the collage image for a larger version.)

SneakyPylonChangesW

. . . Commissioner Wallinger had pressed the Rush Street consultant over the white background of the branding sign at the Special Meeting, saying that the bright white was too much of a contrast with the remainder of the pylon, making it look like a separate sign sitting on top. That is one of the items that were noted for possible changes in the otherwise approved pylon. The consultant, Mike Levin, was surprisingly reluctant to discuss making the background dark, saying they want the “lantern effect.” It is more likely that they like the distance-viewing effect even more of the bright sign on top. There is little reason to be optimistic about the results of any additional tweaking, as we are told by Corporation Counsel Falotico that Commission members will merely receive a courtesy copy of the Rush Street changes to the pylon, rather than having a subcommittee session that might be viewed by the public. ” See “Public won’t review casino sign changes” (Schenectady Gazette, by Haley Vicarro, July 24, 2015).

– original posting –

PylonCommentsCover

rejected Comments

 The Schenectady Planning Commission, with only one dissenting vote (by Commissioner Tom Carey), approved the site plan for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. That includes saying yes to the fuller view of the 3rd Design presented by Rush Street’s architect, as well as the size, location and shape of the proposed pylon. Paul Nelson at the Times Union described the meeting in some detail:

“The city Planning Commission gave final site plan approval to the gaming operator of the $330 million Rivers Casino despite complaints from some residents and disagreement among some on the panel about certain features of the 80-feet tall pylon, or gateway, sign. . . . 

“The lone dissenting vote Wednesday came from Tom Carey, who lamented the sign’s size, the amount of parking and his feeling the developer could have been made the gambling hall more energy-efficient.

“The sign’s height, which complies with city code, and the brightness of signs on nearby residential neighborhoods area emerged as key issues.

“Mike Levin, design team consultant for Rush Street, said the gaming operation is orienting to traffic because the casino will be 750 feet from an Erie Boulevard roundabout being built.. . .

“Stockade resident David Giacalone said pylon sign will do nothing more than ‘dominating our skyline’.”

(Click to see the Gazette’s coverage of the “green light” given the casino.)

3rdCasinoRear . . . [L] 3rd version detail of riverside view of casino and hotel I hope the Commission was given more detailed renditions of the 3rd design than we saw at the Commission meeting. The presented drawings were not up to the usual standard for Site Plan submissions, but I heard no complaints from the Commissioners.

SitePlanReview22Jul2015 . . . Levin and Primiano

– above: [L] Commissioners listening to Rush Street design consultant Mike Levin; [R] Levin (standing) and Principal Schenectady Planner Primiano –  

Wallinger-pylon

Com’r Wallinger

A couple of rather minor design “tweaks” could be in store for the pylon, but none of the issues raised in the Comments that I submitted today to the Commission made a difference. (If curious, click here or on the image at the top of this posting for the 9-page Comments in pdf. form, with text and images on issues such as safety, aesthetics, phony excuses for the height and location, questions never asked and documents never requested, legal duties in a Site Plan Review, and more. Also see my June 17th submission to the Planning Commission, which stresses the inappropriate height and width and the serious traffic hazard from the huge digital display.

  • Chair Sharran Coppola declared that she liked the design of the pylon and its materials.
  • Commissioner Wallinger said she was pleased that the pylon did not look like a Las Vegas sign, but thought having the top “branding” portion of the structure such a bright white made it look like a separate sign sitting on the top of the pylon.
  • Thomas Carey, the lone dissenting vote on the Commission, declared that 80′ is too high, and bemoaned the fact that restrictions placed on every other business in the City against large signs lit internally did not apply to casino signage.
  • Commissioner Bradley Lewis, who is also the Vice Chair of Metroplex and was defended by the Chair from a charge of conflict of interest, praised the large size of the pylon and the ability to use the display screen for any message you might have, or for a “fancy logo” if that is what you want. Lewis made a joke of the idea that Union College students would be affected by the light from the pylon, saying “Union will survive.”
    • Bradley also went out of his way to deride the notion in my Comments that the classic Sands marquee pylon was at all relevant, saying that it was on the Vegas strip and therefore along the street. He appeared to miss my point that the Sands sign, which was the tallest at the time on the Strip, was only 56′ high, despite being used to compete for attention with so many other casino signs. I’ve yet to see a Metroplex project Mr. Lewis did not enthusiastically, and often with barbed tongue, support before the Commission.
  • Galesi Group COO David Buicko, who has often been the spokesman for the Casino Applicants, attended the Meeting but said only a few words.  When I was making my presentation to the Commission, focused on the failure to show the need for an 80′ sign, Buicko did animatedly shake his head “no” at me a couple of times, especially when I asked whether there would be streetside directional signage pointing toward the Casino throughout the City, eliminating the need for a colossal sign supposedly meant as a safety precaution to make sure drivers know in time that they need to get on the Erie Blvd. roundabout at Nott Street.
  • Commissioner Julia Stone told Rush Street’s Mike Levin the pylon was “the ugliest thing” she’d ever seen. She did later vote in favor of site plan approval, perhaps forgetting the power the Commission has over design in review of site plans.
  • East Front Street Association president Carmella Ruscitto told the Commissioners she just couldn’t understand why some people could be against the casino or its design, especially after the Galesi and Rush Street folk have worked so hard. It was a surprise that Carmella never brought up the subject of East Front Street opposition to the pylon. According to the Gazette, her younger sister Mary Ann pointedly told the Planning Commission last month, “We don’t want the giant big sign at the entrance to our neighborhood.” That topic must have made for some interesting sisterly conversation over the breakfast table.
  • Camille Sosnowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, told the Commissioners of her concern over light pollution and glare from the pylon and reminded them we do not yet know how much higher the Mohawk Harbor site will be raised above the flood level.
Casino#3Pylon

3rd pylon design

I believe the public will be quite underwhelmed when they see the rest of the 3rd design. Until better renditions are available, I am reluctantly posting the following blurry images that were snapped of the slide presentation from the back of the room with a pocket camera, as “better than nothing” CasinoDesigns2&3 above: front of the casino in the 2nd design [Top] and 3rd design

below: drawing of rear of casino in 3rd design

Casino#3Rear

One point future Site Plan applicants might want to keep in mind is that Sharran Coppola, Chair of the Commission, and Principal Planner Christine Primiano, apparently convinced their colleagues that a Site Plan Review consists of nothing more than determining whether the proposal is consistent with the Zoning Code. Past applicants nitpicked into making many changes in design may not be amused.  Ms. Primiano insisted that the permit should not be held up due to the differences over pylon design, since it was not a question of code violation. My legal interpretation of the law is quite different, as reflected in my Comments. Here’s a quote I used in the posting “the Commission should require a better pylon”, taken from the “Beginner’s Guide to Land use Law,” by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law:

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.”

  • By the way, Chair Coppola started the meeting by giving her defense of the “subcommittee meetings” the Commission members had with the Applicant Casino developer. She insisted it is a frequent practice and only to gather facts. She insisted more than once “there are no deals”. Later, Ms. Coppola remarked that she wondered what the Gazette editorial page would have to say about this evening’s results.
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  • See our Pylon Directory to find links to postings detailing the safety, design, and process issues raised by the Colossal Casino Pylon and its approval process.

City Hall is giving bad legal advice to get council votes

     – below is a letter sent by email on Jan. 24, 2015 to the City Council of  Schenectady. Update: it is more relevant than ever given the outcome of the City Council committee meeting on Tuesday, February 3, 2015.  See Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor
(Schenectady Gazette, by Haley Vicarro, Feb. 2, 2015)

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Dear City Council President and Members,

The Mayor [Gary McCarthy] has apparently been reassuring City Council members that you can accept items such as the height and signage limits in the proposed C-3 waterfront district amendments, without looking closely into each issue, because any problems can be fixed by the Planning Commission in Site Plan and Special Use Permit review proceedings.  As a retired lawyer who has done a significant amount of legal research and writing on zoning issues over the past few years, my good faith legal opinion is that His Honor is simply wrong.

red check Once legislated in a new version of C-3 standards, the signage, height and setback numbers will be virtually untouchable by the Planning Commission (unless, perhaps, it does a new environmental impact statement under SEQRA that justifies the changes as necessary “mitigation” of environmental harm).

The developer and Casino owner have no reason to contradict the Mayor’s position, as they would be very pleased if you believe him and think you can just punt the hard decisions over to the Planning Commission.

Planning Commission Chair Sharron Copolla voiced the same excuse for going along with the proposals referred to it by the Council at the January 14 special public meeting of the Commission. She said they could accept 110′ building heights because the Commission could reduce that limit during Site Planning.  I returned to the table to correct her on that point of law during the public comment portion of the meeting, saying that in general our State’s judges won’t let a board or commission reject plans that are within the standards and requirements of an adopted zoning ordinance, and surely not without a very good justification. Ms. Copolla responded, “we know that,” but went on to make the same assertion again later in the Meeting, saying Commissioners had the power to reduce the maximum numbers during Site Plan review. Commissioner Wallinger immediately told Ms. Copolla, “No we don’t.”

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the House is already winning: giving away the shore

CasinoHotel9floors  – a hotel 110′ tall; Trump’s along the Mohawk? 

–  click this link for Comments to the Planning Commission on the Waterfront C-3 Amendments by David Giacalone (editor of this website), on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

red check update: The pleas of over half a dozen Schenectady residents that the Planning Commission not recommend such provisions as 110′ buildings, 40′ setbacks, giant pylons, and 20,000 sq. ft. of signage, and take more time to research materials and have staff and the developer submit more specific plans, below making its recommendations.  Such comments made no difference at all in the final results.

    Is there anything Schenectady’s Mayor and City Council won’t do for their Casino Cronies? The gifts to the future Casino Owners in the proposed amendments to the City’s waterfront zoning regulations could scarcely fit on a river barge, much less under a Christmas Tree.  In changing the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use ordinance, City Hall proposes to give the Rivers Casino group significantly more leeway in designing their facilities than the Applicant ever asked for, or said was needed, in its public statements.  As a result, the Mohawk Harbor Riverfront and Erie Boulevard “front yard” could be more crowded, gaudy and tacky than the proponents of this “modest” project have ever given us to believe.  In reviewing the proposed changes, you might want to ask yourself just when the Mayor, Council President, and Metroplex Chairman knew of these changes.

Thanks to the Daily Gazette, we have online access to the proposed amendments to the City’s C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District; click for the Proposed “C-3/Casino” Amendments. Neither the City Council agenda for Monday January 12, 2015, nor the Planning Commission’s agenda for its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 14, included the proposed casino zoning amendments, despite the topic being on the agenda of each body.  Click the following link for the Current C-3 Zoning Ordinance, which was last amended in 2009.

More Crowded and Tacky?

Bigger Hotel – Closer to the Shore: One proposed amendment to the Casino District Zoning rules would allow its hotel to be 110′ tall.  Yes, the Applicant did mention an 110′ height limit in its environmental impact statement, but it never warned us that the omni-present rendering of its casino hotel (the one with all the cherry blossoms) was not representative of its actual goal.  The rendering shows a casino hotel of about 5 floors, which might be 65′ high.   A hotel 110′ high would probably have about 9 floors above the ground.  For your comparison, here is the Applicant’s widely-used hotel rendering on the Left, with my best estimate on the Right of how high a 110′ version might be:

Comparison

– visual bait and switch? –

.

Parker-Proctor  How tall is 110 feet?  Proctor’s nextdoor neighbor, the Parker Inn was historically Schenectady’s tallest building. (see photo to the right of this paragraph) The Parker Inn is 98.56 ft. with 8 floors.  The former St. Clare’s Hospital, now called Ellis Hospital McClellan Campus, is a mere 69 ft. tall, with  5 floors above ground. Even the Wedgeway Building at State and Erie is only 72 feet, with 6 floors.   (Those three “tall” Schenectady buildings average about 12’5″ per floor.)  Imagine a building many times larger in bulk and 11 feet higher than the Parker Inn, with far less grace, enhancing our scarce Schenectady River frontage.

The Hampton Inn, at State and Clinton Streets, is right down the block from the Parker Inn. The Hampton Inn is 4 floors and appears to be a bit more than half the height of the Parker Inn; it has 93 rooms, which is half the 185-room figure the Casino has given in its impact statements. If you stacked another Hampton Inn on top of the current one, you would probably come fairly close to 110′. The following collage compares the Hampton-Parker end of the State Street block, with both the actual Hampton Inn and a bulked-up-casino-style version:

Hampton-ParkerCompareCollage

Important economic question: If Rivers Casino wants a hotel this big, how much will its promotions to fill the Casino Hotel cannibalize other quality hotels in Schenectady?  The sly Applicant never stated how many floors it hotels was likely to be, while indicating consistently that the separate, Galesi marina hotel would be 5-6 floors, and that the casino hotel would have 50% more rooms: 185  “+/-“, compared to 124 rooms.

One more height comparison: The Schenectady Casino Applicants’ environmental impact Statement compares its proposed 110′ hotel with the 103-foot Golub/Price Chopper Building, stating that it is less than a quarter-mile from the casino location.  Of course, the Price Chopper headquarters is situated alongside the rather unlovely Maxon Rd. and Nott Street, not our scarce waterfront. [Note: it is not clear that the building is in fact 103′ tall; it appears to be shorter than that. update: Dave Buicko, Galesi Group CEO, continued to state at the Jan. 14, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, that the Golub building, which is owned by Galesi, is 103′ tall. On Jan. 15, 2015, I received a response from a Price Chopper staffer to a question I asked on Jan. 13; she phoned to say that the Golub Corp. Headquarters is 86′ high.]

Here is a photo of the building at dusk on January 12, 2015, to help you decide whether a building that tall should be located along the riverfront (as opposed to further back on the large parcel) at Mohawk Harbor:

Golub1

the “103-foot tall” Golub Corporate Headaquarters – actually 86′ tall

  • By the way, directly across the street from the Price Chopper headquarters is the largest Union College residency hall, which was once a hotel.  It is merely 7 floors, but not exactly river-bank svelte:
CollegeParkResHall

Union College Residence Hall, 450 Nott St.

A Setback Setback.  Another City Hall concession would make the Casino Hotel loom even more ominously along the shore:  The Casino Applicant said all waterfront setbacks would be at least 50 feet; nonetheless, the amendments reduce the setback along the River to an even slimmer 40 feet.  Forty feet is awfully close to the river bank. [approximately the length of two Ford Expedition SUVs bumper to bumper]  Here are two 40-foot examples from Riverside Park:

casino40feet1  . . . casino40feet2

– click on a picture for a much larger version –

Note: The bike-hike trail could be 18 feet from the hotel.

Even Gaudier than Expected?

A Signage Tsunami.  No one can call the Galesi Group or Rush Street Gambling shy about asking for special rules.  The Amendments to C-3 state specifically that signage rules applicable to all other zoning districts [Article IX-Signs, §264-61(k)] do not apply at the C-3 casino compound.  So, the Casino Guys modestly said they would use no more than aggregate of 15,000 square feet of advertising.  [click for their statement on signage] That is 100 times more (not a mere 100% more) than permitted under Article IX.  Nonetheless, the Mayor et al. never said, “Now you guys are pushing it a bit.”  They said, “How about one-third more, 20,000 sq. ft.”

Freestanding at 80 feet.  The maximum height of a free-standign sign in any other zoning district is 10 feet.  The amendments do not state a maximum, only that Art. IX does not apply [update: the final version released for the Public Hearing before City Council calls for a 90′ limit on pylon signs.].  The Casino has told us it wants a free-standing pylon sign at the intersection of Front Street and the access point to the casino from the anticipated roundabout (near Front and Nott Sts.), to allow persons to easily locate the facility from Erie Boulevard.  But, don’t worry, “The height of the sign will not exceed 80 feet.” (Recall that the Wedgeway Building down at Erie Blvd. and State St. is only 72 feet high; also, GE’s giant, famous lighted logo has a diameter of only 36 feet; so stack one on top of another and you’re still 8 feet lower than the Casino Pylon’s apex.)

Pylon signage in the 80-foot-range is traditionally used by a business near a highway in order to give drivers traveling at 70 mph information about the service offered in time to allow them to safely get off at the next exit.  The sign industry calls such structures “freeway pylons.” For reasons too numerous to list, there is no analogous need in the situation of the Schenectady Casino.  By merely suggesting the possibility of an 80-foot pylon, Rush Street and Galesi Group demonstrate a brutish lack of sensitivity to aesthetics, safety, neighborhood traditions, and the image and reputation of the City of Schenectady — not to  mention the truth.

Wedgeway72

– the 72-foot-high Wedgeway Building, Erie at State –

A few months ago, the Applicant based its claim of having no negative impact on cultural resources and sensitivities (and fuddy-duddies worried about their viewscape) on the fact that you could not see their facility from the Stockade. They even said the RR underpass trestle on Front St. would block our view.  Back then, we did not agree, and a casino facility with a much taller hotel and a monster pylon, is most probably even easier to see.

Also, those who have long sought attractive entryways into the Stockade might not be pleased with that pylon, even if it had a Stockade sign with directional arrow.

Corner-Store-Pylon-Cometsigns  [sample pylon] Changing Electronic Messages. It is the giant pylon that will have, in addition to lettering and a logo for Rivers Casino, “electronic message boards.”  The safety-minded Casino assured us in its impact statement that “Messaging upon the electronic message boards will not change more frequently than 6 times a minute so as not to be distracting.”  Once again, rather than point out in amazement that current law only allows messages to change once per minute, and not even Proctor’s new marquee exceeds that pace, City Hall apparently said, “Heck, why wait 10 seconds to change a message, we’ll let you do it every 8 seconds,” which is 7.5 times a minute.

CrosstownPlazaSign

update: “grandfathered -in” pylon at Crosstown Plaza [shown above] is 50′ high; the Planning Commission voted to recommend a maximum of 90 feet on Jan. 14, 2015, but limited the portion of the pylon that could be signage to 70%  –

Good highway safety practice does not allow giant pylons with changing messages at places where drivers need to be paying close attention and have other distractions.  Our search online has produced no images of Rush Street having such giant pylons at its other, successful casinos — not even in Pittsburgh, where it might be a bit more difficult to find a low-rise casino than in Schenectady.  It will be interesting to see if City Hall changes its practice of Never Explaining, to justify such a drastic change in policy for electronic signs (other than, “it makes the Casino Cash-Cow content”). [followup: See the NYS DOT’s “Criteria for Regulating CEVM signs“, which set a  minimum interval of 8 seconds for changing electronic signs, but allows municipalities to be more stringent and suggests circumstances that might call for longer intervals.]

More Crowded?

In addition to having narrower setbacks along the River, which will surely increase the sense of being less spacious, the proposed amendments have a stealth provision that will increase the allowable footprint, and thus the width and length of buildings in the casino compound.  The Casino appeared to be content with the allowable footprint for buildings; however, the amendments in effect increase the footprint size permitted by counting the embayment area in calculating the size of the project lot.  Building footprints may not exceed 50% of the project site, but “the project site is defined to include any embayment.”

Hairy Arm Proposals?

Finally, it is difficult not to be suspicious of the statements and tactics of the Casino Collaborators after seeing them in action since the Spring.  The generous give-aways to the Casino owners and developer are perhaps part of a version of a  “hairy arm” ruse:  That is, City Hall is making outlandish proposals, so that it or the Planning Commission can look magnanimous and reasonable when they pull back a bit on an outrageous proposal or two. That may make it harder for dissenters to vote no, allowing the members to pass pared-down but still extreme concessions to their Casino Cronies.

We have not had a chance to study the proposals in depth, to see how other municipalities and planners have dealt with problems presented, and to uncover — much less examine — the reasoning behind each major proposal in the C-3 zoning ordinance.  Now that they have their casino victory, it is time for our local leaders to start asking tough questions and doing their homework before passing major zoning changes.

RIGGING THE NEWS: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino

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

  Whether we “win” or “loose”, we believe it is important for the people of Schenectady to know how poorly the Gazette has performed the role of presenting the relevant casino news and helping the public (and our leaders) understand the issues and the likely impact of a casino on Schenectady and nearby communities. They are proud of being “locally owned” and “independent”, but we’re afraid that can translate into parochial, unaccountable coverage, far too susceptible to pressures from local government and business interests (including important current or potential advertisers), and from the social, personal, demands on members of a small community of local leaders.

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

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

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

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

Here are some examples:

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

 According to the ministers’ press release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In addition:

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

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

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

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

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

In addition, the Gazette newsroom:

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

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

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

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

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

no matter the outcome

No matter the results on December 17th at the Location Board meeting, we are proud to have made this campaign to help protect the heart, soul and future of our community.  We believe Schenectady is strong, creative and capable enough to continue our revitalization, without the problems created by reliance on a casino for jobs and revenues.

update: Click here to see our reaction to the selection of Schenectady’s Casino.

StopSchenectadyCasino2015Calendar For a memento of the Stop the Schenectady Casino campaign, we’ve put together a one-page 2015 Stop the Schenectady Casino calendar.  It is formatted to be printed as an 8″ x 10″ photo. You can click on the above image or find the jpg. file at http://tinyurl.com/StopSchdyCasino2015 .

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ALCOtunnel6 If you are coming here after hearing or reading the WAMC story about the ALCO Tunnel Coverup, please click this link to find out why we call it a coverup, and how theGazette buried the issue in the one article where it did mention the tunnels: See “the Gazette continues the ALCO tunnel coverup” (Dec. 13, 2014). (The photo above was taken August 8, 2014 by DEC engineer John Strang.)

the Gazette continues the ALCO TUNNEL COVERUP

controversial

photo of ALCO tunnel taken by DEC engineer 08Aug2014

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

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

The Rotterdam-based Galesi Group is the owner of the Mohawk Harbor site and the developer of a planned marina and mixed-use complex there, and hopes to include a casino on the 60-acre site.  As the owner-developer, Galesi is responsible for submitting an environmental impact statement [“EIS”] to the Metroplex Authority, which is the lead agency for purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.  As such, in attempting to obtain approval of a final EIS, Galesi has an ongoing responsibility to report any new facts that raise a significant question of potential harm to relevant aspects of the environment, including elements of historical or archeological importance. Galesi CEO David Buicko has taken the lead as spokesman for the proposed Mohawk Harbor projects before local government bodies as well as the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board, and is well known in the business, development, political and educational sectors of Schenectady County and the region. Rush Street Gaming, which is headquartered in Chicago, is the primary Applicant for a casino license and would operate the Schenectady casino, called Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, if granted a license by the Gaming Commission.

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

To the Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____

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

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Bravo and Best Wishes to Howe Caverns Casino!

 The folks from Howe Caverns Casino and Resort did a great job before the Location Board and the media yesterday at the Capital Region public comment event. Chris Churchill at the Times Union said “if you had to pick a winner based solely on Monday’s hearing, you’d go with Howe Caverns.”

The TU’s Jim Odato reported that:

[Location Board Chair Kevin Law] told the crowd during a day of 145 speakers and 11 hours of testimony that “we have no doubt that Schoharie County wants a casino,” drawing hurrahs from the crowd of Howes Cave backers.

media attention for the Howe CAverns casino at the Location Board event - 09/22/2014

the yellow shirts got a lot of attention

Haley Viccaro at the Schenectady Gazette even wrote a separate article during the hearing yesterday that had the headline “Proposed Howe Caverns casino has most local support.”

Many of us at Stop the Schenectady Casino don’t think New York State should be in the business of using casinos as engines of economic growth and revenue generation.  But, if there’s going to be a casino license granted in the Capital Region, it is clear to us that Howe Caverns is the best choice:

  • the people as a whole [no hole pun intended] sincerely and fervently seem to want this casino, unlike places where there is — at the very least — a  large portion of the population strongly against one
  • the bang for the development buck is very much likely to be biggest in Schoharie County
  • its location should mitigate against many of the social problems we believe are especially dangerous when you place a casino at an urban location
  • we can actually imagine it as a “destination casino”

yinyang Yes, we think our  STATEMENT in OPPOSITION to the Schenectady Casino does a good job of explaining why Schenectady should not be chosen.  But, we also believe that the good people of Howe Caverns and Schoharie County have done Schenectady a very good deed by making such a strong case that they be selected.  So, Bravo!, Best Wishes and Big Thanks to the Howe Caverns Casino and Resort.  We like your odds.

Teachout sees donations behind Cuomo’s casino stance

MoneyBag neg In a guest column at The Huffington Post today, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Zephyr Teachout describes “The Corruption Beneath Cuomo’s Casino Push” (The Blog, February 2, 2014.) After listing some of the damage caused and promises broken by casinos, Zephyr asks “So why did New York pass the amendment anyway?” and explains:

Because Governor Cuomo tilted the vote in favor of the gambling industry. His aides helped rewrite language on the ballot to portray the amendment as a huge boon to the state, suggesting it could only lead to benefits, such as job creation, greater school financing, and lower taxes. Newspaper editorial boards and public interest groups across the state cried foul, noting their actions would massively mislead voters — but the Cuomo administration kept the pro-casino wording on the ballot anyway.

 NoloSharkS There’s good reason to think Governor Cuomo had his own interests in mind. Since 2005, he has directly collected over $1 million from gambling and horse racing companies – more than any other elected official or candidate in the state.

As Governor, Ms. Teachout says she will break the tie between political donations and politics, between casino donations and public policy.

the unseemly silence from Union College

red check For our summary of the Proximity to Union College issue, as presented in our Statement to the Location Board on September 22, 2014, see “Union College and the Schenectady Casino.”

TooTempting-headline31Aug2014 It’s been almost three months since the Schenectady Daily Gazette ran Carol Hyde’s Letter to the Editor “Union, SCCC will be affected by casino” and we posted “what will the casino mean for Union College students?” (June 7, 2014).  As you might have seen in the Opinion piece published in today’s Sunday Gazette, “Too tempting?: Casino could create young gamblers, but college remains silent“, there still has been no comment on the casino from the Union College President or Administration.  (Sunday Gazette, by David Giacalone, August 31, 2014, D1, subscription req’d )

Naturally, we will post any response from the Union College administration or community at this website.

a few things the Gazette forgot to mention

GazetteFrontPage03Aug2014

very nice press, if you can get it

    Rush Street Gaming [RSG] got a lot of free public relations puffery on the front page of yesterday’s Sunday Gazette. See “Schenectady Casino Group Praised“, August 3, 2014, by Haley Viccaro; subscription required to view online) Haley’s article is filled with quotes from local development and business officials and Rush Street Gaming’s CEO Greg Carlin, without a word from their detractors, such as Casino-Free Philadelphia, or the Worchester MA citizens group  that was successful in keeping RSG out of their city, nor even from the Stop the Schenectady Casino group.  Perhaps the article is the Gazette‘s penance and mea culpa to Casino proponents for an earlier article titled “Officials in other cities warn of pitfalls, failed promises by Rush Street“? (June 8, 2014, by Bethany Bump).

Rather than let all the lily-gilding go unanswered, I left a lengthy, red-eye Comment at the Gazette website around 1 A.M. Sunday, which I am reproducing here, minus typos, plus minor supplementation and citations.

comments

dagiacalone says (August 3, 2014, 150 a.m.) …

It sounds as if the Gazette has only talked to casino boosters — Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development staffers, and the like — who sound like Schenectady’s development professionals, with not a bad word to be said about any development. What do casino opponents and advocates for the poor say?
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Here are a few things your readers should know about SugarHouse in Philadelphia.

(1) Rush Street Gaming [RSG] had scaled down its casino in Philadelphia in response to community concerns about its size, but only four years after opening, it has broken ground on an “addition” that is much larger (at 152,000 sq ft.) than the original casino’s 108,000 sq. ft., with its CEO saying “we’ve waited a long time to do this.” (see philly.com article)
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(2) RSG’s CEO Carlin brags that the folks at SugarHouse encourage their customers to stay at surrounding hotels. Of course it does: SugarHouse has no hotel of its own and must help customers find suitable lodging nearby.
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(3)  As to crime near SugarHouse, [Alan Greenberger, Philadephia’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, is quoted saying “The immediate area actually got safer now that the casino is here.” and the article states that “Rush has disputed claims the casino would negatively impact the city with an increase in crime.”]  RSG forgets to mention (as does the Gazette) that Philadelphia PD has created a 14-man unit that solely patrols a one-half mile square around the casino. [A patrol that size would cost over $1 million annually in total compensation in Schenectady.] That surely accounts for all or most of any drop in crime.  Unfortunately, however, there has been “displacement” and the area just past that half-mile radius (analogous to our Stockade neighborhood and Union College’s College Park area) has seen very large increases in vehicle theft and vehicle break-ins.

For discussion of the recent study of crime near SugarHouse since its opening in 2010, which describes the dedicated police patrol and crime displacement to close neighborhoods, see our posting “did crime go up around the SugarHouse casino?”.
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That study also says that ““Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area.” The authors of the report say the increase was not significant, but it clearly undermines any claim that the area “got safer”. [Id.]
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(4) At SugarHouse, RSG has specifically targeted young gamblers by creating a less-complicated form of craps, called “Props & Hops.” [see Sugarhouse Develops a New, Simplified Craps Game For Younger Players“, CBS6, May 2, 1014; SugarHouse Props & Hops Brochure] It has also recently added a large number of poker tables. They plan to have 12 poker tables in Schenectady, at a casino only a block from a major undergraduate Union College dorm, and a few blocks from Union’s campus of poker fanatics. Since New York is one of the few states that allows 18 year-olds to gamble, we can surely expect a lot of promotions aimed at our pre-21 crowd.
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Finally (for now), RSG claims in its Application that there will be no increase in the prevalence of problem gambling in Schenectady, because our residents can already go to Racino in Saratoga, or to Foxwoods in Connecticut, or Atlantic City. Apparently, no one on the Applicant’s team has read the many reports showing that gamblers go to casinos a lot more often when there is one conveniently nearby. In fact, studies show that the number of problem gamblers doubles in the area within ten miles of a new casino.  [See, e.g.,  The Impacts of Gambling on Local Citizens ; 2)”Why Casinos Matter: Thirty-One Evidence-Based Propositions from the Health and Social Sciences” (A Report from the Council on Casinos, Institute for American Values, 2013), especially at 18.]
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What other claims has Rush Street Gaming been making that have no basis in fact?
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Find more about Schenectady’s casino at stoptheschenectadycasino.com [now known as Snowmen at the Gates.

I know Haley Vicarro is a good investigative reporter.  Let’s hope her bosses let her do a sequel to Sunday’s puff-piece on Rush Street Gaming that doesn’t sound like it was penned by RSG’s public relations department.

follow-up (Aug. 14, 2014): How do customers of one of RSG’s urban casinos feel about their experiences? Take a look at Google Customer Reviews of SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia (see Google’s column on the right side of the page).

arts venues want more than a fair game

SlicingThePie It’s been twenty-five years since I practiced antitrust law at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C.  But, it’s still a good bet that when a bunch of major competitors get together and start throwing the word “fair” around, they are hoping to limit competitive pressure on themselves by placing restrictions on market forces that are helping to give consumers more choices and lower prices.  It seems to me that is what is happening with the Fair Game campaign that the UpState Theater Coalition for a Fair Game has turned into “joint negotiations” with casino owners.

follow-up (March 8, 2017): An article in today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette, “Rivers Casino, Proctors team up for entertainment: ‘In no way, shape or form do I feel like we’re competitors” (by Brett Samuels, A1, March 8, 2017), suggests that my fears expressed below and in a subsequent post were warranted. See “a wicked concert cartel?” (March 8, 2017).

It was one thing — and probably a useful thing — for the major arts venues across Upstate New York to lobby the legislature and the Gaming Commission last year. They were successful inserting into the casino application process the requirement that applicants take into account the needs of local arts and entertainment venues, and attempt to enter into partnerships that would help assure the casino does not take away so much business or garner so many big acts that they cause grievous injury to important local entertainment venues.  It is quite another for the Fair Game folks to morph into a joint negotiation team with a long litany of restrictions and financial obligations they hope to impose on all casino operators.  They are now using the tight deadlines of the application process as a club to strengthen their powers of “persuasion”.

trustbuster Teddy Roosevelt

trust-buster

Antitrust law frowns on the use of collective action or coercion by competitors to impose their will on others and to keep the group of competitors marching to a single beat.  That’s why I wrote yesterday to the N.Y. State Attorney General asking that the Antitrust Bureau look into the lawfulness of the activities of the Fair Game group, which includes 13 major arts venues located across Upstate New York, including the five major theaters and entertainment centers in the Capital Region (Proctor’s in Schenectady, whose CEO Philip Morris is chairing the group.; SPAC and Saratoga City Center; and the Palace and Times Union Center in Albany), plus organizations in nearby Bethel, Kingston, Binghampton and Utica.

If Schenectady is saddled with a casino and its operators have greatly limited their ability to compete with the biggest arts venues, the average resident of our City and County will lose (at least) twice: saddled both with the casino and with fewer choices and higher prices likely at Proctor’s and at the other large entertainment centers in Albany, Saratoga, the Region and beyond.  Here is the explanation that I wrote on June 27 in my Complaint to the Attorney General (slightly edited for clarity):

   Fair Game is taking advantage of the Casino Siting process, which includes criteria concerning the formation of partnerships with affected local entertainment venues.  Fair Game is using collective action among the largest theater venues in the State to pressure casino applicants — who are major potential competitors with such entertainment venues — into accepting a stringent, uniform set of restrictions and financial obligations in order to demonstrate Local Support in the Application process.  That pressure is greatly magnified by the very tight and imminent deadlines for all Applicants. 

    As seen in news articles such as the one that appeared in today’s Schenectady Gazette, Fair Game members not only seek to eliminate competition with casinos for top talent and productions, but also have agreed among themselves to a formula for dividing the revenues received from casinos. See Coalition asking for a piece of casinos’ actionby Haley Viccaro (June 27, 2014, at A6; see also “Coalition, casinos yet to sign deals”, at A1)

     This appears to go far beyond any possible State Action defense under legislation establishing the casino licensing process for restricting competition among themselves and with casinos.  The major entertainment venues are encouraged under the Act to enter into partnerships with “local casinos”, they are not given the freedom to eliminate competition among themselves, nor to prevent competition from all casinos within a large (seemingly unlimited) region.

    For example, in explaining the concept of Partnerships with Live Entertainment Venues, the Request for Applications for Gaming Facilities [RFA] seeks “copies of any and all contracts, agreements, MOUs or other understandings with live entertainment venues that may be impacted by the Gaming Facility.” (at 60). Also, in their applications, each applicant must include, in Ex. IX.B.2, copies of “agreements with impacted entertainment venues” and any declined agreements.  (RFA at 74-75)  One omnibus agreement with a coalition of venues is clearly not anticipated (nor, separate agreements which merely take collective terms and apply them in a separate contract with each venue).

    At its website, Fair Game brags about its “collective impact” in ticket receipts, jobs created, moneys invested, etc.  Major theaters such as Proctors and SPAC and the Times Union Center already have ticket prices for major acts and productions that are far out of reach of large percentages of residents of our region.   By acting jointly, they are likely to increase their ability to raise prices, not only by eliminating future competition from casinos, but also competition within the siting application process with eachother to form advantageous partnerships with local casinos.  (The ability of the East Greenbush applicant to achieve agreements separately with local venues shows that a joint bargaining team of theaters is not needed.)

    The partnerships envisioned under The Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act (Chapters 174 and 175 of the Laws of 2013), appear to favor the largest theaters, further disadvantaging the small and “mom-and-pop” venues and businesses that are likely to see the disposable income of many customers spent instead at a local casino.

    For the past couple of weeks, Philip Morris has gone public with his pressure for applicants to accept the collective terms of the Fair Game members.  Clearly, Fair Game hopes to use the looming June 30 application deadline to pressure-coerce casinos to sign onto their scheme.   I hope the Attorney General will make some sort of statement today cautioning Fair Game from attempting to wield such undue coercive power.

  Thank you for considering this last-minute appeal for action.

 Jim Odato covered my AG Complaint yesterday at the Times Union” at the Capital Confidential weblog, Anti-casino lawyer complains to AG about arts groups and antitrust(Capitol Confidential, June 27, 2014), and a related TU article.  The article ends:

“Morris said he would await word from Schneiderman before commenting, although he said he did not get legal advice before pursuing the agreements with casino teams on behalf of his coalition of entertainment entities.”

The Gazette carried an article by Haley Viccaro this morning, “Schenectady casino foe says Fair Game pact would be illegal” (June 28, 2014, C3).

NYg update: State Action: See our posting  “10 of 17 casino applicants accept Fair Game’s-terms“, reacting to “Entertainment coalition nets majority of casino bidders“, The Times Union Capitol Confidential Blog, by James M. Odato, July 1, 2014. The posting contains an analysis of the application of the State Action Doctrine to the actions of the FairGame coalition: that is, whether any action by the State or the Racing Commission has given the Coalition immunity from the charge that their collective negotiation violates the antitrust laws.

Even if Fair Game does not hammer out agreements with the casinos before submission of their complete applications on Monday, June 30, the groups may continue in July to pressure casinos who want to strengthen their demonstration of support by the local arts and entertainment venues.   An admonition or cautionary statement from the Attorney General might lessen that pressure.

Yesterday afternoon, I also sent the following email message to a Gaming Commission spokesman. It concerns a Statement made in October 2013 about Fair Game that some may suggest blesses the collective negotiations by the theater group:

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Schenectady County ignores its voters and Plain English

smallquestionmark  What is going on at the County Building? Why are the leaders and legislators so willing to become cheerleaders for the casino, and to ignore the will of their voters, which was expressed only 7 months ago, rejecting casinos in Upstate New York? And, why are they unable to see the plain English wording in the Gaming Facility Siting Board’s Request for Applications, which makes it clear that the County is not a “Host Municipality” and cannot provide the required local legislative resolution of support for the proposed casino?

First, the Election Results: In his posting “Schenectady casino vote 2013,” blogger and Stockadian Tom Hodgkins crunches the results from the November 2013 vote on the constitutional proposition permitting gaming casinos, and comes to a conclusion as to its meaning.

Here is a summary of the vote in each municipality: abacus

  • NISKAYUNA: Every single one of their 20 election districts voted against the casino. The no vote overwhelmed the pro-gamblers by 25.7%: with 61.0% No to 35.4% Yes, and an undervote on Proposal One of 3.6% (those not answering the question)
  • GLENVILLE: The people opposed to new casinos garnered 55.3% of the votes on Proposal One, while the Yes votes received 39.6% (a 15.7% margin). Even more decisively, 25 of the 27 or 92.6% election districts voted against the casino
  • DUANESBURG:  4/5ths of the election districts in Duanesburg were conclusive, and on the whole 54.4% of the people voted against the casinos, and 42.1% voted No. This was a margin of decisiveness of 13.3%, while the under vote was only 4.5% of the electorate.
  • PRINCETOWN: Both of their election districts voted against a new casino in the Capital District, and the margin of decisiveness was 14.1%, with 53.7% voting No and 39.5% voting Yes; the undervote was 6.8%.
  • ROTTERDAM: In aggregate, people who supported increased gambling won by 6.7%, but the undecided or the under vote was 7.6%. . . On the whole, the only conclusion we can draw is that the vote in Rotterdam is suggestive of moderate support for a new casino.
  • CITY of SCHENECTADY:  The City has the most muddled results of all the municipalities in the County. Only 7,723 voters or 25.8% of the electorate turned out to vote; . . .  Election district under votes ranged from 3.7% to 48.3%, and accordingly the certainty of a decisive vote in an election district could only be determined in 22/42 districts. As a City, people who supported a new casinos upstate won by 2.3%, but the under vote was 10.3%. People living around Schenectady High School and in the Stockade were conclusively against more casinos upstate, while people in Mount Pleasant and Belleview supported new casinos.

Here is Tom’s rather reasonable conclusion:

What we can say with certainty is that the majority of the people that would be most impacted by a new casino in downtown Schenectady expressed clear opposition to more gambling for their families and communities. People opposed to more gambling were 50.6% of the vote in the county, while the people supporting more gambling opportunities for their children lost by a margin of 7.9%. The under vote was 6.6%, so the countywide decision against additional casinos was conclusive. Additionally, 72 of the 120 election districts or 60% voted against more gambling for their families and communities.  The people have spoken, and the answer is no casino.

Of the 30,083 people in Schenectady County who voted on Proposal One last November, 16,316 said No: 54.2%There was a 6.6% undervote on that question (ballots on which no choice was made). When the undervote is added into the total, 50.2% of those who went to the polls said No and 42.7% said Yes.  About 7.5% more of the County’s voters said No to casinos than said Yes. 

 That’s a significant spread, but apparently not significant enough for any of the County legislators to even bring up the subject during casino discussions.

Second, how can the folks in the County Building and at Metroplex make the silly argument that they can give the Schenectady Casino the necessary local legislative support, because they are also a Host Municipality?   I know Gary Hughes and Ray Gillen can read.  Did they bother to peruse the relevant portion of the Request for Applications for Gaming Facilities [RFA], or just ignore it and engage in wishful thinking?   Had they peeked into the RFA or asked a staffer to do so, they would have discovered that the definition of Host Municipality (p. 9) is:

“each town, village or city in the territorial boundaries of which the Project Site described in an Application is located.” (emphasis added)   

And, if that wasn’t enough to quash the itch to approve a casino, the section on Initial Requirement of Local Support is even more explicit (at 7):

For purposes of this requirement, the Host Municipality of a Project Site located in a city is the city. The Host Municipality of a Project Site located in a town, outside a village is the town.  The Host Municipality of a Project Site in a village is the village and the town in which the Project Site is located.” (emphasis added)

Here, there is only one Host Municipality, the City of Schenectady.  The County Legislature cannot void a negative vote by the real Host Municipality by substituting its own vote. The municipal legislature closest to the affected people and businesses is given the task.

Maybe the County Legislature is going out of its way like this to register a meaningless vote to show their electorate just who is boss.  I hope that the specter of the County overriding a negative vote by the City Council did not weaken the resolve this weekend of undecided Council Members to stick to their principals.  With the rumor that the County Legislators are virtually unanimous on approving the casino, a No vote by the City Council could seem merely symbolic and quixotic, and certainly not worth the punishment that would surely come from the Democratic Party and the Mayor.

checkedboxs Like any other nearby government or interested organization, the County Legislature is free to voice its support of the ALCO casino.  But, it cannot override a negative vote by Schenectady’s City Council.  So, it will be interesting to see if any Legislator raises either the November 23 vote or the plain meaning of Host Municipality at their Meeting.

the problem with urban casinos

checkedboxsINTRODUCTION to This Website:  This website will soon have information, materials, and links to documents and articles, that are relevant to efforts to keep a casino from being sited at the location of the old ALCO plant, on Erie Boulevard near Freeman’s Bridge, along the Mohawk River, in Schenectady, New York.  We believe that urban casinos bring more problems than benefits.  See Reference Materials below.

As I wrote in “Don’t accept rosy predictions for downtown casino“, a Letter to the Editor in the Schenectady Daily Gazette of May 13, 2014:

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Urban casinos are risky endeavors, requiring serious analysis. The New York State Gaming Task Force Report to the governor (1996), which favored upstate casinos, said: 1) Stand-alone casinos draw far fewer people from outside the area than a resort-style casino, meaning relatively few overnight stays and a 150-mile market area impacted by nearby casinos; and 2) Most regular casino customers come from within a 25-mile radius, making the casino simply part of the local leisure marketplace (draining dollars from others offering entertainment, dining, sports, and other leisure activities of all kinds).

SharkGF The report also warned of potential crime problems at and near urban casinos, including “prostitution, panhandling, pick-pocketing and purse snatching”; economic crimes by pathological gamblers; and vehicle-related crimes like DUI and automobile break-ins. Such crime is especially worrisome for the nearby Stockade, which was granted historic district protection specifically to preserve its residential characteristics. Street crime and constant drive-through traffic will hurt quality of life in the Stockade, where 55.6 percent of voters said “no” last November to any upstate casinos.

update: What About SugarHouse in Philadelphia? A study that came out in July 2014 purported to show that there was no significant increase in crime in the neighborhood of the SugarHouse Casino since its opening in 2010.  We think that claim is misleading. See our response in  .

The Applicant for a license to operate the casino in Schenectady is a team consisting of a local  construction and development company, the Galesi Group, and an experienced casino developer and manager from Chicago, Rush Street Gaming, which is critiqued negatively here, by a Worcester Citizens Group.

StopCasinoPet  Petition: Go to our posting “Petition to Stop the Schenectady Casino” to see the text of our Petition, for a link to a printable version of the Petition, and for instructions on returning Petitions to us this week. Please excuse our haste, but we want to present the Petitions to the Schenectady City Council as soon as possible, as they must vote on a proposed resolution to approve the casino no later than June 30, 2014.

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– feel free to download and use our NO ALCO CASINO logos (photos by David Giacalone) –

REFERENCE MATERIALS  (more to come)

  •  No Downtown Casino: an informative website created by citizens fighting (successfully) to stop a casino from being built in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The group was not against all casinos, but felt there were locations far preferable than their Downtown . A Position Statement explains their opposition to a downtown casino.  Here are a few important paragraphs:

 

Our focus.

NO! Downtown Hamilton Casino is a group of Hamiltonians that, as a result of doing an extensive review of the available research, is opposed to building a casino in our downtown.The research shows clearly that the closer you are to a casino, and the easier it is to get to, the greater the social costs to all citizens and the greater the negative financial impact on nearby businesses and property values.

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Higher social costs for citizens – the bad numbers go up.

Studies show that proximity to a casino doubles the levels of problem gambling, which in turn results in increased spousal abuse, depression, child developmental issues, personal debt, addiction and cross-dependency, personal bankruptcies, attempted suicides, suicides, social service costs. We know that problem gambling has a profound impact on a gambler’s friends and families, which substantially increases the number of people affected by problem gambling. Individuals living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, some of whom would be within walking distance of a casino in downtown Hamilton, have a 90% increase in the odds of becoming problem gamblers.

Greater negative financial impact on nearby businesses – the good numbers go down.

Studies show that property values near a casino decrease by 10% or more once the casino opens. Part of the reason for that is because the casino never closes. It operates 24/7. Commercial buildings, apartment buildings, condominiums, etc. decrease in value which means over time they pay lower property taxes. Research also shows that 60% of businesses that existed before the casino opens, go out of business within 2 years of the casino opening. Lost jobs. Lost taxes. Failed entrepreneurs. Empty storefronts.

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– there are several dozen instructive and often entertaining posters at NoDowntownCasino.coz

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  • The Durand Neighborhood Association also fought to stop the proposed downtown casino in Hamilton, Ontario.  Their campaign was strong, articulate, and well-researched.  The neighborhood has many heritage sites and beautiful architecture and would have been within walking distance of the proposed casino.  (In contrast, our Stockade Association has refused to even call a meeting about the casino proposed for the ALCO site, which is several blocks from the residential historic district the Stockade Association was created to protect and preserve, and to represent before government bodies.) The Hamilton casino question was on the ballot in last year’s City election and opponents won by almost a two-to-one margin.  As part of its comprehensive website, DurandNA has a busy weblog, where you can find quite a bit of information under the tag “casino.”  See http://www.durandna.com/tags/casino/

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SharkGF “Based on his experiences as a representative and resident of southern Connecticut, home of two of the earliest and largest casinos in the country, Steele cautioned that those expectations are considerably less beneficial than the outlooks presented by the various developers and operators vying for a chance to open similar casinos in Albany, East Greenbush, Rensselaer, or Schenectady. Steele described casinos as a predatory industry that depends on problem gamblers for its huge revenues, and that its effects cause a range of social ills, from pathological gambling addiction to bankruptcies among local businesses and increases in crime.”

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Layout 1 . . . logo used in the campaign to stop a proposed Foxwoods Casino in Milford, Mass.

At EducateHopkinton.com you will find information used in a successful campaign to defeat a proposed casino in Milford, MA.  On Nov. 19, 2013, the casino was voted down by almost a 2 to-1 margin, with 57% of the electorate participating.

  • You have to envy cities and towns with organized, active, well-educated and researched campaigns by residents to stop casinos. Perhaps this is because the electorate gets to vote on a specific proposal, in contrast to our New York siting system, where developer-applicants need to merely woo a handful of politicians, and a few “neighborhood leaders” and businessmen hoping to partner with the resulting casino.  Sketchy proposals are then announced to the public, with a very short period available in which to somehow convert the already-convinced local legislative body. For a look at the application and selection process, see the current RFA for Gaming Facilities for choosing among applicants for several upstate New York casino licenses.