Luck Ain’t No Lady: 38th week the worst yet at Rivers Casino

LUCKNOLADYhonest  According to the NYS Racing Commission revenues page for Rivers Casino, its 38th week (ending October 29, 2017), was the WORST week yet for the Schenectady Mohawk Harbor Casino. That’s despite having the Ellis Foundation’s big Women’s Night Out “Luck Be a Lady” event there on October 26, preceded by a prep-day of Table Game education in September. Of course, we can only guess the effect of several weeks of Mayor Gary McCarthy appearing in ubiquitous (and, for many of us, tacky and dispiriting) Fuccillo Auto ads shot at the Casino. Nonetheless, last week’s, take, $2,039,456, was perilously close to dipping below the $2-million mark. 

plungegraphsmY DOLLARS. This comes after Gazette columnist Sara Foss called this week for a review of the inflated revenue projections we got from the three new casinos in New York State. While this site was temporarily called “Stop the Schenectady Casino”, we pointed out the practice of over-promising revenues. That included, as even the Gazette reported prior to endorsing the Casino, that “In Philadelphia, for example, SugarHouse was projected to generate $320 million in gross revenue its first year but only generated $212 million.” 

casinowalkers BODIES. We hope that Foss or another journalist will look into the promises Rush Street made about how many people the Casino would bring to Schenectady. It projected 2.8 million a year. The fact that we have never been given any attendance numbers past the first couple of days suggests that the projected body-count was another cynical exaggeration. 

 

red check For those readers who are wondering how, after the Gazette endorsement of Porterfield, Farley and Mootooveren for City Council, to choose between John Mootooveren and Mohamed Hafez when using their third vote, I’d like to point out the following, regarding each man and the Casino:

Incumbent Councilman John Mootooveren:

  • JMootooverenHas acted as if Schenectady were a Supplicant, and a Second-Rate City, during the casino license application process, and thereafter, rubber-stamping the Mayor’s Supine Schenectady position, giving the Casino applicants their every wish, while making no demands. In contrast, all other potential casino locations use their leverage, to assure additional income from the casino, including mitigating its added expenses for infrastructure, public safety, and social problems; seeking guarantees of minimum revenue payments; and demanding local preference for jobs, and a buffer period in which property assessments would not be challenged by the developer.
  • Never questioned any claim made by the Casino applicants prior to voting to approve their Application for a Casino License in Schenectady as to projected revenue and the absence of likely negative effects.
  • Never sought an independent study of potential negative effects and realistic benefits, despite his claims of financial expertise.
  • And, never questioned or challenged any of the drastic changes in our zoning ordinance, demanded by Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. As a result, the Council and the Mayor took away the guarantee of public access in perpetuity to enjoyment of the riverbank when the harbor was developed, and the requirement that 10% of residential boat dock space be reserved during the day for the public.

In contrast, Candidate Mohamed Hafez:

  • MHafez Was a leader in the Stop the Schenectady Casino campaign, pointing out the many problems raised by locating a casino in an urban area and the need to fully consider likely problems and realistic benefits.
  • Demanded over and over, at City Council meetings, and in writing to the press, that the City use its leverage to demand/negotiate the best possible agreement with the Casino to maximize revenues and local employment, and minimize and offset added financial and social costs.
  • Wrote a letter to the editor we reprised here: “wise words from Mr. Hafez“; and
  • Asked the Mayor directly about host community agreements at a City Council meeting on May 11th, and at subsequent meetings, leading to the Mayor writing a guest column in the Gazette debunking the notion of having an HCA or needing to ask for any moneys in addition to required taxes, and our responding at length at this website. E.g., “the Lago Casino HCA and the Mayor.”

Empty Chair. One final note about the two candidates: Mohamed Hafez, a registered Democrat running on the Republican and IndependenceParty lines, attended every candidate forum during the current City Council election campaign. John Mootooveren, the incumbent Democrat who is 1/4th of the Mayor’s 4-person rubberstamp majority on the Council, failed to appear at the League of Women Voters forum, the Gazette Candidate forum at Proctors, the Woodlawn neighborhood association forum, and the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association meet the candidates event.

restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor

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

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

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RushStreetAccessEd

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

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RestoreAccessE

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

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

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

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

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

SugarHousePromendade

Rush Street’s SugarHouse public promenade

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

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

§14-405(9) Design Standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

Trump’s Taj casino doesn’t want a college nextdoor

It looks like the folks at Trump Entertainment have more sense than our Rush Street crew, City Hall, the Gaming Facility Location Board, and the Administration of Union College.  Here’s what they posted on their website last week about Stockton University wanting to use the lot next door for a campus:

podiumflip“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. “

According to a story in the Courier-Post (March 25, 2015), Stockton’s president, Herman Saatkamp, lashed out at Trump Entertainment on Tuesday night, saying, “We have been stabbed in the heart.” Stockton College purchased the property, the site of the failed Showboat Casino, knowing that the Taj Mahal Casino would have to waive their rights to block anything other than a major casino at that location, for the school to have a campus there.  For details on the story, see “Taj casino doesn’t want college next-door” (AP/Courier-Post, March 25, 2015).

We’ are, of course, opposed to a casino near a college for different reasons than Trump Entertainment. See our posts “Union College and the Schenectady casino” and “what will the casino mean for Union College students?”. But, realizing that there are good business-related reasons for a casino to avoid such proximity to thousands of college students makes it even less palatable that local and State officials refused to acknowledge the problem.

Leadership We understand that Union College President Stephen Ainlay may fear retribution from the City, Metroplex and Galesi-related donors, for speaking out against a casino at Mohawk Harbor. Nevertheless, the silence of such an important local institution, despite the potential harm to its student body, shows an irresponsible lack of leadership and courage.  Click on the image at the right of this paragraph to see a poster about college presidents created by the (successful) opponents to a casino in downtown Hamilton, Ottawa, Canada. 

 

Safety factors for Proctors’ electronic marquee messages


ProctorsMarquee06Mar2015 I
t’s only been four weeks since the Schenectady City Council passed a resolution allowing commercial electronic variable message signs (“CEVMS”), also known as electronic message boards, to change every 8 seconds, rather than the 60-second interval that was the minimum allowed between changes under the prior zoning code, §264-61 I(3). Proctors [there has been no apostrophe in its official name since 2007, despite the one on the marquee] has, however, already adopted the significantly shorter interval.  Its electronic marquee signs along State Street near Jay, now have intensely bright, colorful, quickly-changing ads for its upcoming performances that are designed to attract attention, and public service announcements, while spotlighting their corporate sponsors, The Times Union and Keeler Motor Car Company.  The marquee appears to have the same message on all three sides most of the time, but occasionally the messages differ.

As discussed at length below, these changes raise important questions about the lawfulness of the CEVMS display and its potential threat to public safety.

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 IMG_7577 . . IMG_7583MSpsa

– above: two of the many ads on display on Sunday, March 7 –

The following 19-second video is presented in its original, unedited form to show a bit of the current marquee experience on the Proctors block. During those 19 seconds, the image on the signs changes four times. Of course, the effect and affect of the Marquee can not be captured by either a still photo or a video clip viewed on a computer screen.

In addition to its public information role, this webposting is meant to be part of a Complaint to Schenectady’s Development and Code Enforcement Offices.  The current operation of the Proctors marquee raises a few important questions about the lawfulness of the CEVMS display and its potential threat to public safety.  These are my primary concerns/complaints about the Proctors CEVMS display:

  • Does Proctors Need a Special Use Permit? Is it lawful for Proctors to make this significant change in its marquee’s electronic signage without seeking a Special Use Permit from the City’s Planning Commission?  Schenectady’s Zoning Code, §264-61(I), requires that a special use permit be issued by the Planning Commission before an electronic message board is permitted.  As shown in the image immediately below, in order to protect the public from any substantial neighborhood disruption, or threats to traffic conditions, or to the public health or safety, the owner/applicant of any such sign must show at a public hearing that the proposed sign will have no such negative impact.

Sec.264-61(I)EVMS

– Schenectady Municipal Code §264-61 (I) – Electronic message boards. (Click on image to enlarge it)

In addition, the following message (emphasis added) appears* on the City’s webpage for the Department of Development:

Sign Approvals – The City of Schenectady has Sign Regulations for all new or changed signs.  Please verify conformance prior to purchasing any signs by looking in Article 9 of the Zoning Ordinance. [emphasis added]

*followup: Sorry for the inconvenience, but at least since the City’s website was revamped, the above Sign Approvals notice was removed from the Development Office webpage, and the word Sign no longer appears there, nor on the Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Page, or the Board of Zoning Appeals page.

Whatever potential safety hazard the Proctors marquee might have posed when it changed once every minute, its changing every eight seconds surely represents a significant change in the signage, with a substantially greater threat to traffic conditions and public safety that should be fully evaluated by the Planning Commission after a public hearing.  As is outlined more fully below in the discussion of factors affecting the safety of CEVMS displays, the curbside location of the Proctors marquee, at the center of our busiest downtown block, makes it the very situation that most calls for review under §264-61(I).

DOTSeeBeSeen Background Note: In September 2013, the NYS Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) announced a program to increase pedestrian safety along the 15-mile Route 5 Corridor, which stretches from State Street in Albany, through Colonie and Niskayuna, where it is called Central Avenue, and then Schenectady’s State Street. In addition to increased enforcement of traffic laws and education, DOT planned a detailed study of pedestrian-related accidents on the Rt. 5 Corridor, focusing on the 8 segments of Rt. 5 with the most pedestrian-vehicle accidents and interactions.

FocusArea1pedsOne Focus Area segment was downtown Schenectady, from Nott Terrace to Washington Avenue, which includes the Proctors Block. A detailed analysis was made of accidents over the 6-year period 2007-2012, with pedestrian-vehicle traffic counts made for the 2-hour AM and PM rush hour peak periods. The resultant 2015 Pedestrian Safety Study, “New York Route 5 Comprehensive Pedestrian Safety Study” (July 1, 2015), showed that the Proctors Block (from Broadway to the Jay St pedestrian crossing to Clinton St.) had the most pedestrian crossings of any Schenectady block (1,222 crossings, Fig. 3.2, above), and experienced a significant percentage of Schenectady’s Rt. 5 pedestrian accidents (see Fig. 3.3). The block has “a signalized mid‐block crossing at Jay Street in the middle of the downtown area adjacent to numerous restaurants, hotels, and Proctor’s Theater”, and mix of parallel and diagonal parking. (see the Study, at 14-22) 

The Study showed pedestrian use of traffic signals far below national averages along all of Rt.5, including the Proctors Block; highlighted the problem of mid-block jaywalking; and indicated that glare and inattentive drivers and pedestrians were problems. (The Study did not cover non-pedestrian vehicle crashes, nor the traffic and pedestrian issues raised when a large show is exiting the Proctors site.)

mayorgarymccarthy2013 When the Study was released, Assembly-member Angelo Santabarbara said, “Venues like Proctors and all businesses on Jay and State streets in Schenectady see a lot of foot-traffic. Implementing programs to keep our families safe in these areas will keep people coming downtown and enjoying all it has to offer.” And, Schenectady Mayor Gary R. McCarthy stated, “Route 5 is one of the City’s most traveled commercial corridors and a vital link between the City of Schenectady and our neighboring communities.  I look forward to working with the Governor’s representatives, the New York State Department of Transportation, and all other involved parties in improving pedestrian and motorist safety alike, thereby enhancing the walkability of this great City.”
See, “Safety improvements coming to Central Avenue” at WGY.com.

Some would argue quite cogently that no interval less than 60 seconds is appropriate at the Proctors site on State Street. However, if a shorter minimum interval between message changes is to be permitted, the factors presented near State and Jay Streets seem to call for intervals significantly longer than every 8 seconds.

The primary question is whether Proctors, or any other owner of an existing electronic sign in Schenectady with variable messages, may lawfully change to the shorter interval without seeking permission from the Planning Commission?  To avoid any confusion, the amendment to our electric message board ordinance that was promulgated last month should have explicitly stated that any speed-up of an electronic sign visible from a public roadway or residential zone must receive another special use permit.  It did not, and I do not know whether the oversight was intentional or accidental.  Given the clear purpose and goals of §61(I), the Code Enforcement Office (and the public) should demand prior use of the special use permit process.

IMG_7497-001

– above: electronic signs that change every 8 second are shown on the Proctors marquee and on the entry to its Apostrophe Cafe and Lounge –

  • Are Proctors’ Electronic message signs spaced too closely together?  In order to assure public safety, the change to 8-second intervals should have been explicitly accompanied by the related DOT CEVMS spacing requirement, which concerns situations where a driver can see more than one CEVMS sign at the same time:

    The Spacing rule in the “DOT CEVMS Criteria Statement” says (at page 2, emphasis added):

    Spacing = If more than one CEVMS sign face is visible to the driver at the same time on either side of the highway, the signs must be spaced at least 2500’ apart on controlled access highways, and at least 300’ apart on other types of highways.”

    [Note: In case you are wondering, State Street is a “highway”. Under the NYS Code, “highway” is any publicly maintained roadway that is “open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” N.Y. VAT. LAW § 118. More specifically, a “public highway” is “Any highway, road, street, avenue, alley, public place, public driveway or any other public way.” N.Y. VAT. LAW § 134]

    IMG_7489

    – heading west on State Street towards Proctors –

    Driving west up State Street, a driver can see the changing displays on both the front and side panels of the Proctors marquee, as he or she heads toward the traffic signal at Jay Street, which is at the south end of a one-block pedestrian mall.  

    Heading east on State Street, a driver can see both the side message board and the front one at the same time, for quite a distance on that busy, confusing block.  He or she can also see the flashing reflection of the marquee display in a window that is on a wall perpendicular to the marquee.  In addition, the driver heading east can see the changing electronic sign above the doorway for Proctors Apostrophé cafe’ and ticket counter, with it crammed lettering. Rather than being 300′ from the marquee, the lounge’s 8-second electronic message board is less than 30 feet away. This situation is clearly inconsistent with the NYS DOT spacing requirement for off-premise CEVMS signs, causing added distraction and confusion on what is perhaps the busiest and narrowest part of State Street, at the heart of Schenectady’s downtown district, and with arguably the greatest parking woes and most jaywalking of any block in the City.  Of course, the location of the Proctors’ marquee on the theater’s premises (viz., attached to the building) in no way affects its ability to distract drivers and pedestrians, and is clearly relevant to assessing its potential adverse safety effects.

  • Is the CEVMS display on Proctors marquee too bright?  The marquee lights at Proctors seem much too bright.  NYSDOT’s CEVMS criteria Statement sets a maximum for night-time brightness, saying it should not appear brighter than in daytime:

Maximum Brightness = 5,000 cd/m2 (daytime), 280 cd/m2 (nighttime)

It also says, in more practical terms:

The brightness of CEVMS is not only potentially distracting due to its ability to attract increased attention, but may also create problems with dark adaptation among older drivers. In order to minimize these dangers, the brightness of this technology should be constrained such that CEVMS do not appear brighter to drivers than existing static billboards.

IMG_7492

Members of the public rarely have the ability to measure illumination readily at hand. We end up just “eyeballing” the display, and perhaps looking for our sunglasses.  But, the City’s code enforcement office certainly has the capability to measure illumination. Both of the shorthand criteria mentioned in the DOT Statement — not appearing brighter than in daytime and not appearing brighter to drivers than existing static billboards seem problematic enough to warrant the short trip from City Hall to Proctors to evaluate the situation from the DOT CEVMS perspective, as well as under the City’s Code.

IMG_7576-001

The following slideshow gives a glimpse at the things theater-goers do when exiting Proctors. All daytime photos were taken over a 17-minute span on a cold and windy afternoon, when the Sunday matinee of “Annie” was letting out, March 8,  2015.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Drivers passing by Proctors or trying to pick up theater goers when Annie was letting out needed to be mindful of the pedestrians and their rides, the traffic signal at Jay Street, and vehicles leaving parking spaces, rather than being distracted by a quickly-changing, bright and colorful sign with information that is (1) difficult to fully comprehend, because of font size, brightness, short duration, etc.; (2) not immediately needed by patrons for getting to Proctors or finding parking; and (3) easy to attain from many other sources.  Were it dark, with precipitation or ice making the road and sidewalks slippery, or perhaps winds and frigid temperatures pressuring parents and older theater-goers to find shelter as soon as possible, even more attention on the demands of driving would be needed, whether driving through, picking up passengers, or safely exiting parking spaces.

 Is the risk to public safety worth taking so that Proctors can show-off with a little more pizzazz? Does Proctors need bright, quickly-changing messages to distinguish it from any other business or institution in downtown Schenectady?  Do Mssrs. Philip Morris and Ray Gillen contend that the flashing marquee is not there to attract the attention of passers-by? Isn’t the situation at Proctors precisely what the drafters had in mind when the protection of a special use permit and required findings on the impact on traffic, health and safety were placed in Schenectady’s ordinance regulating the use of commercial electronic message signs?

Strichman-email-20Mar2015

– email reply of Zoning Office to the above Complaint –

update (April 22, 2015): On March 20, 2015, Steve Strichman, Schenectady’s Chief Zoning Officer, replied to the above Complaint with an email (click on image above this update) that made it clear there would be no action to require Proctors nor, apparently, any other current holder of an electronic sign permit in Schenectady, to re-apply for a Special Use Permit in order to demonstrate that the higher speed will not have a significant negative impact on the listed Special Use Permit factors. Mr. Strichman wrote:

Mr. Giacalone

It is not my intention to revisit all of the electronic message boards that have received Special Use Permits over the past 15 years.

The special use permits were issued with the ability to change messages at rates set by the City Council.  That continues to be the case even though the time period has changed.

As for items 2 and 3 below in your email, those are D.O.T. regulations over which the city of Schenectady has no enforcement authority.

Thank you for your concern on this issue.

Steve Strichman

My email that day in response to Mr. Strichman asked a number of questions, including:

Is it your position that increasing the rate of change on an electronic message board from a 60-second interval to an 8-second interval is not significant enough an alteration to warrant another review?
– Is it your position that the showing needed to get a permit for changes at once per minute is adequate to satisfy the traffic and safety issues that would need to be demonstrated for a permit to change a sign every 8 seconds, at one of the most sensitive locations in the City for signs that basically abut the road?

In addition, I gave this reply to Strichman’s dismissal of the NYDOT criteria for CEVMS:

Of course, I don’t expect Schenectady to enforce the DOT regulations, but as you surely know (1) they are a good standard [promulgated after study and consideration by experts] regarding safety and traffic issues that are relevant to the showing required under  §264-61 (I)(2), and (2) the City Council and Planning Commission both said the change to 8 seconds was done to be consistent with the DOT Standards.  Why would you ignore the DOT standards meant to safeguard the public that were meant to complement the 8-second interval?

FOILED. No response was made by the Schenectady Zoning Office, or any other of the copied officials, to my March 20, 2015 reply.  That same day, I submitted a FOIL request for all documents relating to application(s) by Proctors to operate variable electronic sign displays. The FOIL office responded by sending me only one document, the Decision Letter, dated Sept. 27, 2013. It does not mention interval speed. Moreover, the 09/18/2013 Minutes of the Planning Commission (see pp. 3-4) meeting, at which the SUP was approved, makes no mention of the minimum change interval for the electronic display.  When the FOIL office suggested I needed to file another FOIL request for the additional documents relating to the application of Proctors for the September 2013 special use permit, I complied rather than complaining that they should have included those documents, filing on April 15, 2015, and am waiting to see if Proctors submitted the SUP Application Form that is required by the Planning Office.

red check follow-up: I have received the SUP Application of Proctors, signed by Philip Morris, and dated Sept. 2, 2013 (two months after NYSDOT and Mayor McCarthy announced the comprehensive Rt. 5 pedestrian safety campaign described above). It is understandable that the City Planners would not want the public to see what constituted Proctor’s evidence that there would be no substantial or undue adverse effects from its new variable-message digital marquee.  The rather nontechnical “explanations”, from page 2 of the 3-page application, were:

MarqueeSUP02Sep2013

Thus, no supplemental application for a Special Use Permit was required before Proctors put up the much faster variable message board, because it already had a special use permit for its much-slower digital sign. As expected, however, the Planning Office had approved the first digital marquee based on one sentence, with no facts or studies, or expert opinions, but instead simply denying there would be any adverse impact on public health or safety.

– posting continued –

 IMG_7539-001 . . . IMG_7527  .

 . .

*.+ – click this thumbnail to see the collage “Exiting Annie” –

.

Should we be concerned about short-interval CEVMS at Proctors?  

.

Continue reading

the House is already winning: giving away the shore

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

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

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

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

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

More Crowded and Tacky?

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

Comparison

– visual bait and switch? –

.

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

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

Hampton-ParkerCompareCollage

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

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

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

Golub1

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

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

Union College Residence Hall, 450 Nott St.

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

casino40feet1  . . . casino40feet2

– click on a picture for a much larger version –

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

Even Gaudier than Expected?

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

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

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

Wedgeway72

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

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

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

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

CrosstownPlazaSign

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

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

More Crowded?

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

Hairy Arm Proposals?

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

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

a New Year reminder of the job ahead

 Happy New Year to everyone who hopes the future Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor will somehow live up to its promises, while minimizing damage to the social, moral, legal, and financial fabric of our community.  Thanks again to all who worked in 2014 to avoid such damage by keeping a casino from being located in Schenectady. We haven’t stopped the casino, but we can’t give up the mission or the hope of stopping or reducing casino-made problems.

CasinoProblems2015Calendar It’s probably too early for public meetings on the best approaches for avoiding casino-made problems.  But, as the New Year unfolds, we hope the issues will be simmering on all our mental back-burners — whether opponents or proponents of the Schenectady application, in all sectors of our community: commercial, nonprofit, religious, political, academic, law enforcement, neighborhood advocates, and all people of good will.  Individuals and groups need to evaluate problems they feel are especially important and likely to occur in urban casino locations, such as an increase in certain kinds of crime and domestic violence, problem gambling (especially by the poor, elderly, young, and other vulnerable individuals), DUI and traffic problems, personal and business bankruptcy, evictions and foreclosures, etc., and a reduction in the quality of life and property values in nearby neighborhoods, including the Stockade Historic District. (See a possible list, with references, on our Issues page, and a more particular one centered on the Schenectady casino, in our Statement to the Location Board).

Because we are two years away from an operating casino facility, we have time to study experiences and experiments elsewhere and consult experts, to consider alternative approaches, to gauge the likelihood of nurturing community and political support for particular ideas and strategies, and to find individual and groups that have the commitment, ability, temperament, and energy to pursue and achieve our goals.  This need not, and probably should not, be a centrally-organized campaign, but it will hopefully be one where people and groups who share in the mission will also share a spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance in achieving our goals.

NoCasinoMadeProblemsB  You can click on the following link for a large jpg. file suitable for printing the one-page 2015 Calendar shown above as an 8″ x 10″ print. (you may reproduce it for any non-commercial purpose) We hope the calendar will be a reminder all year of the important task ahead.  Contact us with your ideas and/or your desire to be informed of our actions and meetings, or your willingness to be a volunteer in our efforts.

five major reasons for opposing the Schenectady Casino

noALCOlogo On Monday,   September 22, 2014, two representatives of Stop the Schenectady Casino spoke before the casino Location Board at the Capital Region Public Comment Event. Mohamed Hafez made a rousing presentation of why a casino would harm the people and City of Schenectady, from the perspective of a landlord and businessman and of a resident trying to make a better Schenectady.

In addition, our STATEMENT in OPPOSITION to the Schenectady Casino (20 pages, plus twelve Attachments) was submitted that day to the Location Board, with a signed Cover Letter. A brief summary of the five major points made and explained in the Statement, along with thumbnails and links to the attachments, can be found below.

– Use this short URL to share this posting: http://tinyurl.com/NotSchdy

OUR FIVE MAIN REASONS for OPPOSING the SCHENECTADY CASINO:

  1. Unlike the other Capital Region locations proposed to the Board, the Schenectady Casino is the only Location Well on its Way to Being Fully Developed without a Casino, and Schenectady already has a Vibrant and Successful Development Process.  The Applicant claims that the casino would remove the largest brownfield in New York State, but the site remediation process is almost complete and would have been done without the casino, as required for the $200 million Mohawk Harbor development.
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposal that directly threatens the welfare of a treasured Historic District – the Schenectady Stockade Historic District
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposed location and Applicant that directly threaten the welfare of a full campus of potential young gamblers living no more than a few blocks away.
  1. Mohawk Harbor’s Urban Location has More Disadvantages than Advantages – e.g., increased probability of social ills due to problem gambling, more crime, a more regressive tax structure.
  1. The Applicant’s Local Support is Less Significant than It Claims and Weaker than in Competing Communities

Here are thumbnails and links to the Twelve Attachments we used to illustrate and supplement our Statement to the Location Board:

  •  #1: a Map of the Vicinity  . Casino-VicinityMapE
  •  #2: Jean Zegger’s one-page history of our Unique Stockade
  •  #3 & #4: two collages showing the beauty and community spirit of the Stockade Neighborhood:

StockadeFlagCollage . . . Casino-LawrenceCollage

  • #5: the Applicant’s Traffic Access Plan targeting Front Street, in the heart of the Stockade ..
    • Casino-AccessDetail

.. #6:

casino-dormCollage . . . a collage showing just how close a Union College dorm is to the casino (i.e., about a block away)

  • #7: Rev. Baron’s Show of Hands . . . .
  • casino-SchdyCo.VoteNov2013BW  #8: a spread sheet showing the Schenectady County Election Results on Proposition One

. . #9 & #10: statements from our religious community condemning the process used by the Schenectady City Council and opposing the casino

  •  FrontStDriveCollage .  . . #11: a trip down Front Street showing the threat of traffic gridlock and other problems caused by casino traffic

. . #12: a sample of our Petition Opposing the Casino, which we are submitting today with 363 signatures, 125 of them by people living in the Stockade Historic District (more people than were members of the Stockade Association over the past year).

 

 

 

 

 

dontforgettack  Capital Region Casino public hearing – “Public Comment Event”
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Holiday Inn, Stonehenge Room A & D, 205 Wolf Road, Colonie
IN-PERSON: Seating is first-come, first-served. Pre-registered speakers should arrive 15 minutes before scheduled time to check-in. Walk-in speakers can register on-site on a first-come, first-served basis.

ONLINE: The full hearing will be streamed live and archived on the Gaming Commission’s website at www.gaming.ny.gov.

Written comments : May be submitted at the event or by email to CapitalRegion@gaming.ny.gov up to seven days after the hearing (September 29, 2014), to be part of the hearing record.  NOTE: Comments received after Sept. 29 will also be considered by the Board as part of its RFA review process.

why are Mass. voters saying No to casinos?

 update (June 24, 2014): The highest court of Massachusetts decided today to allow a question seeking repeal of the state’s casino gambling law to go on the November state ballot.  See “Voters to decide fate of Massachusetts casino law“, AP/Boston Herald, June 24, 2014). Observers expect the gaming industry to wage an enormous advertising campaign, probably aided by labor unions, and other corporate groups who benefit from the operation of casinos. The article states: “John Ribeiro, chairman of the group Repeal The Casino Deal, said opponents were prepared for a ‘David versus Goliath’ fight in which they’ll likely be outspent ‘100 to 1,’ as they were in many communities that held local votes on casino proposals.”

 When the Massachusetts Gaming Commission met last week to select a licensee for the first resort-casino in the state, to be located in Western Massachusetts, there was only one casino proposal in contention, and the license granted was “tentative”?

 Do you suppose the casino cheerleaders in Schenectady City Hall and the County Building know why?

  • The MGM-Springfield application was the only remaining proposal in Western Massachusetts, because voters went to the ballot box and rejected all the other applicants.  Only Springfield would gamble on a casino.
  • And, the license can only be tentative, because over 90,000 people signed an initiative petition they hope will be on the statewide ballot on November 5, 2014, which would make the existing 2011 law allowing casinos void.. The courts are deciding whether to allow the initiative on the ballot.  If the Initiative is not allowed on the ballot or is defeated on Nov. 5, MGM’s Springfield license would go into effect.  Observers believe the Repeal the Casino Deal Initiative has a pretty good chance of succeeding, if it is on the ballot. See this Boston.com article.

In town after town, the people of Massachusetts or their elected officials have rejected specific proposed casinos.  And, across the State, tens of thousands of adults want the Casino Deal overturned, because they believe it is a very bad bargain for the people of their Commonwealth.

SmallShark Go to the lively Repeal the Casino Deal website for answers to my questions, and many more, with voluminous Resources, and a NIMBY page of Massachusetts leaders who are pro-casino, but have admitted they would not want to live near one.

casinos bring property values down

  Common sense suggests that living close to a casino will drive down your property values. The tentative conclusions made by the National Association of Realtors Research arm in “Economic Impact of Casinos on Home Prices Literature Survey and Issue Analysis” strongly confirm that assumption.  The paper analyzed information from across the nation, but was done with a focus on the proposed downtown casino in Springfield, Massachusetts.   In addition to looking at the effects on residential realty prices, the Survey presents numerous other factors that could cause negative or positive externalities for a specific casino.

As for home prices, the Survey concludes that “The impact on home values appears to be unambiguously negative. ”  It continues [at 2-3]:

“We estimate that assessed home values will most likely be negatively impacted by $64 to $128 million from the introduction of a casino into Springfield, although there are many variables that could shift the price impact to be either more or less severe. In addition, pathological gambling could result in social costs of $8.4 million per year, possibly significantly higher. Additional foreclosures could produce costs of $5 million per year. Finally, there would probably be a negative impact on local retail businesses as local consumer expenditures were diverted to some degree to casino gaming, and a need for additional government expenditures to provide needed public services (police, fire, medical, etc.).”

SlicingThePie Another factor emphasized in the Survey is distances between casinos. “Casinos that are close to each other tend to split the available business, reducing profitability.”  Thus, “In the case of Springfield Massachusetts a significant level of sustained patronage as a destination casino appears unlikely given the saturation of gaming venues in the New England and New York region.”

A casino in Schenectady would, of course, also face the saturation problem, and would be in direct competition with one located in downtown Springfield, which is about 100 miles away.

reprise: wise words from Mr. Hafez

I’ve heard, over and over, that the Letter to the Editor published in the Gazette by Mohamed Hafez on June 1st is the best short summary yet of the problems we fear are likely to come with a casino in Schenectady.  So, I was pleased this morning to find an email from Mr. Hafez submitting his letter, with a few new thoughts, to “stop the schenectady casino.”  It’s a reprise definitely worth republshing and rereading.

Letter to the Editor and the Schenectady Community:

June 6, 2014

Our anti-casino fight is too important to give up simply because some think a Yes vote by the Schenectady City Council is inevitable. I have not given up hope that good sense and good leadership will bring Mr. Erikson, Mr. Mootooveren and Ms. Porterfield to join with Councilmen Vince Riggi and create a majority against the proposed casino.

A year ago, the Toronto City Council voted 40 to 4 against the downtown riverfront mega casino proposal. It wasn’t a difficult vote for the councilors because they debated the issue for a year, engaged local economists at the University of Toronto that provided several studies on the impacts of a local casino on their city and the health and wellbeing of individuals.

Closedsm They all concluded that a local Casino makes a poor economic sense, is a poor use of precious downtown land, with no evidence that it will attract tourist dollars. In addition, a casino would have a devastating impact on local restaurants, bars, hotels and theater. A casino would have serious negative social impacts including problem gambling, bankruptcies, crime, traffic gridlock and parking problems. Furthermore, gambling is morally wrong and preys on the poor, the unsophisticated and the addict.

Residents signed 22,000 petitions opposing the casino proposal, enlisted business owners and faith leaders, discussed the issue on social media, collected donations and placed 3000 lawn signs throughout the city.

A local economist stated that gambling is one of the least productive economic activities imaginable — removing money from one set of pockets and putting it in another, without producing anything concrete as part of the exchange.  He also said that statistics concerning casinos throughout the United States show that after three to five years, almost two jobs are lost for every one that’s created. Most places that introduce gambling see a quick upward spike, followed by a steep decline.

Unlike Las Vegas, most casino-goers are locals, and their gambling money would otherwise be spent on other options in the city. No serious tourist dollars will be generated, it would be the locals who spend their hard eared money and social security checks.

abacus There is no evidence that our “leaders” have done their homework or looked behind the promises and puffery of the casino developers. Nor is there evidence that a riverfront casino would make good economic sense, promote tourism in Schenectady, or result in an assured stream of new tax revenue. Without such evidence, the Schenectady City Council should not be taking the risk that a casino will bring with it the predictable downsides, destroying local businesses and the social fabric of our city.

Tell the Schenectady City Council to Vote No on the proposed Casino.  Then, if we need to go further, let’s prepare to show the Gaming Facility Siting Board that there is significant opposition in Schenectady and surrounding communities and, if there must be a Capital Region casino, that other locations are better choices or, at the least, likely to cause less damage.

Mohamed Hafez,

Schenectady

a flier for publicizing the June 7th meeting

A flier is now available to download and print that publicizes the Meeting at Arthur’s Market this Saturday.  Click for the Rally Flier. The following is the content of the flier, which includes a listing of our major concerns about approving and living with a casino.

cropped-nocasinoschdy.jpg

flierheadlines

Our Schenectady is not a casino town. We are not willing to:

  • trade Schenectady’s proud history of productive enterprise and innovation for the non-productive transfer of dollars from individuals to the favored “house”
  • desperately believe the easy-money promises of developers and casino operators out of undue pessimism about our development potential
  • base Schenectady’s fiscal policy on taking money from hard-workers, problem-gamblers & the vulnerable, for the sake of uncertain amounts of added tax revenue
  • risk the health of small businesses, which have stayed here and created jobs, by draining revenue away to the casino and a few lucky partners, who will be drawing most of their business from gamblers living less than 25 miles away, not from distant high-rollers
  • create a crime magnet that will bring more drugs, prostitution, DUI, and car break-ins, as well as all-day traffic problems, to nearby neighborhoods, threatening the residential nature of the Historic Stockade District

go to tinyurl.com/NoSchdyCasino for more information & materials –

– get the No Casino Petition online or at Arthur’s Market –

PROTECT OUR COMMUNITY BY SAYING “NO!” TO A CASINO

..

 

ArthursMarketo5June2014a . . ArthursMarket05June2014b

– Arthur’s Market in the Schenectady Stockade –

 

 

the problem with urban casinos

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

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

CasinoRosyDAG

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCE MATERIALS  (more to come)

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

 

Our focus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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