prostitutes help open Rivers Casino (as expected)

casinowalkers

expected by Rush Street?

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

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

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

  • cbs6wigginscrime

    Hubert Wiggins, WRGB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

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

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

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

casinodesign3sp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mohharbplayhereimage

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

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

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

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

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

 

 

the Gazette takes problem gambling seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . del Lago  dellagocasino  . .

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

tiogacasinofront . . Tioga Downs Casino  . . tiogaentrancetwc

Montreign Casino . . montreignentrance

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

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

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

dellagocasino30jan2017

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

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

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

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

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

riverscasino-erieapproach

a look at Erie Blvd.

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

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

MinorLeagueSchdy

Rush Street designs

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

APPENDIX – Distances from various cities to the casinos

Continue reading

Schenectady’s infamous February 8th

feb8infamy8x10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers Casino will open February 8, 2017

casinosignalot

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

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

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

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

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

 img_2605

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

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

Gazette decries “fake news”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

our “drive-thru” rotary

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

To the editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Giacalone, Editor, “snowmen at the Gates”

https://snowmenatthegates.com/

Schenectady, NY

DSCF1991

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

hviccaro July 21, 2016, 12:20 p.m. 

David,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Haley

Here are my replies at the Gazette website:

12:59 p.m.

Haley,

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

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

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

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

2:14 p.m.

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

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

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

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

TrafficMemo18Jul2016

 

beware the Zombie Pylon (with updates)

pylonpoke

The Zombie Casino Pylon-in-a-Poke

Despite the Schenectady Gazette‘s misleading headline this afternoon, “Pylon sign plan killed at Mohawk Harbor” (March 23, 2016, by Haley Viccaro), there is no way Rush Street will do without a giant “branding sign” or give up the monster LCD screen at its Schenectady Casino. Reporter Viccaro did at least point out that the casino could in the future seek to have a pylon. In fact, they still have plenty of square footage to use, given City Hall’s overgenerous 19,000 sq. ft. signage limit.

 

 Here’s my Comment at the online Gazette article:
 .
The pylon sign plan has not been “killed”, it has been postponed, and your headline does the public a disservice. Rush Street has certainly not promised there will be no huge pylon or giant LCD screen. It is more likely that the Planning office or commissioners are not satisfied with the latest version of the pylon and Rush Street is not willing to postpone approval of the rest of its signage.
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There is no way Rush Street will have a casino that does not have a giant “branding sign” saying Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and they are well under the generous signage allowance granted by City Hall. On the bright side, this delay will remove any excuse Rush Street and the Planning Commission might try to use for failing to do a thorough Visual Impact Assessment of the pylon sign, with line-of-sight and computer analysis of its impact on nearby residents (such as Fusco’s Erie Blvd. apartments, East Front Street, Goose Hill, the Stockade and College Park), and on traffic safety. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s policy statement on Visual Impact Assessment, for example, says that a formal visual impact assessment is needed, with at least a line-of-site survey, whenever any component of a project can be seen from an historic district, such as the Stockade, with mitigation measures taken to prevent any significant visual impact from the District. [see http://tinyurl.com/VisImpactDEC ]

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update (March 24, 2016): There is an excellent editorial in the Gazette today, “Casino’s new sign plan offers a glimmer of hope“. It starts, “No one planning to visit the new Schenectady casino is going to get lost trying to find it.“, and ends:

Let’s hope this isn’t a bait-and-switch deal.

When or if the casino operators complete their full sign package, let’s hope they ultimately give the public plenty of notice, including a look at drawings of what the sign or signs will look like from the street.

And if the operators plan to go back to the giant pylon idea, they should let everyone know now, so the proper studies on its impact on surrounding neighborhoods can be thoroughly prepared and analyzed.

At the foot of this posting, I’ve placed my online Comment to this editorial, which focuses on the lessons our leaders should have learned about rushing to embrace the exaggerated demands of the Casino Gang.

As I told Paul Nelson of the Times Union when he called for a quote Wednesday afternoon, if lawyers, adolescents, realtors, or developers are being ambiguous, you can bet they are hiding something. [I momentarily forgot to put politicians in the list.]  See the initial TU piece here: “Schenectady casino operator scraps towering sign plan.” Nelson updated that piece with me details, with the sub-headline “After critical feedback, developers pull back, but opponent still skeptical”.

It is rather amusing that Rush Street told the Gazette:
 .
 “It has been our goal throughout the design process to solicit feedback from all stakeholders and apply thoughtful consideration to the design of the facility in order to bring the best possible development to the city of Schenectady.”
 .
When the public said the pylon design was too tall and too wide and too bright, Rush Street, made it wider (going from 38′ to 39′), moved the branding sign even higher by eliminating a small chimney-shaped lightbox on top, and went from a black background to an intensive white background and white framing. Of course, they have never asked the main pylon opponent [me] for any feedback.
.
It is also rather annoying that I was not able to get the Chief City Planner, Christine Primiano, to bring my latest request that the Commission require a Visual Impact Assessment before the Planning Commissioners. Chris told me I should wait until the pylon has been put on the agenda. That is, of course, about the surest way to ensure there will be no additional study. Without a visual impact resource assessment of the giant pylon signage, at the final proposed location and size, Schenectady will be buying a Pylon-in-a-Poke. If Ms. Primiano has in fact informally passed on my arguments about the requirement for a visual impact assessment to the Commissioners, or to the new Chair, Mary Wallinger, and this has helped in Rush Street’s decision to postpone submission of a pylon plan, I am grateful.
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Pylon-VisualImpact2-001
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share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/ZombiePylon
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follow-up (March 24, 2016): This is my Comment to the Gazette editorial “Casino’s new sign plan offers a glimmer of hope” (March 26, 2016):

Thank you for an excellent editorial that touches on many of the most important points relevant to the Pylon. When Rush Street comes back with a new version of a giant, free-standing sign or LCD screen, it needs — as you have said — to submit an independent visual impact assessment for the proposed size, location and orientation of the structure. Only then can we begin to estimate its effects on residents and traffic nearby and on the overall skyline of our City.

.

I hope City Hall (from the Mayor and Corporation Counsel, to City Council and the Planning Commission) has learned a very big lesson. They Rushed to change the zoning signage restrictions from allowing one 7′ freestanding sign with 75 sq. ft. of signage, to 80′ tall and virtually no limit; and from a pylon with an 8′ wide sign and 5′ wide base to no limit on the width (resulting in a proposed pylon 38′ wide); and, they did it in a Rush, solely on the very specious claims of needing the monster pylon for the casino to be seen and for Erie Blvd. traffic to know where to turn soon enough to safely enter the traffic rotary.

.

One example: In justifying the City’s request to amend the zoning law and allow a 20,000 sq. ft. limit on signage for the casino, Corporation Counsel told me the Casino started negotiating by asking for 100,000 sq. ft. He seemed to have forgotten that the Casino told Metroplex and the Racing Commission it would need at most 15,000 sq. ft. And, now it has submitted a plan for about 8,000 sq. ft.

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City Hall and the public need to keep the Casino’s gross exaggerations of its needs in mind whenever they come asking for special treatment. They need to be watchdogs protecting the public, not cheerleaders repeating the casino’s claims, or weaponless 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.

“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 quest for a 50% reduction in their property tax assessment. That makes the Rush Street connection less than solid. Our elected leaders should have some self-respect and say no to this name grab.  That could start a great new precedent, asserting that Schenectady has a casino, but is Not a Casino Town.

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

 

will Problem Gambling Awareness Month inspire action?

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Helpline: 1-800-522-4700

 March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month [poster}

What are our public health officials and other local political and community leaders doing to combat problem gambling?

We believe that only organized programs specifically focused on problem gambling prevention, education, and treatment, with ongoing outreach activities, can hope to address the effects that a casino in Schenectady is likely to have on our community. With Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor now scheduled to open in a year, such programs are needed ASAP and must especially target vulnerable groups, such as aging adults, low-income residents, and youth.

So far, our City and County governments have refused to admit there is a problem, much less that it will be significant. Moreover, Rush Street Gaming denied in its Application to the NYS Racing Commission that increased proximity and access will increase the prevalence of problem gambling in our community. The report Why Casinos Matter, by the Council on Casinos of the Institute for American Values, states to the contrary (at 18-19):

“Numerous studies show that living close to a casino is a key factor in more frequent gambling. More frequent gambling increases the risk of serious problem gambling. A large-scale study in 2004 found that people who live within 10 miles of a casino have twice the rate of pathological and problem gambling as those who do not.”

Similarly, after doing an extensive review of the available research, the Hamilton (Ontario, Canada) group No Downtown Casino strongly and successfully opposed building a casino in downtown Hamilton, stressing that:

“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.”

Therefore, we congratulate the Schenectady Gazette editorial staff for raising the issue of problem gambling in today’s newspaper, in an editorial promoting the State’s proposals to improve the gambler self-exclusion  program (“Help Problem Gamblers Help Themselves“, March 2, 2016). Nevertheless, we hope the Gazette will call for far more comprehensive programs locally and statewide against problem gambling. We believe that self-exclusion from casinos by individuals who recognize they have a gambling problem and want to do something about it is, at best, a very limited approach to the plague of Problem Gambling. In a way, it is a mere fig-leaf covering a multitude of ways that casinos encourage irresponsible gambling. The 2,800 people who are currently on New York’s self-exclusion list are, for example, a tiny portion of the 15 to 20 percent of those who frequently gamble at casinos and are believed to be problem gamblers.

PGPosterdetailG  In addition, of course, Self-Exclusion programs are far from infallible. Thus, the article “Policing gamblers who can’t police themselves isn’t easy” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Jennifer Lin, September 9, 2013) states:

“It is somewhere between infrequent and unlikely that you will be detected,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Casinos “rely on security guards at the entrance with an antique face book – a binder with photos” of customers on self-exclusion lists.

SugarHouseLogo Mohawk Harbor’s Rush Street Gaming has demonstrated the enforcement difficulty rather frequently in its Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse.  For example, see “Sugar House fined for advancing cash to problem gamblers” (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 6, 2015), which reported that “The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board fined SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia $50,000 for giving cash advances to 11 individuals who asked to be banned from casinos in Pennsylvania.” Similarly, note the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board press release of May 23, 2012, announcing that SugarHouse was fined $70,000 “for seven instances where underage individuals [ranging in age from 17 to 20] engaged in gaming,” and an additional $10,000 “for two separate incidents in November 2010 and March 2011 in which two individuals who had placed themselves on the PGCB’s Self-Exclusion List engaged in gambling.”

A more amazing incident is described in “Casino developer allowed man to gamble 70-plus straight hours in Philly” (Telegraph & Gazette, Worcester, Mass, August 20, 2013), which quoted the following statement by Pennsylvania Gaming Board Commissioner Gregory C. Fajt to SugarHouse officials:

“It boggles my mind that somebody can be in your facility for three days in one instance, four days in another, a known compulsive gambler on the list and not be recognized.” 

Rush Street’s Rosemarie Cook replied: “I assure you it was not a case of being asleep at the wheel. . . . He was just average, and he looked average,” The Inquirer article cited above also discussed that incident, stating: “At their July meeting, Pennsylvania’s gaming commissioners excoriated SugarHouse representatives for not catching [frequent violator Kylee] Bryant.”

Despite the above record at SugarHouse (which I uncovered with just a few minutes of Googling), Rush Street recently issued this statement to the press (“New York to step up effort to battle problem gambling“, by Haley Viccaro, Schenectady Gazette, March 2, 2016):

“We have a strong history when it comes to responsible gaming at our other properties, including operating under statewide self-exclusion policies, and we look forward to continuing that same record of excellence in Schenectady.”

At a symposium on problem gambling held at Schenectady County Community College last year, the Rush Street representative was excited about their efforts to promote responsible gambling, but their efforts apparently revolve around helping the staff identify underage persons, problem gamblers and drinkers, and policing the state’s mandated self-exclusion program. Perhaps, we simply cannot expect more of a casino, when, as stated in Why Casinos Matter:

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.

NoEvil-hear Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so. This evidence contradicts claims by gambling lobbyists that their industry wants to attract only those customers who play casually “for fun.” Indeed, if casinos had to rely on such casual customers, they would not long survive. A Canadian study found that casual players comprised 75 percent of players but contributed only 4 percent of net gambling revenue. The casinos’ real money comes from problem gamblers.

NoEvil For similar reasons, we perhaps cannot count on a City Hall and County Legislature banking on major tax relief that is based on the size of casino revenues to seriously recognize and combat the imminent growth of Schenectady’s problem gambling problem. One result of Mayor Gary McCarthy never demanding a host community or mitigation agreement with Rush Street Gaming is that the Mayor and his Administration, like Metroplex and County Government, never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib claims of Rush Street and Galesi Group that a casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, nearby neighborhoods or towns, or the County.  (See our posting on The Mayor and HCAs.)

LagoLogoB&W Things were different in the tiny town of Tyre and Seneca County to our west, when they confronted the potential coming of the Lago Casino to Tyre, NY. They sat down with applicant-developer Wilmot, commissioned studies, and accomplished a multi-faceted Host Community Agreement that squarely faced a multitude of issues, including the specter of problem gambling. To fulfill an agreement with Seneca County Mental Health Department that was incorporated into the Tyre Host Community Agreement [June 2014], Lago Casino will pay for hiring two additional problem gambling specialists (one for treatment and one for prevention). More important, Seneca County and casino developer Wilmot set out the structure for a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program that will seriously address the issues relating to problem gambling.

Here are some of the provisions in the 3-page Seneca County Problem Gambling Protocol:

  • In partnership with Seneca County Mental Health, Wilmot Casino will fund materials to be used for prevention, outreach and education to vulnerable populations in the Seneca County area.

  • [SCMH] will begin their outreach and education efforts once Wilmot Casino is granted the casino license, prior to the opening of the casino.

  • Initiatives to address problem gambling will focus on impacts in the workplace, family, neighborhood, youth, older adults, public safety and crime prevention awareness.

  • Problem gambling public awareness efforts will target messaging at specifically vulnerable populations including youth, parents as influencers on youth, family member of problem gamblers, indviduals and families with substance abuse disorders, college students, low income residents and aging adults.

  • Age appropriate programming and education on problem gambling will target youth beginning no  later than age 12.

  • Problem gambling education will be infused into all Seneca County Mental Health programs including but not limited to summer camps, Family Education Programs, Crime Victims Assistance Program, Domestic Violence Services and Domestic Abuse Awareness Classes.

  • Outreach and education specifically targeted at the Aging Adult population will take place at senior centers, retirement community events, etc.

Seneca County and Town of Tyre officials clearly understand that “partnering” with a casino developer means far more than helping it win its gaming license by avoiding all talk of negative impacts and added expenses; and the Wilmot Company expects to do much more than make demands and seek concessions in upholding its part of the partnership. It may be too late for Schenectady to use any leverage to achieve a impact mitigation agreement with Rush Street and Galesi, but it certainly is not too late for City and County leaders to establish and implement an outreach, education, prevention, and treatment program to combat problem gambling. Our not-for-profit sector (especially the Counseling and Helping Professions), faith communities, local media, academic leaders (at the collegiate level, and in our public, charter and parochial schools) need to speak out immediately, strongly and consistently to ensure that the County and City have necessary programs in place before Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor begins operations.

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 For more information and assistance, see: PGPosterdetail

Call: 1-800-522-4700
Text: 1-800-522-4700
Chat: ncpgambling.org/chat

schdycityhallf Note: The editor of this website has started a modest Problem Gambling Postcard Project to help deal with related problems and educational needs. The postcards are available at The Open Door Book Store on Jay Street in downtown Schenectady. See the Postcards Page at “suns along the Mohawk” for a description of the project, which will donate all of the photographer’s proceeds with the intention of helping to deter and treat problem gambling.

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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our concerns continue as license granted for Schenectady Casino

The NY Gaming Commission granted licenses for three Upstate casinos yesterday: Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, Lago Resort and Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, and Montreign Resort Casino in Thompson, Sullivan County. See “License for Schenectady casino, two others approved” (Albany Times Union, Capital Confidential, Rick Karlin, Dec., 21, 2015); “Schenectady, two others awarded casino licenses” (Schenectady Gazette, Haley Viccaro, Dec. 21., 2015); “NYS Gaming Commission grants Schenectady casino a license” (News 10, WTEN, Mary Wilson, Dec. 21, 2015).

For some, it may seem grinch-like for us to withhold praise for the Schenectady Casino and to fail to wish it the very best success. Nonetheless, while we do not begrudge people who needs jobs supporting the Casino, we fear that its negative impact on the lives of the residents of Schenectady and of the Casino’s frequent customers and their families far outweigh the shaky revenue benefits that may come from the project, and we cannot endorse the faulty public policy that uses gamblers’ money to offset local property taxes.

In a nutshell, because we believe Rivers Casino cannot be a great revenue success without draining much-needed dollars from the financially vulnerable members of our community and creating significant numbers of problem gamblers, we cannot hope that it is a rousing success. 

The many postings listed in the Right Margin of our Homepage  (and on our Issues page), and our September 2014 Statement in Opposition, explain our concerns, none of which have in any way been diminished by the actions or words of the McCarthy Administration or Rush Street Gaming.

Last year, when the Schenectady casino application was chosen by the Location Board, we stated:

We especially hope that local government and groups will work to

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

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

Here are three primary reasons for our continued concern that the problems and issues we have presented will not be adequately addressed by local government, and will need constant vigilance from those who want to protect Schenectady from casino-made problems:

  • Casino Town: Mayor Gary McCarthy and the various arms of City government have turned Schenectady into a Casino Town, where Rush Street and Galesi get whatever they ask for (and more) and are not pressed to make any commitments beyond the gambling revenue taxes Rush Street will be obligated to pay to the State, and various City and County fees and taxes. See, e.g., “Rush Street’s Giveaways” [to other cities], and “Planning Board hands Casino Gang a Blank Check“.
  • See No Evil. Both City Hall and our primary local newspaper, the Gazette [see, e.g., “Rigging the News“] refuse to acknowledge the likely negative impacts of the casino and therefore to call for necessary counter-measures and mitigation funds from Rush Street (such as the protocol for setting up a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program in the Host Community Agreement signed by Lago with the Town of Tyre and Sullivan County; see our Lago Info page).
  • Shaky Revenues. We have been saying for a year and a half, long before Moody’s recent affirmation of the negative outlook, that the casino marketplace is over-saturated and that revenues are Unlikely to Come Close to the Rosy Estimates. (see this posting) In addition, Rush Street traditionally over-estimates likely revenues in its applications for casino licenses. If there is a revenue shortfall, and even Mayor McCarthy now suggests that part of the casino revenue stream to the city will be needed to cover any negative impacts of the casino, what will be left to bring down property taxes, the primary reason Schenectady residents have been willing to take a chance on having a casino in our community?

Finally, for now, we invite you to check out the interactive map presented by K. Hume yesterday in the Gazette Editor’s Notebook, K. Hume. It should give pause to casino boosters who believe the Rivers Casino will somehow attract big money gamblers, or even the comfortable middle class, from afar (or even from across the State), and that Schenectady’s casino will buck the reality that most regular urban casino customers come from within a 25-mile radius, with relatively few people staying overnight (see our opening post last year). The Gazette map allows you to compare Schenectady’s casino with its coming competitors in Tyre and Thompson County, presenting an image of the Lago and Montreign casino resorts and basic numbers (click on each for a larger image):

LagoFacts . . . MontreignFacts

above: Lago in Tyre, Sullivan County [L] and Montreign Resort Casino 

SchdyCasinoFacts

If you were going to take your significant other or family on a special casino jaunt or vacation, and were willing to go more than 25 miles, would you choose Lago or Montreign, which look like casino resorts and have far larger project investments, or would you be attracted by the design of Mohawk Harbor’s Rivers Casino in exotic Schenectady, which continues to look like a shopping mall? (See image on the right.) Neither our Mayor and Planning Commission, nor Metroplex, were willing to insist that Rush Street give Schenectady a casino complex as attractive as those it has proposed in many other communities. See “Why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?“.  Once the novelty of Schenectady’s casino is gone, who do you think will be losing their money at Mohawk Harbor?

follow-up (Feb. 7, 2017): The actual constructed casino is even less impressive than the rendition shown just above to the right. See http://tinyurl.com/CasinoChoices for comparisons to its Upstate casino competition and related musings.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor

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

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

. share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/2ndRateSchdy

RushStreetAccessEd

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

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RestoreAccessE

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

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

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

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

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

SugarHousePromendade

Rush Street’s SugarHouse public promenade

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

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

§14-405(9) Design Standards

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

bait-and-switch along the Mohawk

CasinoPylon-Jan2016-001 update (December 18, 2015): According to an article in the Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson, “Casino sign plan to be submitted to city in ’16” (Dec. 13, 2015), a new design for the pylon sign will soon be unveiled:

As it stands now, the pylon sign is generally framed on two sides by a contiguous white vertical and horizontal band and does not feature any glass, as was previously discussed. It’s unclear if that white band will be lit.

pylonbait  bait . . . switch vshapemock-1

pylonsitecomparison

– above: [L] the Casino’s pylon “bait” rendering and [R] my amateurish but more accurate Switch mock-ups –

You’ve probably seen the Rush Street rendering of its proposed pylon sign shown on the Left above; it’s a 2-sided, rectangular monolith parallel to Erie Boulevard (note: the street indications were added by me, and not indicated by the Casino on their rendering).  On the right is my crude mock-up of the actual approved pylon: “v-shaped” with a giant 611 sq. ft. LCD screen on each wing of the vee. Because Rush Street never submitted a sketch, much less a detailed rendering of the real design and its orientation toward Erie Boulevard and Nott and Front Streets, and neither your Schenectady Planning Commission nor its Staff ever asked for the highly important documentation as part of its Site Plan Review, my awkward mockups are all we have for now. The uncertainty has led me to construct this QQ Pylon Collage:

V-ShapedPylonQQ

SneakyPylonChangesWThe surprise of a siamese-twin v-shaped pylon structure is, of course, in addition to the bait-and-switch elements we pointed out on Friday July 24 in a follow-up to our posting announcing the approval of the Casino Site Plan. The Planning Commission, without mentioning it, approved a version of the casino pylon that 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, but with no Visual Impact Statement provided or demanded for any version),
  • taller by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and
  • wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

. . . than the versions shown to the public. Click on the collage to the Right of this paragraph for the details.

The following image sums up the various bait-n-switch elements:

B&Scollage

In words, here are the basic bait and switch elements (there may be more as yet not revealed by Rush Street or their City Hall handmaidens):

  • Pylon-FrontSt The Bait: A two-sided, monolith, rectangular pylon structure, 80 feet by 38 feet, with one giant LCD screen 19 feet by 32 feet, topped by a narrow “lantern/chimney” about 7 feet tall, which is sitting over a 14.5-foot tall Rivers Casino “branding” sign that has a black background, all shown positioned parallel to Erie Boulevard, at the intersection of Front St. and Nott St. (As explained in Comments to the Planning Commission and in several postings, the original design was far too tall and wide, and its monster digital LCD screen far too distracting and bright, for the location and for Schenectady in general. But, even worse, we have instead. . . )
  • VShapeMock The Switch: First presented and approved at the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission site plan review special meeting: An 80′ by 39′ pylon façade, in an unexplained and never-depicted v-shape configuration, without a slimming “lantern” on top, and with its branding sign now having a much brighter white background and raised to the top of the 80′ structure, far more prominent in the sky.  In addition, there will be a second 611 sq. ft. monster LCD screen, with one aimed at traffic reaching Nott Street and Erie Boulevard from the east, and one aimed at traffic coming up Erie Boulevard from the west.
40by19v

each wing 35′ x 24′

What would a v-shaped pylon of the size contemplated by Rush Street look like, and “feel” like at that location? It is hard to know, given the failure of the Applicant to supply a rendering or sketch and of the Commission or its staff to demand this crucial piece of site plan documentation. Our search has found nothing similar in front of a casino on this planet.  The “sample” v-shaped pylon to the left of this blurb is by a Polish firm that says the steel girders can be up to 9 meters high, and each advertising sign 2.5 m. by 6 meters.  That would make each wing of the “v” in the photo perhaps 35 feet tall and 24 feet wide. Also note, the branding section on top is not illuminated from the inside and there are no giant digital displays.

  • Thank you to the Albany Times Union for printing my Commentary on the pylon, “Exempting rules a bad sign indeed” (August 4, 2015). It is a TU-Plus article, which requires a paid subscription to reach directly online. You can see a draft submitted by me to the TU Editorial page Editor, by clicking on this pdf. file, “A huge, homely and hazardous casino sign.”

p.s. Have some fun with the kids or grandpa, and make your own Pylonicus-V design:

pylonicus-v

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riverscasinodesigns Follow-up (Feb. 11, 2017): Speaking of bait-n-switch, see our posting “where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?” (Feb. 9, 2017).

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.
  • Share this posting with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/unsitely
  • 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.

the Commission should require a better pylon

SampleCasinoSigns

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

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

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

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

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

At the most, those words mean the Commission cannot refuse to approve locating a pylon sign, up to 80′ tall, somewhere on the 25-acre casino compound.  The prior sentence in §264-14(H) as amended states: Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”  And, Zoning Code §264-92(b) makes it plain that (emphasis added):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DesPlaines68

Des Plaines Rivers Casino pylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pylon options

– above: a few more examples of casino pylons –

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

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

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

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

NoSTSExcuseE

– click on each collage for a larger version –

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

NoSTSExcuseS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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