Schenectady DRI should fine-tune our Real Downtown [updated]

SUMMARY: As has happened often in the last half dozen years, State, City and County officials in charge of development and planning appear to be putting the interests of the owners and developers of Mohawk Harbor and the Rivers Casino before sound planning principles and strategies and, more important, before the interests of the general public in Schenectady City and County. The ten million dollars available through Schenectady DRI [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] grant should be focused on further improving the handful of blocks that residents traditionally consider to be our Downtown, with more of the things that will enhance living, working, visiting, learning, playing, socializing, shopping and just strolling there. Schenectady DRI should refine our already revived Real Downtown, and not construct a fiction that stretches “Downtown” to Mohawk Harbor and invents a demand to walk to and spend money there.

 . . share this post with this short URL:  https://tinyurl.com/RealSchdyDowntown . . 

After the following updates, you will find the Original Posting, which has images and discussion, including walking tours up Jay St. and Erie Blvd. to the Harbor.

UPDATE (July 29, 2020): As previewed in the Gazette, on Thursday, July 30, 2020, at 6 PM. the Schenectady DRI Local Planning Committee held its first meeting since February. Go to the Schenectady DRI webpage for a link to the meeting. As reporter Pete DeMola wrote:

“But the pandemic immediately evaporated millions in tax revenue for the city and attendees will now have to grapple with an dramatically altered economic landscape and weigh if projects considered high priorities before the pandemic should now be reconsidered.”

See “Decision-makers begin to winnow-down Schenectady’s $10m grant wishlist” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, July 31, 2020). From my perspective, the Leadership Planning Committee seemed to pay very little attention to how the COVID-19 pandemic might impact downtown businesses and visitors. And, the Committee did not appear to be prepared for the July 30 meeting.  For example, a considerable amount of time was spent discussing the Highbridge proposal for an apartment mixed-use building on Lower State Street that would have a ramp and about 300 parking spaces. Despite this focus, no one bothered to find out whether a parking fee would be charged for the 150 public spaces.

Reporter DeMola noted favorable attention to two rather lightweight proposals, that might be meant to appease public voices while saving the big bucks for the favored developers:

“LPC members broadly agreed that lighting concepts along bridges and other visible landmarks, including the First United Methodist Church on State Street, were worth an ongoing look, as well as signage to direct people to attractions downtown and at Mohawk Harbor.  . . .

“Lighting concepts and public art installations, including a statue of George Westinghouse, also appeared to receive a positive reception.

“Creating funky and buzzworthy places with art, said Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation Executive Director Jim Salengo, ‘is a good part of embracing all good things happening downtown’.”

Thank you, Daily Gazette, for publishing my letter to the editor, “City must protect its ‘real downtown'”, August 6, 2020, C6 (click on image for a larger version):

GazLTE-DAG6Aug2020.23 AM

Especially in light of unfolding Pandemic complications, I hope members of the Leadership Committee are thoughtfully considering these issues raised in this posting, and that concerned citizens will voice their opinions.

ORIGINAL POSTING

DowntownSchdToHarbor

. . Above: The map returned when I asked Google Maps for the walking directions from “Downtown Schenectady” to Mohawk Harbor . . 

 . .

. . above: views east (R) and west from State and Jay Streets

Jay Street Pedestrian Mall

When was the last time you were enjoying a visit to Downtown Schenectady, on the Proctors Block, at the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, or even Mill Lane’s Frog Alley, and suggested, “Let’s walk down to Mohawk Harbor”? Did you add, “We could walk back here to our car, with shopping bags and a full tummy.”? Did your companion enthusiastically reply, “Sure, it’s only a little over a mile, and it’s a charming walk”?

If such a conversation would seem as odd to you as it does to me, you might be surprised to know that the Schenectady Application for a DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant begins:

DRI Schenectady links the Proctors Block and Lower State Street via a rejuvenated Erie Boulevard as well as other connections to Mohawk Harbor which will be adding attractions and more visitors.

Moreover, in a section titled New Retail and Entertainment Development at Mohawk Harbor, the Schenectady DRI Application also stresses (at 29; underscoring added):

DRI Schenectady is very focused on increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor, already the leading tourist destination in the Capital Region. With support of DRI funding, the team behind development of the existing Harbor site – the Galesi Group, Metroplex and Rivers Casino & Resort are planning the next phase of the development project. The concept is a 100,000 square foot development to be located between the existing casino and marina on land that borders the riverfront. The development would feature a mix of retail and entertainment tenants. The project is research and data driven.

over a mile on foot from Proctors

After two decades of actual revitalization of our “real” Downtown, and with fill-in and refinement projects readily apparent and proposed for that part of our City, Metroplex and City Hall seem again to be abandoning sound planning principles and denying human nature to come to the aid of what I call the Galesi-Casino Gang.

Successful downtowns in small and medium-size cities are compact, with much to do and attract the eye within “walking distance”. As a Brookings Institute study states (at 13), “Walkable urbanism starts with urban entertainment venues and retail that are within walking distance of one another.” As a Wisconsin University article puts it: Communities with successful downtowns “have an expansive list of attractions and amenities that serve as pedestrian traffic generators. All are within walking distance of each other, creating tight and effective traffic generating zones.” They are, of course, echoing the advice of the legendary Jane Jacobs in her article “Downtown is for People.”

IMG_1098Despite this common sense approach to a successful Downtown, DRI Schenectady somehow equates “revitalization” of downtown with improved connection to Mohawk Harbor, while ignoring the Stockade neighborhood (and its Riverside Park, which already offers access for pedestrians to the Mohawk River and attractive green space). Instead, DRI Schenectady touts proposals to “Take advantage of existing opportunities to increase connectivity (Jay Connector, ALCO Tunnel)”. However, whether using Jay Street, the ALCO Tunnel, or the upgraded “Erie Corridor”, Mohawk Harbor is more than a mile away, with much of that distance having no shade and few “attractions”. [see the two Slideshows below of the Jay St. and Erie Blvd. routes] Sprinkling in “public art” and adding LED lights along the way won’t significantly change the appeal of such a long walk.

[Note: this posting was written prior to the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic and its many effects on commerce, retail, restaurants, indoor and outdoor entertainment, etc., all of which further threaten the vitality of our core Downtown district.]

Mohawk Harbor is not “walking distance” from our newly revitalized Downtown!

No amount of wishful thinking will make Mohawk Harbor walking distance from our real Downtown for the vast majority of residents or tourists. For urban planning purposes,  “Walkable” does not mean “capable of being walked”. As the expert author of the Brookings study linked above puts it: “Since the rise of cities 8,000 years ago, humans have only wanted to walk about 1500 feet [0.28 mi.]”, unless they are going to or from an alternative form of transportation (or engaging in an actual exercise routine).

  • At his weblog HumanTransit.org (April 24, 2011), public transit consultant Jarrett Walker concludes: “If you have to choose a single walking distance standard for all situations, the most commonly cited standard is 400m or 1/4 mi.  Europe tends to be comfortable with slightly longer distances.”
  • Of course, as a 2012 comprehensive study of walking distances concluded,

    “There is substantial variability in the distance and duration of walking trips by purpose and population subgroups.” . . .  . “The shortest distances and durations were observed for trips for meals. . . Shopping and dog-walking trips were only slightly longer in distance than trips for meals.”

  • For comparison to the 1.2-mile walk to Mohawk Harbor from Proctors, consider that Frog Alley Brewing, at the evolving Mill Lane Artisan District on Lower State Street, is 0.3 miles from Proctors, and Gateway/Liberty Plaza is 0.4 miles from Proctors; Katie O’Byrnes on Erie Blvd (and Wall Street) is 0.2 miles; Yoga Bliss, south of State Street at 140 Erie Blvd. is 0.3 miles away; Great Flats Brewery on Lafayette at Franklin Street is less than 0.3.

Station-KatieO-2018 . . Katie O’Byrnes, just north of State St., seen the day the Train Station got its new golden dome . .

    • SchdyDRI-BoundaryWhat About the Stockade? For some reason, the Stockade Historic District is not part of the “DRI Schenectady DRI Boundary”. [map above] The Van Dyck Lounge with Mad Jack’s Brewery on Union Street near N. College is 0.4 miles from Proctors. Riverside Park, at the other extreme of the Stockade, which does offer a true, up-close riverbank experience and open green space, is 0.7 miles from Proctors, and only 0.2 miles up Washington Avenue from Gateway/Liberty Plaza, and about 3/10th of a mile from Mill Lane.

Do the people of Schenectady really want to send business and foot-traffic from the Downtown core to Mohawk Harbor? By focusing on “increasing visitation to Mohawk Harbor”, the officials leading our local Government’s planning, development and policy efforts won’t simply be wasting dollars that could have genuinely improved our Downtown. They will be helping to generate the feared Substitution Effect: Substituting spending in and near a casino and surrounding development, for the leisure time and money that would have been spent by residents at other local establishments.

Can existing (surviving) downtown businesses — eateries, retail merchandise shops, specialty boutiques, art galleries, etc. — withstand losing any significant amount of business to Mohawk Harbor? [For a smile, see Good for the Plywood Business, a poster from the successful campaign No Casino in Downtown Hamilton]

 . . click on the Schdy DRI Feb. Power Point for many of the finalist proposals . . 

A DEMAND for MORE RETAIL at MOHAWK HARBOR?

Our DRI Leaders state there is a great excess demand for retail that justifies spending taxpayer funds to funnel people to the privately-owned Mohawk Harbor. They also note that Mohawk Harbor is already a “leading destination”, according to DRI leaders, in their Schenectady DRI Application:

The harbor is now home to Rivers Casino & Resort, two new hotels, a marina, over 200 new apartments, new condominiums, tech office buildings as well as greenspace and bike trails. The Harbor has clearly become a leading destination – an entertainment and tech center that is one of the largest and most successful waterfront developments in Upstate New York.

KarenZ-WCasinoPromisesIndeed, we are constantly told of the tens of thousand of people who go to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino and Hotel. At the end of the Jan. 27, 2020 City Council Meeting, Council member Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas told us (at 54:20 of the OSM video linked above) that Rivers hosted over 200 conferences, meetings and special events in 2019, “bringing over 20,000 people to Schenectady County”; that Landing Hotel is ranked 7th in Capital Region for overnight stays; that Rivers was the first upstate casino to host sports wagering (bringing in a new demographic group to the County); plus, the Casino holds its annual summer Harbor Jam series with live performances and large crowds at the Marina.

Yes, all those people are indeed coming to Mohawk Harbor (of course, many of those visitors already live in the City or County of Schenectady). But, the numbers do not appear to be creating a major demand for retail at Mohawk Harbor. Rivers Casino opened three years ago, followed about 2.5 years ago by its Landing Hotel, the Marina and Amphitheater, and River House (which has over 200 apartments). It also has a free trolley service from Downtown (heavily-subsidized by Metroplex and CDTA); a CYCLE! bike-share station; the ALCO Heritage Bike and Pedestrian Trail; and the advantage of the constant promotion of the Casino, its Convention Center and Hotel by the well-and-publicly–funded Discover Schenectady. Nonetheless, the very visible and tangible evidence does not support the claim of a great excess of retail demand at Mohawk Harbor. There is, instead, a great excess of empty retail space.

The evidence strongly indicates that the folks who are in, or wish to be in, a retail business have not seen the potential for success at Mohawk Harbor, despite the efforts and promises of the Galesi Group, Rush Street Gaming, and Metroplex, and a large quantity of free media that repeats Galesi and Casino promises like scripture. The evidence is not just the empty spots and filler signs on the giant pylon that Galesi Group demanded be placed on Erie Boulevard for Mohawk Harbor to advertise its retail tenants (photo at left, taken Feb. 28, 2020). It is the actual list of arguably “retail” establishments at Mohawk Harbor that belies the claims of Schenectady DRI, despite the site being a “leading destination” in the Capital Region. Outside of the Casino itself, with its eateries, and the Dunkin’ Donuts and Capitol Bank over by the Rotary, this is the full list of “retail” at Mohawk Harbor: as of the first week of March 2020, three years after the Casino opened:

  1. Druther’s restaurant and brew pub
  2. Shaker & Vine restaurant
  3. Ellis Urgent Care and Medicine

Instead of bustling retail outlets in the “125,000 square feet of harborside retail/dining,” promised at the Mohawk Harbor website, and in Planning and Council meetings, we have an unbroken array of empty storefront windows like we have not seen since the worst days of downtown Schenectady. (Actually, the percentage of empty storefronts in downtown Schenectady was never this bad.) Only the dumpster-style bright yellow bollards that are ubiquitous around the Casino [180 of them], present a design scheme as predominant at Mohawk Harbor as its blue and white Retail Space Available signs. Click on the following collage, which shows Harbor retail as of the end of February 2020.

. . east of the Shaker & Vine Restaurant there is no retail, either on the harbor front [above] or along Harbor Way [below], but only those blue signs and the stretches of banner paper hiding the empty storefronts . .

    • Also, I was surprised to learn this week, that the only non-food retail establishment inside the Casino, Splash Spa, closed in December 2018. In addition, not only has no spa or other retail establishment taken its place, the Casino’s Landing Hotel is also without a salon spa. Apparently, neither the Casino’s annual Luck Is a Lady event, nor other events aimed at women, has created a demand for time at the Spa before or after visiting the Casino, its Convention Center, or restaurants.
    • Similarly, a large sign went up quite awhile ago for a Nail Salon on the Erie Boulevard side of Harbor Center, along its parking lot. But, earlier this week there was still no indication of any work being done to prepare the inside for a business.

SuggestionBulb

. . DRI should consider helping to fill the empty storefronts on the 200 Block of State St., truly in the heart of Downtown Schenectady .. 

DSCF5547. . DSCF5548 . . 200 State St. empty

. above: [L & M] 236 State St.; [R] 200 State St. .

SKEPTICAL about DEMAND for PEDESTRIAN CONNECTORS

. . the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall looks and feels like a “downtown block”. . 

A recent photoshoot stroll up both Jay Street and Erie Boulevard north of Liberty Street leaves me very skeptical that there exists any significant demand from the public to walk the mile from our Real Downtown to Mohawk Harbor. More important, perhaps, there appears to be no amount of sprucing up (façade improvement, arrays of LED bulbs, a sprinkling of “public art”), or the other options suggested to and by DRI Schenectady, that would create that demand. There may be places along the non-downtown sections of Jay Street and Erie Boulevard that could be stand-alone destinations for a meal, or a history lesson, for those driving, biking, or coming from a walking distance, but that is a separate issue from (1) how to “revitalize” downtown, and (2) funneling visitors to Mohawk Harbor to help the bottom-line of our largest developer and its casino tenant.

Jay Street to Little Italy to ALCO Tunnel

Is there likely to be a demand to walk from our real downtown, up Jay Street and then through a lighted and refurbished ALCO Tunnel on the way to Mohawk Harbor? A stroll up Jay Street from its Pedestrian Mall to the abandoned ALCO Tunnel did not leave me convinced. What do you think?

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  • The ALCO Tunnel is 0.5 miles up Jay Street from Proctors Theater (a ten or eleven-minute walk). As a “connector”, the ALCO Tunnel would bring you out near the 1400 block of Erie Blvd. (across from Madison Street), at the former location of the Grossman’s Bargain Outlet and the upcoming home of an AllTown Market. They are located an additional 0.5 miles from Mohawk Harbor Way (eleven minutes more). See image of Google Street Maps on the right of this blurb.
  • Pet Peeve, but Relevant to Desirable Walking Conditions: Unless you happen, at the right time of day, to be momentarily in the shade of a building, there is virtually no shade the entire way on Jay Street, nor up Erie Boulevard.

update (March 20, 2020): The larger of the two Italian restaurants in Schenectady’s already-disappointing Little Italy closed for good this week, with the NY Pause declared by Gov. Cuomo due to the COVID-19 crisis the last straw. Per an article in the Gazette, “We just couldn’t afford to keep it open,” said co-owner Connie Hume on Wednesday. [And see, Times Union and WRGB News6 coverage.]

 ERIE BOULEVARD NORTH OF LIBERTY STREET

. . above: elements of the “upgraded” Erie Blvd. touted by DRI: new sidewalks and crosswalks (some with talking-nagging walk signals); (too) many lamp-posts; and scrawny (often dead or dying) trees. .

the walk from Proctors to Mohawk Harbor, using Erie Boulevard

The Schenectady DRI Application gives this description of its vision for the Erie Boulevard connection to Mohawk Harbor [at 26; underscoring added]:

Erie Boulevard Updates

Erie Boulevard features new sidewalks, trees, LED lights, a new roundabout in front of Mohawk Harbor and many other upgrades. A new train station helps define the Erie corridor as a growing commercial area. Schenectady is grateful for the leadership of Governor Cuomo and NYS DOT in making the new train station a reality. As Erie is the main connecting road between Downtown and Mohawk Harbor, further upgrades need to happen as part of DRI Schenectady.

[The AMTRAK RAIL BRIDGE “Trestle”] There is a large Amtrak rail bridge that crosses Erie Boulevard and serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor. Within the next few months Amtrak, NYSDOT and the City of Schenectady will be working together to light up this bridge creating a visual linkage where a barrier now exists. In addition, a new $4 million Alltown Market will begin construction on Erie providing healthy food choices to local residents. [Ed. Note: It will be a gas station and an upscale convenience store with tables. Update: see collage of the nearly-completed Alltown project after the next Slideshow.] This new market will be built on the site of a long vacant lumber yard.

Since its inception, Metroplex has successful[ly] administered a façade matching grant program. The program provides a 50/50 match to businesses that invest in improving their buildings with a special focus on the façade. To date, over 100 facades have been improved. If DRI Schenectady is funded Metroplex will place a special focus on completing facades along the Erie Boulevard corridor helping to improve the visual appeal and commercial viability of this corridor. The goal would be to complete 10 facades at a cost of $750,000 in matching funds.

[Editor’s Trestle-Bridge Dissent: It is hard to agree with the DRI notion that the Amtrak Trestle bridge over Erie Blvd., just north of Union Street, “serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor“. The bridge itself is, in my opinion, about the only element of visual interest as you walk or drive from Liberty Street up Erie Blvd. The trestle camouflages the blandness of Erie Boulevard heading toward the Harbor. Immediately below is a view of the trestle when coming up Erie Blvd. [R], and the “streetscape” that you see when leaving the underpass — which basically would be the view without the trestle as you pass Union Street. 

             . .

The problem is not that the trestle-bridge is a visual barrier. The trestle’s underpass is an aesthetic and safety barrier that few people would use if it can be avoided. The walls of the underpass are so dirty and ugly, and its sidewalks so narrow and unkempt (with leaves, debris and snow virtually never removed along the walls, and pigeon droppings), as speeding traffic swoops past the pedestrian. The failure to address these issues already, given the millions spent to upgrade the Boulevard, strongly suggests the lack of interest by residents or tourists in walking up Erie Boulevard any serious distance. Even if totally spruced up, of course, it cannot “funnel” people who do not want to walk the distance to Mohawk Harbor from Downtown. It might, however, make it more pleasant to get to Mike’s for a hotdog or bagel, Stewart’s for some ice cream (if it remains after the Alltown Market convenience store opens on the next block), or Morrette’s for a steak sandwich.

follow-up (Sept. 14, 2020): To celebrate the re-opening of Rivers Casino after its COVID-19 closing, the City has “accented blue LED lights” on the Erie Boulevard RR trestle. See screen shot below from the Gazette. This is the kind of lighting we are told will draw people to walk up Erie Boulevard. I bet they did not bother to scrub/scrape the various encrustations off the sidewalk.

bluelighttrestle

Erie Boulevard, north of the busy State State intersection and the Schenectady Train Station at Liberty Street, seems far from a natural connector or bridge for pedestrians to Mohawk Harbor. Check out this Slideshow tour, and see what you think.

. . this Slideshow has photos from a walk north on Erie from Liberty to Rush St. 

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.

update (July 29, 2020): The following collage has photos taken July 24, 2020 of the nearly-completed ALLTOWN FRESH Market, on Erie Blvd. at Jefferson Street. It strains credulity for DRI or Metroplex to suggest that a convenience store (no matter how fresh its offerings) and multi-pump gas station will increase the demand for walking from downtown to Mohawk Harbor, or give tourists an impressive impression of Schenectady. As you can see, its overall effect is more Suburban than classic Revived Downtown. A major opportunity was lost at this site for the development of a true attraction or unique resource for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.

AllTown

RotaryClock. . . IMHO: The new Rotary Centennial Clock (image at the right from Gazette, July 24, 2020)), like its neighbor ALLTOWN Market, lacks much visitor appeal, even if its (potentially annoying) seasonal music is somehow coordinated with choruses from the nearby talking pedestrian crossing devices. I hope the Mayor does a better job of keeping this clock telling the correct time.

This set of square tiles contains photos from my return stroll from the Rotary back to Liberty Street on February 28, 2020. It seems to be a long and uninteresting walk, because it is. Click on a tile for a larger, full version of the photo. Go left to right to follow the route.

.

follow-up (Aug. 6, 2020): A lot of the “buzz’ at the DRI Local Planning Committee meeting on July 30, 2020, seemed to suggest that putting “canopy lighting” over the blocks north of Liberty Street, on Jay St. and Erie Boulevard, would add “excitement” (that was the Mayor’s word for it) along those stretches of sidewalk that would attract people to walk to Mohawk Harbor. That seems like, at best, wishful thinking, and perhaps a lame effort to brainwash the public. The current example of such Canopy Lighting is over the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, which at least has buildings on each side from which lighting could be attached. See the next photo. It is hard to image how such lighting will make currently homely and uninteresting stretches an attractive lure to walk past non-attractions. The same can surely be said for “public art installations” along the way.

CanopyLights-JayStMall2

. . . . . . . .

GREEN-SPACE at MOHAWK HARBOR

 . . remaining Harbor “green space” (Feb. 2020)

. . above: Google Satellite View of Mohawk Harbor, showing remaining green-space in the northeast section of the project. 

. . below: DRI description of Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Development.

. . see p. 75 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation . .

Because the Casino Applicant demanded so much ground-level parking, Mohawk Harbor has far less green space than one would have expected at Schenectady’s only remaining location for waterfront development. The Casino also got concessions allowing bigger footprints for its buildings in exchange for adding amenities for the public. (The bike-ped trail mandated in our Code is indeed an amenity, but instead of fully providing funding for it, the developer allowed the State and County taxpayer to pay 85 or 90% of the cost.)

The authors of the Schenectady DRI Application seem to be proud of the Harbor’s green-space. Yet, they propose to allow and subsidize a giant Entertainment and Retail complex, 100,000 sq ft., that would take over much, if not most, of the remaining Mohawk Harbor green-space. To permanently remove such a large portion of the open space at Mohawk Harbor for a use that has no water-front value, and no unique contribution to the City, County, or Region, seems unwise. We should also ask whether, like the Harbor Center buildings and River House, Metroplex plans to give a PILOT or other property tax breaks on the new entertainment-retail complex.

Choosing the Galesi-Casino Harbor Entertainment Development proposal is inappropriate, for at least three other reasons of policy and equity:

1] The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming greatly reduced the amount of green-space at the Harbor, diminishing its attractiveness, and restricting the ability of the public to enjoy a riverbank experience:  They did that damage by insisting that City Council remove from the then-existing Waterfront District Zoning Code, the requirement that any developer at the old ALCO plant location: File a permanent easementfor the purpose of assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront,” with the owner responsible for upkeep. [see screen image of former code provision on the right].

Did that change matter for the aesthetics and enjoyment of the waterfront? The first image below is the rendering submitted by the Rivers Casino applicants following the Waterfront District C-3 Code at the time of the application:

We did not receive an attractive, gently sloping, landscaped riverbank, suitable for picnics, frolicking and play, strolling, sitting and reclining, romance, etc.. Instead, Galesi Group, the Casino, Metroplex, our Planning Commission and Office, and Mayor McCarthy, removed the public access requirement, and ignored the Zoning Code mandates to preserve as much as possible of the natural features of the riverbank, and to place the Trail as close as reasonably possible to the riverbank. As a result, they allowed this to happen to our only potential spot for additional riverfront public access and enjoyment:

 . .

  • pathdetaildetailIn addition, City Hall and Metroplex allowed the developer to locate the bike-ped path closer to that steep riprap bank than was allowed under even the amended Code the Galesi Group and Casino dictated to City Council. Thus, Sec. 264-14(E)(4)(b) states: “There shall be an additional two feet of graded area on either side of the trail and an additional ten-foot buffer between the trail and the river.” (See our post, “Restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor”  (Aug. 10, 2015). The detail to the right, from documents submitted by the developer and casino in the planning process, clearly shows an added 10-foot-wide and landscaped buffer area on the riverside of the bike-ped trail. The public was deprived of that required “amenity”, allowing an attractive and comfortable viewing area, with no discussion or explanation during the permitting process and construction.
    • Moreover, after pressure from the editor of this website for quick action to remedy the hazard caused by the steep slope, the County installed a fence for the safety of the public (on foot or bikes, or wheelchairs), but violated required standards for structures along a bike path — putting the fence only two feet away from the path (instead of 3 to 5 feet), leaving very little space for a cyclist needing to quickly avoid others users on the path, a pedestrian or wheelchair-user to “jump” off the path, or for the public to view the River safely and comfortably when standing along the fence, especially in a group or family. (See our post, “Poorly-planned safety fence going up along Mohawk Harbor Trail” (Oct. 15, 20,18).
    • ALCOTrail-distance . . . alcotrailfence2 As is also apparent from the results (see, e.g., images to the left), the Planning staff and Commission made woefully inadequate efforts to ensure that the Developer satisfy the §264-14(E)(4)(a) standard that the trail “shall endeavor to be located reasonably adjacent to the undeveloped shoreline wherever practicable.” They also failed the goal of §264-14(A)(2)(h), “To preserve, to the maximum extent practicable, the vegetation and natural features along the Mohawk River”.  As a consequence of the developer’s demands and willfulness, and the indifference of Metroplex and our Planning Office, the aesthetic, recreational, and safety benefits to the public envisioned in the City’s waterfront zoning regulations for Schenectady’s last developable waterfront property, have been lost forever.
  • This collage from 2015 OpEd asked why Rush Street would deny public access to the riverfront to the people of  Schenectady, while doing so much for the public at its Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos, spending millions to improve and enlarge already impressive riverbank access.

The answer, from my perspective, is that the Mayor and Metroplex, and City Council, gave in to every demand of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group, and failed to follow industry practice (and common sense) by demanding extra payments and protections for Schenectady and its citizens, when they approved the casino license Application and major zoning code changes. Despite all that Rush Street gives and offers to other host cities, they let the Casino Gang treat Schenectady like a Second-rate City. (See our posting, “Rush Streets giveaways

    • Here’s a telling (and ironic) bit of the McCarthy Administration’s developer-oriented urban planning: When I complained at a public meeting in 2015 that the amendments were taking away guaranteed public access to the riverfront, the then-Director of the Planning Office replied to me and the public that “they will have access to the retail” at the Harbor.

2] After supporting removal of the public access guarantee to the waterfront, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen of Metroplex came up with the misleading argument that having a Large Vessel Dock would assure “total public access to the riverfront.” [2018 rendering below] Based on that bogus, and easily rebutted claim, City Hall and Metroplex originally proposed such a project for Schenectady DRI.  However, other State funding has been secured for the project outside of DRI, meaning that $2 million of public funds from another source will be used to build a 680-foot long, 12-ft. wide, large vessel dock (with no railing, of course) along Mohawk Harbor. It will surely benefit Mohawk Harbor and owners of large vessel boats. For a partial list of the reasons why it is unlikely that a significant portion of the public will be able to enjoy the safe and secure use of such a dock, see our post “The large vessel dock at Mohawk Harbor” (July 24, 2018).

3] While seeking Schenectady DRI and other subsidies for a large entertainment center, Rush Street Gaming’s Pittsburgh Casino announced last October, that for the tenth straight year, it was contributing $7.5 million (in two $3.525 million donations each year, over and above taxes due) for Pittsburgh’s existing, grand sports and entertainment center, PPG Paints Arena, to help cover its original construction costs. The donations will continue for 25 more years. (Note: In case you wonder, Rush Street pays higher gaming tax rates on slots and table games in Pennsylvania than it does in New York on its Schenectady Casino revenues.) When it comes to making gifts and donations, Rush Street Gaming treats Schenectady like the proverbial redheaded stepchild. When, however, it comes to asking for and accepting money, Schenectady’s generous Mayor and Metroplex Chair seem to be Rush Street’s Daddy Warbucks.

Capital Region AQUATIC CENTER  . .

If some of Mohawk Harbor’s remaining green-space is to be sacrificed, it should be for a project that offers unique services to the people of our community and the Capital Region, as well as attracting and serving visitors. If it also provides water-related activities, that would be a plus. Using those criteria, the DRI proposal at Mohawk Harbor that suits the public interest far better than a Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Complex is the CAPITAL REGION AQUATIC CENTER, even though it will not be located at the core of our downtown. [see page 66 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation]  Also see, “Aquatic center proposed on Schenectady waterfront gains $250K grant” (Daily Gazette, John Cropley, March 3, 2020). The Gazette article reports that:

The Capital Region Aquatic Center’s . . . would feature four pools for training, competition and diverse swim programs such as learn-to-swim, exercise and rehabilitation.

Plans also include spectator seating, classroom areas, meeting rooms, aquatic-focused exercise and weight room, studio/multi-purpose area, pro shop, concessions area and locker rooms.. .

In another boost, the Wright Family Foundation of Schenectady announced a $3 million grant in October.

Read about the Aquatic Center’s history and mission, here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy posting. Your (civil) comments are welcome. If you agree, please let the DRI Local Planning Committee, the Mayor and City Council, and the media, know. I plan to add updates and follow-up thoughts to this post.

 . . share this post with this short URL: IMG_1801 https://tinyurl.com/RealSchdyDowntown . . 

. . Many thanks to Google Maps for assisting in making this posting . .

update: Sunday, March 8, 2020: See the Gazette article by Pete DiMola, “As priority projects come into focus, Schenectady DRI panelists could have conflicts of interest“. There’s a lot to consider in the piece. This excerpt gives a taste of the complexities:

But roughly a quarter of the 16-member panel tapped with making the final decisions represent organizations who are not only jostling for funding, but are also actively pitching projects themselves.

They include the city, Proctors, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, Rivers Casino & Resort and Schenectady Country Metroplex Development Authority.

Driving pedestrian traffic between downtown and Mohawk Harbor is the centerpiece of the effort.

David Buicko, CEO and president of the Galesi Group, which developed Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino & Resort, is co-chair of the panel.

Also, see Saturday’s Guest Column by former Union College President, and Mayoral candidate, Roger H. Hull, “Don’t emulate Washington on ethics transparency,” which also raises conflict of issues statements, especially re the leaders of Galesi Group and Proctors being on the Local Planning Committee. Dr. Hull ends the column with these observations:

HullOpEd7Mar2020Yet, even if they recuse themselves, the process would be tainted, since it would be easy to game the system. It would be best for them to resign, if their organizations are possible recipients of the grant.

A lack of transparency and conflicts of interest are troubling issues—or at least they should be. In the past, they were, but not today.

In the age of Trump, those issues are, seemingly, of no concern to most people.

In Schenectady, ethics and legal norms should be retained.

We would all benefit, and we might even serve as a much-needed model for Washington.

DRIPlanningCmteBLATANT CONFLICTS. Dave Buicko is CEO of the Galesi Group, which developed and owns Mohawk Harbor, and was the main spokesperson pushing the Casino application forward in 2014 and thereafter related Zoning changes and site plans, etc. As stressed above, the primary focus of DRI Schenectady is “increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor“. Nonetheless, Mr. Buicko was made co-Chair of the DRI Planning Committee. And, Mayor McCarthy (who is seeking funding on behalf of the City), is the other co-chair. Mr McCarthy told the Gazette that he wants the Committee’s recommendations for projects that will receive grants to be bundled into a single vote. Doing that, of course, will mean that the final vote will allow Committee members with conflicts of interest, even if they have previously recused themselves on particular proposals, to vote for them as part of a “bundle” of projects.

If ever there were a situation ripe for “horse trading”, it is DRI Schenectady. Too many committee members (click on above image) are directly involved with proposals, and too many others are beholden to, or seeking favors from, the City, Metroplex, Rivers Casino, the Galesi Group and Proctors, to believe that an objective assessment of the public interest will drive the outcome. 

How else but from the now-habitual McCarthy-Metroplex “done deal” perspective, with McCarthy and Gillen “snowmen” selected for panels, can the public understand how the primary goal of DRI Schenectady could be driving customers away from our core downtown to Mohawk Harbor, a private development situated over a mile from the Real Downtown Schenectady?

HOW FAR FROM DOWNTOWN? The initial brochure of the Galesi Group for its Mohawk Harbor development proclaimed it was “in the heart of downtown Schenectady.” Since then, they have been a bit more accurate.  Galesi Group President David Buiko (co-chair of Schenectady DRI), told Spectrum News in 2016 that “you’re really less than a mile from downtown Schenectady.” And, the River House apartments amenities page points out there is “FREE Trolley Service To Downtown Schenectady” — just in case you don’t feel like walking that far.

follow-up (August 6, 2020): FULL SLATE DRI VOTING PROTECTS CONFLICTS. The screen shot below was taken during the DRI planning committee meeting last week.  It looks like the Mayor is getting his way — committee members will be voting on the entire Slate of proposed projects, up or down. That means that members with undeniable conflicts of interest get to vote for their own projects within the slate, with no way to recuse themselves. 

DRI-CombinedBallot


The dearth of questions at the Planning Commitee meeting on July 30, 2020 — no follow-ups, no skepticism about effects on downtown of the push to Mohawk Harbor, no discussion of pandemic consequences, etc. — suggests that there will be a lot of Scratching of Each-other’s Backs, and overlooking of the overreaching conflicts of interest. 
  • honestThere are far too many examples of misleading, half-true, or simply erroneous  claims surrounding Mohawk Harbor and the Casino for me to supply them in this posting. Browsing this weblog will give the reader a good taste (well, actually, a bad taste for our City Hall). But, here are three quick but relevant examples:  (1) A few years ago, the initial online brochure for Mohawk Harbor stated that it was located “in the heart of downtown Schenectady.” (2) At one time it was claimed that Rivers Casino is located “across the street” from the new Train Station. And, (3) Dave Buicko (rather than the Planning Office staff) was allowed to present the large packet of amendments to the City’s Waterfront District zoning Code in 2015. The Galesi Group CEO told the Planning Commission and City Council that the amendments were mainly minor and technical, despite among other things, removing guaranteed public access to the waterfront, permitting 80-foot rather than 7-foot signs, allowing 19,000 rather than 250 square feet of signage, and completely removing the Casino from the Signage portion requirements of the City’s Zoning Code. (See our descrption of the Planning Commission Special Meeting that approved the Amendments: “Schenectady’s Waterfront Zoning: A rubber stamp in a company town?” (Jan. 29, 2015). With “alternate facts” like these coming from City Hall and its favorite “partners”, who needs actual facts when doling out $10 million taxpayer dollars?

follow-up (March 21, 2020): Thank you, Daily Gazette for publishing my Letter to the Editor today, “Invest state funds in our ‘real’ downtown” (at D2):

DRI-RealDowntown

Rivers Casino table games revenue still down from 2017

gaminglessonsad Despite sponsoring Gaming Lessons last September (see image to right), and having a rather good Table Games month in October 2018, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor has still taken in less revenue from Table Games in the nine months since its first anniversary in February 2018, than it did in the same months of 2017, after its opening.  This is, of course, the flip side of the “slotsification” trend we have been reporting on here the past several months: The almost 11% increase in revenues at Rivers Casino over the same period last year is totally accounted for by an increase in Slots/ETG revenue of over 18%, with both table games and poker table revenue down. [Click for the Rivers’ Weekly Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) figures submitted to the Gaming Commission.] Here’s a chart showing aggregate numbers for the first nine months of operation of Rivers Casino in Schenectady, which began in February 2017, alongside the figures for the same nine months in 2018:

 CasinoRevCompared-Feb-Oct

We Repeat our Main Concern: Slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling, and draw many of the most vulnerable members of our community. As disappointing as the measly 1% reduction in property tax rates may be for 2019 (see Times Union article dated Oct. 26, 2018), the budget antics that brought any decrease at all due to Casino gaming tax revenues, are primarily bought with the Slots dollars spent by our grandmothers and neighbors who probably can least afford to gamble at Rivers Casino. The High Rollers are not flying in regularly to help reduce your taxes.

SlotsGrandmaBW. . Thank you, Dearie, for the tiny tax cut; but, you better try harder! . . 

Slots have been up elsewhere across the nation, but at nowhere near the percentage increase that we have seen all year along the Mohawk. Despite that, neither the City nor County of Schenectady has budgeted any funds for problem gambling education and prevention in 2019.  And, neither government seems to want to look into, much less talk about, the dollars sucked out of other local businesses as crowds are lured to events at Mohawk Harbor.

August continues Casino tilt to Slots

In the seven months since its 1st Anniversary celebration in February, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady has seen an underwhelming increase of 10% in its Total Gross Gambling Revenue compared to the first seven months of the Casino’s operation. Frankly, considering Rivers only taking in about 70% of its first-year revenue projection, and the coming into existence of so many of its “wait-untils,” a ten percent increase is simply not all that impressive.

RiversRevCompareAug Moreover, after tabulating the numbers for the first four weeks of August 2018, it is clear that the “slotsification” we worried about last month continues.  Slots/ETG revenue is up 19.7% from February through August, but both Table Game and Poker Game revenues are down compared to the same months in 2017. Therefore, the vaunted increase at Schenectady’s Casino continues to be all from Slots — all from the most addictive and victimizing form of casino gambling.

. . share this post with the URL: https://tinyurl.com/SlotsTilt

 Here are the number totals for February to August 2018: HotSlotsFacade

RiversRevs-Feb-Aug

  • 68.7%: Slots/ETG were 63.2% of the Total Gross Gambling Revenues at Rivers Casino in its first 7 months of operation (Feb. to August of 2017). That percentage has increased to 68.7% of Total GGR for the same months of 2018, the first seven months of the second year of operation of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.

We are, therefore, in the very Catch-22 situation that any thinking person (especially those not hoping to cash in on the coming of a casino to Schenectady, or any urban location), and any thoughtful politician or leader (especially those realistically looking after the interests of the entire community) would have foreseen and avoided when the Casino-In-Schenectady process started in 2014.

  1. Catch22logo Revenues will never reach the levels that were used to justify the risks to the community from an urban casino.
  2. Attempting to increase the revenue levels at the Casino will almost certainly increase the social cost, including increasing the incidence of problem gambling, and especially increasing slots revenue.
  3. Politicians, like Ass. Phil Steck (“from Mohawk Harbor”), will suggest tax breaks for the Casino owners and developer, that will actually reduce the amount received by the State, City and County, and increase profits for the Casino Gang, which does not need to meet its phony projections to reap a profit.
  4. No significant efforts will be made to bring the community the kinds of Problem Gambling Education and Prevention efforts that might ameliorate the social pain that is and will be generated by a casino in our midst, because the State and City do not want to lose the gambling tax revenues and the Casino does not want to prevent the evolution of more and more problem gamblers, who fuel their profits.
  5. Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor efforts aimed at Millennials, who prefer drink (esp. craft beer), food, and live entertainment to gambling, will aid the bottom line of the Casino Gang, without a corresponding increase in revenue to the State or municipalities.

Slotsification on the Mohawk

SmokinHotSlotsB

a Smoking Patio with slots & drinks means non-stop slots play!!

The lower-than-projected total of gambling dollars and customers brought in by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in its first year of operation disappointed just about everybody. (See, e.g., our post on Projections vs. Reality.) So, it is understandable that the increase so far this year in Gross Gambling Revenue [the amount bet minus winnings paid out, called “GGR”] has been broadly welcomed in our community. Nonetheless, Sara Foss at the Schenectady Gazette was correct to voice concerns last Sunday about the significant increase of gambling revenues this year earned from Slots and other Electronic Table Games [ETG]. See “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018).  That is because the clear consensus of experts and observers is that slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.

emptyPockets Indeed, from the perspective of potential social costs and harm to gamblers and their families, the situation is very serious. I’ve tabulated the numbers, and it is clear that additional revenue from SLOTS/ETG (Electronic Table Games) is alone fueling the increased gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its 2nd year of operation. I call this process “Slotsification”.

RiversSlots Below is a comparison of the first six months in which Schenectady’s Rivers Casino was operating [Feb. to July of 2017] with the same six months in 2018, after one full year of operation. I used the most recent Monthly report posted at the Gaming Commission’s site, and the Casino’s weekly reports.
.
.
FEBRUARY to JULY 2018 – Gross Gambling Revenue [GGR] at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (Schenectady), compared to February to July 2017, the first six months of operation at Rivers Casino:
 
TOTAL GGR – 9.7% increase [$6,830,160]
    2017 Feb-July            $70,080,214
    2018 Feb-July            $76,910,374 
.
SLOTS/ETG GGR – 19.3% increase [$8,510,139]
    2017 Feb-July            $44,054,616
    2018 Feb-July            $52,564,755 
.
TABLE GAME GGR – – down 6.0% [$1,297,613]
   2017 Feb-July             $22,886,161
   2018 Feb-July             $21,588,548 
 .
POKER TABLE GGR – – down 11.7% [$368,091]
   2017 Feb-July            $3,145,137
   2018 Feb-July             $2,777,046 
 .
In sum, Total GGR is up almost 10% at Rivers Casino, with Slots/ETG revenue up 19.3%, but both Table Game and Poker Game GRR down compared to the same months in 2017. The increase is all from Slots.
.
In addition, looked at in the aggregate, Slots/ETG revenues were 63% of GGR in Feb-July of 2017; but they were 68% of GGR in Feb-July of 2018. It would be helpful to know whether more people are choosing to play slots, or whether slots players are playing longer.
.
 follow-up (February 9, 2019): The figures for the full 12 months of February 2018 to January 2019, Rivers Casino’s 2nd year of operation, continue the Slotsification process. Total GGR was up 9.25%, with Slots up 14.7%, but Table Game and Poker Table revenues down slightly over the first 12 months of operation at Rivers Casino. (Click on this chart for a larger version.)
.
RiversRevs1stTwoYrs
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Furthermore, for the full year since the 1st Anniversary of Rivers Casino, Slots/ETG revenues were 68% of the Total GRR for the Casino.
.
  • AddictionByDesign-Schüll-CoverIt may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict(New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll). 
 
Compare other Casinos: Although Slots revenue is up somewhat in Las Vegas recently, slots have been down or sluggish in other regions. Notably, not one of Rush Street’s three other casinos (one in Illinois at Des Plaines; and two in Pennsylvania, SugarHouse in Philadelphia, and Pittsburg Rivers) has had more than a small uptick in slots this year, and many months have been down. [Click for an example of recent Pa. stats; the Des Plaines IL Rivers Casino shows only a 1.32% increase in their slots category (“EGD”) for the first half of 2018; see p. 4 of this Report.]
 
Is Rivers Casino in Schenectady trying to “slotsify” its casino revenue, to maximize its profits? Is this also a result of growing problem gambling among Schenectady’s slots players, along with a growing indifference by those who like table games to spending time along the Mohawk?
.
  • What about Millennials? Has Rivers also decided to make more money by luring in millennials, who spend on food, drink and entertainment, rather than on gambling when at Mohawk Harbor? That helps Rush Street and Galesi Group profits, but does not increase gambling tax revenue receipts for the City and County. [See the article on Millennials and Casinos quoted at length below.] The Casino does not have to reach its bloated projections to be a business success. 
 
Whatever the cause, Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.
.

AssPhilSteck Will community leaders such as NYS Assemblyman Phil Steck, who say we must help the Casino succeed, turn a blind eye to the added hazard to our Community? Steck, who we’ve been calling “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” since his letter in support of Rivers Casino in June 2014, recently wrote that “Revenue raising is paramount”, after bemoaning the negative effect on the poor and vulnerable. This is, of course, the dilemma casino opponents saw when they opposed bringing one to Schenectady. The monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, by Sam Magavern and Elaina Mulé, January 19, 2011, gives a good summary of the dangers for already-struggling cities that turn to casinos for revenue. And, it highlights the obvious:

“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos. [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]

And, consider “State Gambling Revenue Takes Hit as Millennials Bring New Habits to Casinos” (Pew Trust, Stateline Article, by Elaine S. Povich, Sept. 15, 2015), which opens with this statement:

Casinos across the nation are suffering from a generation gap, especially at the slot machines, as young people seek more exotic electronic games like the ones they can play on smartphones from anywhere.

That’s a problem not just for casino operators, but for the 23 states that rely on revenue from casino taxes, particularly from lucrative slots, to help balance their budgets and fund new priorities.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

see-no-evil-monkeyBlue It is easy to be flippant and say, “Don’t ask Casino Opponents, we told you so,” back when our elected and appointed political leaders, and businesses hoping for a Casino Gravy Train, refused to even acknowledge the risks. Well, we did tell you so (e.g., this post), precisely because we feared just this situation: Big Problems without Palatable Solutions. No Answers for getting out of the Casino Casualty Syndrome and the related suffering of families and individuals; lots of temptation to seek more favors for the Casino, such as legislation with tax reductions or gimmicks (such as a marketing allowance), or spending $2 million on a Large Vessel Dock along Mohaw Harbor; plus, a lot of uncertainty and pain for employees at the Casino and associated businesses, if the Casino declines slowly, and especially if it fails and closes.

316-vector-no-evil-monkeys Even if they secretly know the damage that is likely to happen to our Community, the temptation for our “leaders” to push on is great, refusing to confess their short-sighted mistakes, pressuring local businesses and civic groups to patronize Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and looking for legislative “solutions.” One thing for sure, the cognitive dissonance that we hear from politicians like Phil Steck does not help one bit. The Assemblyman tells us:

Perhaps some day there will be no casino at Mohawk Harbor. No one can predict the future; it is sensible to plan for an alternative. But, Rivers is here, so we need it to be as successful as possible. One constituent wrote to me on this subject citing the old adage: “Let’s take the lemons and make them into lemonade.”

LemonLawLogo No one should be surprised that the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor offers us no Lemonade Recipe and suggests no likely ingredients for the mix (other than a “not-a-bailout” tax break in the form of a marketing allowance that is too silly to even call specious). There is no secret, magical “sugar” to sweeten our Casino Lemons, and no law that will tow the wreck away. We are all left puckering up, and wincing, as the future rushes toward Slotsnectady, a City that once could Light and Haul the World, but now glories in “smart” lamp-posts, its homely-but-bossy Casino, and its beer-cultured Renaissance.

. . share this post with this short URLhttps://tinyurl.com/Slotsification

. . this is one of the mastheads we used when this website was called StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com:

noalcocasino-mastb1

. . they gambled with Schenectady’s future, putting possible revenues ahead of the social costs, and acting as if there was nothing to lose . .

Appendix: Why are Slots so Addictive?

Continue reading

Rivers Casino Brawl (2018 version)

. . let’s hope grandma left early . . YourAngryGrandmaBW

. . It’s Springtime at Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino, and once again, a young gang’s fancy turns to fisticuffs:

Yesterday afternoon online (May 1, 2018), but NOT in print today or the past three days, the Gazette reported “Five arrested after Schenectady casino brawl” (by Andrew Beam).

Five people were arrested after a fight involving approximately 30 people at Rivers Casino & Resort on Sunday.

The fight began at around 3 a.m. and stemmed from an argument between two people, according to Sgt. Jeffrey McCutcheon. However, McCutcheon said it was unclear why the fight began because most of the the people charged did not cooperate with police.

crimescene-casino . . Mutual aid was requested by police officers assigned to the casino, with members of the Rotterdam Police Department, Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office, Scotia Police Department and the Glenville Police Department responding for backup. McCutcheon said officers from those agencies were not needed to make the arrests.

Today, the online edition has more details.

Malcolm Mathias faces a felony second-degree assault charge, accused of placing city officer Charles Stevens in a head lock. Stevens suffered a cut to the left side of his head, according to court documents. . .

“The defendant’s actions resulted in officers getting surrounded by 20 or more persons, getting attacked by other individuals and creating public alarm,” state the charges against both men.

As we learn more about the incident and about media coverage, this posting will be updated.

update (Wed. night, May 2, 2018): The brief article “5 charged at Rivers casino fight” (by Steve Hughes, Albany Times Union) was posted online this afternoon. TU article states that:

Video reportedly shot at the casino and posted on social media during the incident shows a large group of people pushing and shoving as casino security attempts to separate several people. A second video show police officers surrounded by people arguing and appearing to arrest at least two people.

There is no link to the video, but maybe Paul Nelson will locate it when he gets back to work on his Schenectady crime beat.

update (July 25, 2018): See “Police: Table game dispute at Rivers Casino leads to assault: The victim required treatment for swelling, bleeding and needed sutures to his eye, allegations read” (Schenectady Gazette, by Steven Cook, July 24, 2018).

. . Michael Kearsing, 27, of Fisler Avenue, Colonie, intentionally punched a 65-year-old man “several times in the face following a dispute at a table game,” the allegations signed by the victim read.

 

a Long-shot at Rivers Casino?

 Last week, on December 8, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor announced its new General Manager, Rob Long. [Click for Times Union coverage, and the Gazette report.] Of course, Long cannot be expected to instantly bring in significantly greater revenue. But, his first week on the job must have brought some cold reality for Mr. Long, along with Schenectady’s first jolt of real winter weather. The week ending December 10, 2017 (see Revenues Chart at the Gaming Board) brought these milestones/millstones, although we had no crippling snowstorm:

  • Worst Table Game Drop figure ever [$3,362,547] – despite its Table Game seminars a couple months ago to lure players;
  • Worst Slot Machine GGR since June [$1,523,343];
  • 2nd worst total GGR since June [$2,388,276].

Neither the Gazette nor the Times Union, despite my sending them the information on December 8, has mentioned Rob Long’s record when he guided the development and opening of Rush Street’s very first casino, Riverwalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Gazette never mentioned that Long had been Manager of a Rush Street casino on a river in Vicksburg. But, as we wrote here in March of 2016, when opposing the naming of the main casino roadway in Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street”, Rush Street Gaming (with the same captains at the helm, owner Neil Bluhm, CEO Greg Carlin, and GM Rob Long):

 sold their Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., just four years after it opened, and after failing in their immediate request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment.

 Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin touted Rob Long’s “well-established track record.” All I know about Long at this time is that:

  1. the riverside casino he ran for Rush Street Gaming in Mississippi opened in 2008;
  2. shortly thereafter, it requested an enormous reduction in its real estate appraisal, which was not granted; and
  3. it was sold in 2012 to Churchill Downs.

By the way, of the 19 Mississippi casinos located along the Mississippi River, Riverwalk was one of the only two facilities that were not forced to close in 2011 due to record flooding. Did Rush Street decide it would not press its luck?

  •  One more thing I did learn, Long’s Riverwalk Casino’s big fundraiser each year was “Bras for Breast Cancer”, which offered to pay a dollar for donated bras and strung the bras across the Old Highway 80 Mississippi River Bridge, with a special section featuring creatively decorated bras. Hey, we have a nearby bridge! 

QQ: Rush Street Gaming will not tell us, nor will Rob Long himself, but I sure would like to know what options the company discussed with its GM when planning for the near-future at Rivers Casino in Schenectady. When will they start considering jumping ship along the Mohawk? Not to mention, how happy is the landowner, Galesi Group, that they “designed” the Schenectady casino to be just boxes next to boxes, so the facility could easily be converted from a casino to just about anything?

 

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 permanent public access to and enjoyment of the riverfront from our Zoning Code’s C-3 Waterfront District requirements, at the request of the Casino Applicants.

What would “public access to the riverfront” have looked like? The rule was part of our zoning code when Galesi/Rush-Street’s application was filed with the Casino Site Location Board. And, the following rendering shows the Applicants’ proposed design, permitting the buildings to be raised about the floodplain, and yet creating/preserving an attractive, accessible, usable riverbank to ensure public access and enjoyment of the riverbank:

CasinoRiverbankRendering

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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LargeDockImagered check  update (July 24, 2018): In a Gazette article today, Ray Gillen is quoted saying that a Large Vessel Dock they hope the State will fund (with 80% of the cost) will provide real public access. I do not know enough yet to be able to agree or disagree. Click this link for a screen shot of a rendering presented by Mr. Gillen’s to the City Council Committee on July 16, 2018. A detail from that presentation is presented at the right of this paragraph, but it has poor resolution.  More information will be coming as/if I am able to learn more. follow-up (8 PM): See our posting “the Large Vessel Dock at Mohawk Harbor”, for more information and for two renderings provided by Mr. Gillen.

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, each linked below, 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 do 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 to the riverbank”, 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. [Ironic follow-up: Three years after the casino opened, there is virtually no retail at Mohawk Harbor for the public to access.]

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 further 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-rear-patios 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 10, 2015 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.

follow-up (May 29, 2018): My prediction above that the grading would prevent public access to the Riverbank, sadly, proved true. The rocks and drop-off may also be hazardous to cyclists and pedestrians who need to quickly exit the path. This image shows the path along the casino hotel and patios on Memorial Day, 2018:

IMG_7240

And, here’s another view of the stretch behind the Casino complex on Nov. 4, 2017:

IMG_4939

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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. 

 

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: Over half a dozen Schenectady residents pleaded 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, before 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? –

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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 its hotel 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 on the height of the building that 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.

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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.

Casino-SAMmast

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noalcocasino-mastB

– 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.

logoclip_0

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.

Plywood%20Business

– 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.