a bargeful of yellow bollards on the Mohawk

. . but, first, a Mother’s Day Bouquet for Mama G. :

2 of 180

 A Conversation We Might Have Over-Heard at Mohawk Harbor on Mother’s Day:

Q: “What are all those big yellow things called, Son?”  A: “Bollards, Mom.”

Q: “Why are there so many and why are they so tall?” A: “Only God, Ray Gillen, and maybe Mayor McCarthy, know”.

Q: “Weren’t they supposed to make Mohawk Harbor and the Casino a classy, attractive destination?” A: “That’s what they promised.”

Q: “Then, how the heck did all those yellow bollards get here?”

“They” — the Developer Galesi Group, Casino Owner Rush Street Gaming, the Planning Commission, Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Hall in general, Ray Gillen and Metroplex, and County government — could have and should have made this crucial project more attractive, to help bring in tourists and repeat business, and for the sake of residents who deserve a beautiful harbor district. Instead, there are, by my recent count, at least 180 bright yellow bollards (that is,15 dozen) surrounding Rivers Casino and detracting from its attractiveness.

The bollards are, in addition, taller than the average bollard (which is 3.5 ft., and not 4′, 5′ and 6′, as at Mohawk Harbor), increasing their visual impact.[see photo above] In the opinion of many folks in Schenectady, parking areas and pedestrian walkways should not be this pedestrian.

  • The Sentries assigned to protect Schenectady from harmful outsiders went on the day of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre instead went off to a Mill Lane pub for some brew, leaving behind snowmen and open stockade gates to greet French and Indian marauders from Canada. Sadly, it seems, weaponless and voiceless Snowmen have been appointed or hired to oversee design and implementation of Schenectady’s most important development of this Century. They’ve permitted a bumper crop of bright yellow bollards to sprout along Mohawk Harbor. For my taste, if they had spawned at least a few snowman-shaped bollards, we would have been better off.

You can see the results of the City’s planning and oversight omissions for yourself with a quick look at the next two collages; one shows bollards at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on the west side of the facility [L], and the other shows bollards along the east end and rear of the Casino complex [R].

 

 

 

 

. . click on either collage, or any image in this posting, for a larger version . 

What Is a Bollard and What Do They DO?

 A bollard is a sturdy, short, vertical post. The term originally referred to a post on a ship, wharf or dock used principally for mooring boats, but is now also used to refer to posts installed to control road traffic and posts designed to provide security and prevent ramming attacks, as well as provide a theme or sense of place. [see Wikipedia; Reliance Foundry; TrafficGuard.]

Bollards are available in many different sizes and styles, including removable or fixed versions, designed to evoke virtually any era or taste. The type chosen depends on the purpose of the bollard, and the location. For example, Reliance Foundry displays illustrations, specs, and prices for 143 bollard models at its website, including bollard covers in many styles and choice of materials. And, see: its Pinterest Creative Bollards display. Bollards can be serious or stately, artsy or whimsical. The style or mood can even be mixed on the same site or project.

 Bollards are not, therefore, merely practical, and definitely do not have to detract from a landscape or streetscape. Reliance Foundry notes that “Bollards enhance the visual quality of buildings and landscapes while providing visual and physical barriers for safer, more controlled environments.” And, relevant to our discussion of Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino:

 When used to complement new or existing architecture, bollards can create or reinforce thematic visual cues and enhance a sense of place within a neighborhood or community—and for approaching visitors. [click the collage at the head of this blurb to see samples of Reliance Foundry bollards] 

Despite the hundreds of bollard styles to choose from, and their coincidental nautical history, tall bollards with bright yellow covers are so ubiquitous on the lawns, parking areas, and walkways of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, that they are the most prominent architectural feature defining the otherwise uninspiring, and unnamable external design of the Casino complex.

Thus, whether you are . . .

. . entering the Rivers Casino parking lot from the west on Front Street:

. . coming from the east on Harbor Way:

. . . visiting next-door at STS Steel:

. . driving over the Mohawk from Glenville on Freeman’s Bridge:

 . . .

. . aboard your yacht on the Mohawk River:

 . . .

. . entering the ALCO Trail on foot from the west:

. . or, even checking out the ALCO Trail signage from your bike:

your first and subsequent views of the site at Rivers Casino are highly likely to be populated by an inert army of tall, bright yellow bollards.

WE DESERVED BETTER

In the posting “Why does Rush Street give Schenectady its scraps” (June 19, 2015), we pointed to the image created by the Applicants before the Location Board, when they sought a gaming license from New York State, and noted our disappointment in the eventual design of Rivers Casino:

A flashy digital brochure submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission, “The Companies of Neil Bluhm,” touts his having “developed and acquired over $50 billion in world class destinations,” his “Establishing international beacons to successfully attract the tourism market,” and “placing an emphasis on superior design” for his casinos. Unfortunately, instead of an “international beacon” like Fallsview Casino in Ontario, Canada, we get a design that reminds us Neil Bluhm “pioneered . . . the creation of urban shopping centers.”

Why did we get such a disappointing, second-rate design? I got no reply when I emailed the Schenectady Planning Office and City Engineer, on April 15, 2019 and asked, regarding the yellow bollards:

  1. Did the Applicant designate the color, style and size for its bollards for its Site Plan review? 
  2. Did the Commission either approve or direct such bright yellow bollards?
  3. Did Staff review this choice and okay it?

That leaves me to speculate on my own. In our June 15, 2017 “scraps” posting, we stated:

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

In their Casino License Application, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group were required to submit detailed renderings and sketches of the proposed Casino project. For example, the July 2014 Application included an overview sketch with the detail at the right of their west parking lot, the largest ground-level parking area.  [full sketch] There are well over 100 trees in the west parking lot in the submitted sketch. That presentation shows that the Applicants/Developer/Owners knew what a parking lot meant to attract and keep tourists and other customers should look like. If nothing else, the image should also have reminded the Planning Commission and planning staff what their goal should be regarding the landscaping and appearance of this prime location. Unfortunately, the public and perhaps also the Planning Commission never again saw such detailed proposals for the casino compound.

  • from 2nd Casino Design

    from 2nd Casino Design

    The limited 2nd design images submitted for public review of the Casino compound did not include the full parking lot, but still seemed to have quite a few trees. [See the image to the left.] The third design submitted to the public only revealed a tiny part of the front and back of the Casino, giving no parking lot views. Of course, nothing prevented, and their duty demanded, that the Planning Commission require more detail and allow more public comment; more important, their duty demanded the construction of far more attractive parking lots, especially given how much of the total footprint of the Casino Compound and Mohawk Harbor they would consume.

The the next four images below show the actual west parking lot, with its mere handful of trees along the rows. Click on a photo for a larger version.

IMG_9158 . . IMG_9150-001

. . photos taken, Nov. 4, 2018 [above] and May 4, 2019 [below] . . 

. .

You have to wonder: “What happened to all those trees?” Indeed, the Minutes of the July 22, 2015 Commission Meeting, which included the Casino Site Plan Review, have Commission Member (now Chair) Mary Moore Wallinger noting (at 5):

[T]hat she very much appreciates the detailed planting plan and that she feels that the applicants listened to the feedback from the Commission regarding the landscaping and pedestrian walkways and took it into account when revising the design.

What could Ms. Wallinger, a leading Schenectady landscape architect and designer of major municipal projects in the City and County, have meant, if the result is a swarm of yellow bollards that would seem to be the antithesis of good landscaping and site planning at an “international tourist destination” and unique, new, upscale neighborhood? The beauty and shade added by robust and numerous trees in a parking lot are, of course, much appreciated by urban designers, and by passersby, drivers, and passengers coming from near and far.

  • BTW: I recall being in the Commission hearing room when, at one point in the process, Ms. Wallinger spent a lot of time worrying with the applicant over the size of the parking lot tree beds. Did she have any follow-up with the Planning Office staff on this issue?

Throughout the Casino design and site plan approval process, this website and local media complained that the public and the Planning Commission were receiving far fewer and far less specific details about how the casino site would look as proposed by the developers than we would expect in even the most insignificant project. We were shown only incomplete “peeks” at segments of the proposed plans, often with sketches and not complete renderings, and the Commission never demanded more, despite the importance of this project and its clear authority to require more. Instead, phony deadline pressure arguments from the Applicants were accepted without complaint, and last-minute incomplete submissions were accepted. For example, see the limited-view renderings submitted for the rear (river-side) of the Casino and its Hotel on the Right for the 2nd Rivers Casino Design, and immediately below for the 3rd design.

 . . .  

By the way, despite their prominence on the actual constructed site, there are no yellow bollards in sight in either version of the rear of the Casino complex.

How could this happen at a project hailed so often as Schenectady’s premiere new, upscale location, and hope for its future? The City’s Planning Commission purportedly gave the Casino and Mohawk Harbor a full Site Plan Review (see our disappointed coverage). Site Plan review is not merely meant to make sure that all zoning laws have been followed. As we explained during the Site Plan process for the Casino complex in July 2015:

“[T]he commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.” [Gazette article citing Corporation Council Carl Falotico, Feb. 3, 2015.]

Also, see the section “What a site plan accomplishes” in the “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW”, by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, at 19.

    • By the way, at the end of the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, chair Sharron Coppola announced it would be her last meeting as chair, and that she would be resigning her position as Planning Commissioner. I certainly wish Ms. Coppola had written a Memoir of her time at the Commission, including the entire Harbor District zoning and Casino site planning experience.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS?

NotYellow-OrthoNY

at OrthoNY Liberty Street

Some of the most imaginative people I know have not been able to figure out or conjure up a justification for the excessive and near-exclusive use of bright yellow bollards at Rivers Casino Schenectady. In addition, in none of my readings have I found any indication that bollards need to be bright yellow in order to effectively serve their functions. My inquiry to City Engineer Chris Wallin about requirements that bollards by yellow in certain situations never got a reply. (Of course, in a location where one might not expect to find the protected item, a bright color to signal its existence does make sense, but that issue does not seem to warrant the ubiquitous choice of bright yellow at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.)

A Schenectady Tradition? No, it isn’t, despite their use to protect utility cabinets at recent projects downtown. City Hall, County, civic and business leaders are surely aware that there are other kinds of affordable and more attractive bollards, or similar security measures or screens available. A short outing around Downtown Schenectady should suffice to prove that proposition; here’s the result of my recent bollard tour:

at S. Church & State St. . .

Also, the first tenant at Mohawk Harbor, Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, did a nice job looking like a tasteful place to stay, without using even one yellow bollard to protect the building and utility units. Here are a couple of sample views of the Hotel; for more, click on the Collage Thumbnail to the head of this paragraph.

 . .

Unfortunately, Marriott’s example did not rub off across its driveway at Galesi’s Harborway Drive office-retail buildings.

A Rush Street Gaming Branding Tool or Trademark? And, No, bright yellow bollards are not a design theme uniting all Rush Street Gaming properties. The collage below (on L) has images compiled from an extensive on-line Google Street Map tour of the exterior of Rivers Casino at DesPlaines, Illinois, which has a design similar in many ways to Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, but without yellow bollards. Similarly, the collage on the Right shows exterior scenes from Rush Street’s Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, where yellow bollards are also absent and do not appear to be a design element for exterior spaces. Similarly, Google Images we located of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh contain no yellow bollards.

SugarHouse-NoYellowBollards

Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming and their development partner Galesi Group used not-yellow bollards and non-bollard alternative devices in strategic spots at and near Rivers Casino. Click on this Collage:

. .

A few years ago, we documented at this website how much better Rush Street Gaming has treated the cities that host its other casinos or potential sites than how it treats Schenectady [see, e.g., Rush Street Giveaways, and Money on the Table]. So, it is not surprising that we have not been able to find similar aggregations of bright yellow (or even similarly unsubtle or unsightly) bollards at other Rush Street casinos.

at Waterfront Condominiums, Mohawk Harbor

Finally, Is Bright Yellow a Galesi Group Trademark or Branding Tool? Despite a minor outbreak of similar bollards at the Galesi-built and owned Price Chopper/Golub headquarters (example), there does not seem to be any internal imperative for yellow bollards within the Galesi Group.  Indeed, we see a far more tasteful/tolerable (and less conspicuous) set of bollards at the eastern end of Mohawk Harbor, performing protection service for utility cabinets and similar objects at Galesi’s high-end Waterfront Condominiums [asking price, $500,000 to $700,000]. There’s not a yellow bollard in sight on site.

  

Like the westside of Mohawk Harbor, the eastside (between Harborside Drive and Erie Boulevard), sits on the banks of the Mohawk River, has a bike-pedestrian path running through it, and features ALCO Heritage signage sponsored by Schenectady County.  Both ends of Mohawk Harbor sit within the City of Schenectady, with site plans reviewed by its Planning Commission. And, both ends were proudly godfathered/mid-wived by Ray Gillen of Metroplex. Why such a visually-different result?

. . Mohawk Harbor riverbank bollards: [above] at Rivers Casino; [below] at Waterfront Condominiums . .

  • Discount Bollards? Did a literal bargeful of yellow bollards or bollard covers show up at Mohawk Harbor or another Schenectady County location with great price breaks for buying them in bulk? What amount of savings could compensate for their lack of aesthetic virtue?
  • Peoples’ Choice? I know that taste can be very subjective, and that some “leaders” want to force constituents out of their confined preferences, but I believe that the great majority of Schenectady area residents, if asked the question directly with photos, would strongly prefer non-yellow bollards.

As with the failure of our Mayor to demand financial, employment, purchasing benefits, etc., in a host community agreement, it appears that our City Hall and its appointed Civil Snowmen neither demanded attractive landscaping and protective installations around the Casino, nor required that the developers fulfill any specific promise they may have made in the site plan process.

  • The collage to the Right gives a stark example of Galesi Group promises in a site plan meeting that were apparently later ignored by the developer and by any enforcement officials reviewing the execution of a Mohawk Harbor project. According to June 17, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting Minutes, during review of the Site Plan for what would become the 220 Harborside Drive office and retail building, project engineer Dan Hershberg:
    .
    [E]xplained that because there is underground parking beneath the parking lot, landscaping option are more limited in this space.He stated that large planters are proposed for the islands in the parking lot, and that they will be cast in concrete on site and will be quite substantial in size. He added that they are proposing to add trees to the site wherever possible, but there are some spots where easements are located which will be planted with more seasonal, less permanent options. [emphasis added]
    .

    There are, as you can see in the collage above, no islands, no planters, and no trees. Who in our City government is responsible to follow-up on such matters?

Why is this Bargeful of Bollards Story Important? It is a prime, very visible example of The Snowman Effect: The inadequate protection of the public interest in Schenectady, due to the appointment and retention at City Hall by Mayor Gary McCarthy of subservient, ineffectual or disinterested public servants (with dismissal of those who do not cooperate), resulting in both rushed, superficial review of submissions from favored applicants, and lax follow-up and enforcement of City Code provisions and applicant promises. [as symbolically depicted here] It has meant, in the Casino Design and Yellow Bollards context, suffering a less attractive and less successful Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and in other contexts, such as the ALCO Bike-Pedestrian pathway, a less safe Mohawk Harbor for those who visit and use the facilities (see this and that).

For more on the Snowman Effect, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on the Planning Commission“. For an explanation of the Snowmen Metaphor, see our posting “have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?”; for examples, some of which are more subtle than others, check our postings in the Snowmen Effect Category.

The unspoken attitude of our Mayor and the Metroplex Chair seems to be that Schenectady is the old Mohawk term for “Second-Rate-City“. Consequently, they have failed to demand, or at the least strenuously bargain for, the best for our City from Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. The result is a tremendous lost opportunity for Schenectady to truly shine and succeed at our only remaining riverbank land suitable for commercial development and public recreation.  The bollard crop along the Mohawk also suggests that Schenectady’s Snowmen/women are not merely on the Boards that review projects, but also in the offices that are supposed to see that reviewed plans are implemented as approved or as promised by an applicant. The situation with readily visible aspects of Mohawk Harbor also makes us wonder what is going on with items that are not readily seen by the public (such as the “shoddy work” recently alleged at a Harborside Drive building).

Having beget a “bummer” crop of bright, yellow, too-tall* bollards, the same municipal officials now stand as mute as snowmen when Rivers Casino complains that it is losing business because of an unfair tax structure compared to its competitors, and seeks tax breaks that would cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue. See “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”] Leaders and residents should instead point out that one very big reason Rivers Casino finds it hard to compete is that they have built a homely, mediocre, regional gambling facility, with the acquiescence and cooperation of City Hall and Metroplex, despite the promise to create an international tourist attraction for Schenectady.

  • Financial Realities. Rush Street does not have to meet its bloated projections for Rivers Casino in Schenectady to prosper on the Mohawk. Failing to attract visitors beyond a small geographic radius, Rivers Casino seems content to focus on: Seeking tax breaks; Slots (the most addictive form of casino gambling) as the focus of its gaming growth; Sports gambling (which might siphon off gambling dollars that are taxed at a much higher rate); and attracting Non-gambling spending at the Casino, which helps the bottomline of Rush Street and its associated enterprises, but reduces gaming tax revenue to the State, County and City, and hurts other local businesses. And, City Hall and The County Building seem content with this situation, continuing to call the Casino their Partner.
  • New Attitude Needed. Schenectady’s government leaders disarmed themselves when dealing with the Casino applicants, giving away leverage that could have assured many additional benefits for the City and County and its residents, like The Giveaways Rush Street has made or promised other prospective casino towns.  They will have few if any comparable opportunities, now that the project design and the zoning changes demanded by the Applicants have been approved. Nevertheless, a new attitude that, at the very least, asserts the position of Senior Partner for local government can hopefully salvage a few benefits, avoid some disadvantages, and help restore some civic pride.

Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell Better Bollards at Rivers Casino?

No one can solve all of the problems that come with having become a Casino Town with Development Groupies at his head. However, the community, with the cooperation of Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, plus Mohawk Harbor’s residents and its business tenants, could perhaps have a little fun and come up with alternatives to the gaudy yellow bollards, and ways to correct the situation.

. .

CHALLENGE. For example, the folks at Beekman 1802 and the Druthers crew at Mohawk Harbor have both panache and spirit, and might be able to put together a fun rivalry to design better bollards for all or portions of the Casino Compound. Rivers Casino’s “team” members, who have to look at those bollards a lot, might have some great ideas, too, as well as Ellis Medical. The Contest or Challenge to design better bollards might also bring in civic groups.

As we noted and depicted near the top of this posting, with links, there are innumerable styles of bollards and bollard covers commercially available already (for example), and creative minds can envision more. The yellow skin on the Casino bollards at Mohawk Harbor can be lifted or peeled off and replaced with virtually any style cover. The nautical origin of bollards might spark some interesting themes tied to Schenectady’s history. Schenectady deserves better; can do better; and could have a good time finding a solution to our Bummer Crop of Yellow Bollards.

If you’d like to help improve the Rivers Casino bollards, please contact me directly or by leaving a Comment. Or, let the media and City Hall, and Rivers Casino know your feelings. Thank you.


*The folks at Trafficguard.net provide a set of FAQ on bollards, including:

10. How Tall Are Bollards?

Bollards come in a variety of sizes, in order to accommodate being used in different areas and for different purposes. Heights for bollards typically range from 30″ to 48″ tall, with the average height of them being 36″ or three feet tall. Since most vehicles are about 5 feet tall, the height of bollards is effective at stopping them from passing through into restricted areas, and if someone does attempt to bypass a bollard, they will cause significant damage to their vehicle. The width of bollards is what generally makes them stronger, though, not the height. The wider a bollard, the more weight it can withstand. The reason they are not smaller is because at 36″ (or about that tall), they are an effective visual deterrent before ever having to be a physical deterrent.

 

11. What Is a Bollard? One of the most commonly asked questions about bollards is what their purpose is and what they are. A bollard is defined as a short vertical post, originally meant to be used on a ship, but nowadays used to direct or control road traffic. This includes using them to obstruct the passage of motor vehicles, such as outside of store fronts, to separate paved walkways from paved motorways, to block off public parks, etc. Bollards are typically made out of steel, but can sometimes be made out of concrete or other strong materials. They come in a variety of styles and sizes, perfect for accommodating a large number of applications.

Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid

. . . or, don’t care about the facts or taxpayers

. . update (June 19, 2019): They’re at it again; see “Not again, Mr. Steck!

emptypockets Rush Street Gaming’s billionaire CEO/Owner Neil Bluhm is back walking the halls of the New York State Legislature trying to get a tax break for their Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. [See “Schenectady casino seeks lower tax rates: Tax credit floated as relief” (Albany Times Union, by David Lombardo, March 29, 2019); “Rivers Casino takes another crack at a tax cut: Schenectady facility says highest tax rate among New York casinos puts it at a disadvantage” (Schenectady Gazette, March 28, 2019)].

openpalmgThey are again whining about the unfairness of the gaming tax structure, and have bolstered their specious arguments with a flood of misleading statements about their new competitor, MGM Springfield. They are also acting as if an Advertising Allowance tax credit is not a tax break. [follow-up (April 14, 2019): According to the Sunday Gazette, Rivers Casino just had its best month ever, but continues its whining and seeking tax breaks.]

Below is the slightly edited text of an email that I sent to members of the media this afternoon (Friday, March 29), in the hope that the press will dilute Mr. Bluhm’s Casino Chicanery with facts, and that our Legislators will care about the facts. It has been supplemented with arguments against the Marketing Allowance.

MGMSpringfRevs . . Left: MGM Springfield Tax Revenue Report . . 

Email Message

Rush Street Gaming is again seeking tax cuts from Albany for its Schenectady Rivers Casino, using misleading information and half-truths, plus a boatful of whining. 

 
Here are the facts:
When it applied for a casino license in July 2014, Rush Street Gaming knew:
  • The gaming revenue tax on a Capital Region casino, as stated in the 2013 enabling legislation,  would be 45% on Slots and 10% on all other gaming revenue, with lower rates on slots in other Regions (that had less population density, fewer economic resources, and more competitors, i.e., racinos, Indian and Canadian casinos).
  • MGM Springfield had received its license in June 2013 and was planning to build a spectacular casino resort on a bend of the Connecticut River, in the historic and cultural center of Springfield.
  • The gaming tax in Massachusetts would be 25% on all casino gaming revenue proceeds (slots and table games).
  • There might be a second full casino in western Massachusetts (but that has not happened).
 
Rivers says that this unfair rate differential has lowered its Slots income, however:
  • In the six full months since MGM Springfield has been in operation (Sept. 2018 through February 2019), Slot GGR at Rivers Casino has increased 10.4% over the same months the prior year,  from $46,090,049 to $50,902,095. See Monthly Reports
Rivers says its unfair tax burden makes it impossible to fairly compete with MGM Springfield, and they need a slots tax rate below 40%, but:
 

From Sep 2018 through Feb. 2019, Rivers paid approx. $24 million in Gaming Tax, that equals a blended 34% gaming tax on its Total GGR. See Rivers Casino Monthly Financial Reports. While, from Sept. 2018 through Feb. 2019, MGM Springfield paid approximately $33 million in Gaming Tax, 25% of Total GGR.  See MassGaming Revenue Report on MGM SpringfieldHOWEVER, 

red check Rush Street is not mentioning that, under its Host Community Agreement with Springfield: 

  • MGM Resorts paid upfront and advance payments, totaling $15 million to the City of Springfield during the construction phase including pre-payment of taxes for general city purposes as well as:
    • $2.5 million to purchase equipment and to provide training for police, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.
    • $1 million to redevelop Riverfront Park.
  • Big$Jackpot Once opening for business, MGM Springfield must make more than $25 million in annual payments to the City. This includes $17.6 million in lieu of tax payments as well as, among other things:
    • $2.5 million to fund operating and other costs for police, firefighters, emergency medical services and education.
    • $2.5 million for a Community Development Fund to be administered by the city to support early childhood education, higher education, libraries, health initiatives, and the betterment of the city and its residents.
  • And, other $50 million coming up: Just last week, MGM Springfield reported to the Mass. Gaming Commission  that it intends to invest in the proposed $55 million redevelopment of the long-vacant Court Square hotel building in downtown Springfield as part of an obligation to build housing within one-half mile of its resort casino. See WAMC Report.

See the MassGaming 4-page Summary of Springfield HCA, for the amazing array of extra obligations MGM Springfield has undertaken while Rush Street just pays what it has to pay under the 2013 Legislation. 

exclamationpoint
 It should be clear that the Massachusetts gaming tax structure intentionally took into account the obligation of any casino applicant to negotiate an HCA or Mitigation Agreement with the host municipality, with its consequent large financial obligations over and above the State gaming revenue tax.
.
RIVERS CASINO never entered into an HCA with the City of Schenectady, as Mayor Gary McCarthy refused to negotiate for one, as did Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen. It paid no upfront money during construction, and no economic development funds for the community. (see our posting “answering Mayor McCarthy on HCAs“, June 28, 2015)
  • NYS Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (Dem., Mt Vernon), the Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Racing and Wagering, has been insisting that Rivers Casino offered to pay an “exorbitant” amount over the mandated gambling revenue tax, and should now be given a break. However, Rivers pays exactly the amount called for in the 2013 Legislation, under which it would have to pay more if it had offered to do so as part of its Application. Instead, The Report and Findings of the New York Gaming Facility Location Board (Feb. 27, 2015, at 261) specifically states in the section captioned “Maximizing revenues received by the state and localities. (§ 1320(1)(b))”, that:  “Rivers does not propose a supplemental tax payment or increased license fee.”
.
MGMSpringfield-rend2 . . . MGMSpringfield-render
.
above: the $960 million MGM Springfield Casino Resort; below: the $340 million Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (front entrance on R, rear and hotel on L)
.
MHrailing14Oct2018 . . Rivers08Feb2018

 

WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE BUSES TO MGM Springfield?

  • CasinoBusTripMRM Resorts spent $960 million to build a spectacular, true destination casino, in a bustling, interesting neighborhood
  • Rush Street, after bragging that it builds spectacular international destinations in its Applications, spent merely $320 million at Mohawk Harbor, and has produced, at best, a homely, mediocre regional casino, which targets and predominantly attracts local residents and perhaps those living within a 60-mile radius
  • By failing to insist on a true destination casino, Schenectady’s Mayor, City Council majority and Planning Commission, and the County’s Metroplex and Legislature, condemned our City to a mediocre Casino that will be constantly failing to meet its bloated projections and wanting tax breaks. See, e.g., our posting “casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?” (January 19, 2017)

920x920 Exactly a year ago, we were in the same situation, waiting to see if the rush to the Legislative Budget Deadline (April 1), would bring with it a budget that included casino tax breaks. See “bum’s rush needed” (March 28, 2018). We were pleased at the time that Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not favor casino tax breaks. Also, the Gazette Editorial Board wrote a piece entitled “Editorial: No state financial deals for casinos”  In addition, on Sunday March 30, 2018, the Times Union editorial board weighed in with “Editorial: Say no to casino subsidies“, which included the nifty illustration by Jeff Boyer that is at the head of this paragraph.

SteckAtRiversCasino

Phil Steck at Rivers Casino

 Marketing Allowance? For some reason, we are supposed to believe that a Marketing Allowance is not a tax break, although it would reduce River Casino’s gaming tax burden by 10% of the Casino’s marketing expenses. Last year, we noted on this topic that: “In the TU article “Casino seeks state help in marketing” (Sept. 29, 2018), Assemblyman Phil Steck is far from elegant defending Rivers Casino request for a 10% marketing allowance reduction in its gaming tax obligations to the State”:

“It’s not saying, ‘State, come in and give us money’; it’s saying, ‘We believe we need to expand the market for our product, we need an allowance for marketing,’ and I think that’s a reasonable position for a business to take,” said Steck, a Democratic lawmaker from Colonie, of the request by the Schenectady casino, which is located on the former Alco site on Erie Boulevard.

“What they’re saying is, ‘If we spend 10 cents on marketing instead of giving you 100 cents on that dollar, we’re going to give you 90 cents,’ and that makes a lot of sense because if the total amount of revenue expands as a result of their marketing effort, the state’s going to make more money anyway and so will the city,” Steck said.

Steck-Golub-McCarthyatCasino Assemblyman Steck apparently still supports such a Marketing Allowance, if it brings in more revenue, but does not demonstrate how that would happen.  As I noted last year in correspondence with Mr. Steck, Rivers Casino already does a lot of advertising and marketing (a rather basic expense for doing business in a capitalist market), and if doing more would increase its revenue in any way, it would be doing just that. Moreover:

  1. DSCF4456Much of Rivers’ marketing appears to be aimed at bringing in non-gambling customers to the Casino complex and Mohawk Harbor. That business (drinking, dining, conventions, fight shows, concerts) does not add to Rivers’ gaming tax obligations (45% on slots, 10% on table games and poker). Instead, it merely increases profits for the Casino and its business associates, and generates the much lower taxes based on food and similar sales taxes (often “cannibalizing” the business of other local businesses).
  2. DisoverySchyCasino.jpg Rivers Casino is already a major beneficiary of the County’s Tourism Bureau and Discovery Schenectady programs for gaming and convention programs.
  3. MohHarb30ftPylonMohawk Harbor was allowed to put a giant shopping-mall style 30′ high by 18′ wide pylon sign, that looms over Erie Blvd. at a location that normally would permit only a 7′ high sign under our Zoning Code. In permitting the sign, after literal begging for the favor by Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, the Board of Zoning Appeals reversed a decision it had made just weeks before. The pylon sign contains a large LCD screen that changes message every 8 seconds; safety-conscious cities and planners discourage such distractions so close to a busy intersection. Isn’t this quite enough favoritism at the expense of the public interest for Mohawk Harbor and its Casino tenant?

Phil Steck balked when I called him “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” last year. But, I cannot imagine the normally-thoughtful Mr. Steck offering even his current conditional support for the Marketing Allowance, were Mohawk Harbor not in his Assembly District.

 

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RiversCasino-eastentrance

. . many locals believe this northeast Harbor Way entrance to Rivers Casino, with its utility bollards, parking garage, and Hotel, is the more attractive (and far less tacky) view of the Casino . . 

Ignored – the rules, the plans, the public, and safety

At tonight’s Schenectady City Council meeting, Nov. 13, I hope (despite the unrealistic 3-minute rule) to present and explain the issues depicted in collages posted below. The first topic is related to the Agenda Item regarding approval of a Schenectady PRIDE art installation at Gateway/Liberty Park.  Schenectady needs an established procedure to ensure adequate public input and post-approval monitoring of plans for proposals regarding important public spaces and art. The second will be a Privilege of the Floor statement regarding important safety issues created along the Mohawk Harbor’s shared use path by the failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side.

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Click on an image for a larger version.

FIRST: “PLANS CHANGE”. For fuller discussion of the question of how [or how not] to include the public in the selection of public art and in the design and implementation of plans for important projects and locations, see:

GP-planschange

. . GP-Turbine-Girders

GPLightPoleChange

follow-up (November 24, 2018): The Daily Gazette reports “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects: The board detailed this in a letter given to the mayor and city council members” (by Andrew Beam, Nov. 23, 2018). Commentary can be found at the end of this posting.

SECOND: The bike-pedestrian Trail at Mohawk Harbor is far less safe than it readily could have been because of a failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side. For comprehensive discussion of ALCO Heritage or Mohawk Harbor Trail safety issues, with excerpts from and links to relevant rules and studies, and with many more photos, etc., see:

ALCOTrail-safetyignored

update (Nov. 24, 2018): As stated above, the Gazette published an article today by Andrew Beam headlined “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects” (Nov. 23, 2018).  In a lengthy comment left at the article’s online webpage, I made several points, including:

Continue reading

still waiting for Lady Liberty

LibertyGazLTE-Snyder . . GP-DiotteLadyTU24Feb2018 

update (July 9): Still no Lady . . LL9Jul

LadyLiberty15Sep2016

 Lady Liberty is indeed timeless. But, Schenectady should not have to wait even one more week for Mayor Gary McCarthy to relent on the strange and belated notion of installing our replica Liberty statue somewhere other than her home in Liberty Park, once construction and expansion of the Park into “Gateway Plaza” was completed. That return was the only alternative for Lady Liberty in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was created in 2012 and approved in August 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). Nevertheless, years later and behind the scene, Gateway Plaza designer Mary Wallinger somehow got the Mayor and Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen to agree to ignore the official Plan and instead to exile Lady Liberty.

Why? Because Ms. Wallinger (who is also Chair of the City Planning Commission) now insists Lady Liberty is not “modern” enough for her current vision of the Plaza as a symbol of Schenectady. She and the Mayor also lured the good folks of Goose Hill into asking to place Lady Liberty in a Veterans’ Memorial in Steinmetz Park, creating totally unnecessary civic turmoil. [for a fuller explanation of the Decision Disruption Process, see this post.]

OUR POSITION: Lady Liberty should be immediately returned from its storage-during-construction to Her original home, Liberty Park (a/k/a Gateway Plaza), and McCarthy and Wallinger should apologize to the people of Goose Hill for offering them a treasure that was not available for relocation.

mayorgarymccarthy2013sep The Mayor says he has not made his decision yet about where the Statue will be installed. But, there should be no new decision to make. The Decision was made in 2013, in the publicly supported and officially approved Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan.  All the Mayor need do now is say that, after full consideration, he fully endorses the Original Decision for returning Lady Liberty after the new Plaza is completed, as there is no safety or fiscal reason, and no other justification, to change a Final Plan.

GP-Rendering-LibertyDetail . . GP-Rendering-ViewWash-State

Above is a detail [L] from an Implementation Plan rendering [R], which shows the designated spot for the replica’s return, along State Street, next to the CDTA bus shelter, only yards away from, and more visible than, the Lady’s original location.

Nonetheless, neither a batch of Letters to the Editor since mid-March nor a Gazette Editorial in April supporting the return of the Lady to Liberty Park, has produced Her popular, commonsense, and Plan-promised return. Nor has the coming of Spring and now even Summer, which should make frozen ground excuses a moot issue. Not even a plea in the Gazette last week from Schenectady County’s “Mr. Veteran”, James A. Wilson, did the trick. (“Return Lady Liberty on July 4th” June 27, 2018):

There will not be a better time than to have the famous “Lady Liberty,” or the Statue of Liberty replica, put back in her rightful home in Liberty (Gateway) Park in Schenectady. It’s still the center part of the city for beauty and visibility to all residents and the statue was there for over 50 years.

Put the statue back on the 4th of July.

As of today, July 7, 2018, almost a full year after the Liberty Replica was removed to protect her from construction, Lady Liberty is apparently still in a municipal storage facility.  So, what will it take for the Mayor to step up and Do the Right Thing (or, passively, Not Do the Wrong Thing)? Yes, he has been busy making our City smart, but this is not a complicated decision. It is late, but not too, late for Gary McCarthy to be the Lady’s Champion.

gpladylibertyspot.jpg . . . LadyLibertySpot25Jun1

Above: At the end of June, for the first time, the designated spot for the return of Lady Liberty had substantial plantings (several small trees; photo on Right). When asked about the new trees, Mayor McCarthy told Gazette reporter Andrew Beam that he had not known of the planting. Those trees can and should be replanted, to honor the planning process, the City’s promises, and Lady Liberty’s importance in the past, present and future of Schenectady.

the Lady and the Mayor and the Council

follow-up (March 26, 2018): see “Lady Liberty is Timeless“, where you can find a summary of the facts and issues, with important links and images, in the controversy over the failure to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park.

 At Monday’s Schenectady City Council meeting (March 12, 2018), the issue of Bringing Lady Liberty Home was the subject of my “privilege of the floor” comments to the Council and Mayor. The collage at the right of this paragraph is the handout that I gave to our elected representatives, to remind them that the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan they approved in 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206clearly included the return of the Statue of Liberty replica to her home at Gateway Plaza. There are no safety or financial reasons to alter that Plan. I basically told the Council: This is easy for you: Ask the Mayor to implement the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan as written — that is, with Lady Liberty brought back home. [For a full discussion of the issues, process, etc., see our prior post, “Bring Lady Liberty Home“, which has links to relevant documents and lots of photos; and see the actual Implementation Plan, the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza.]

 In the past, Schenectady Mayors have used experts — consultant engineers or Corporation Counsel (their in-house mouthpiece) — to justify going back on pledges to preserve parts of Schenectady’s history. Monday evening, Gary McCarthy repeated his refrain that “no final decision has been made yet”, but then added that the Gateway Plaza “design team” recommended not returning the Liberty Statue replica to Liberty/Gateway Plaza. Later that night, I wrote to the members of the Counsel to remind them:

GPPlanCover “The ironic thing about the Design Team excuse is that Mary Moore Wallinger, with her LAndArt Studio, has been the primary designer throughout this entire process; was author of the Implementation Plan; and is responsible for construction documents and construction administration. In 2012-2013, Mary never wavered, but showed Lady Liberty back at Gateway Plaza after construction, in every alternative presented to the Steering Committee, Public Design Workshops, and City Council.” [and, on the cover of the Plan; see detail to the left, with a blue asterisk placed above Liberty’s planned relocation.]

LibertyPark . . GatewayPlazaCollage26FebB

. . click on thumbnails above for collages of [L] Lady Liberty in 2016; [R] Gateway Plaza, March 2018 . .

The Lady Fits. When did the “design team” change its/her mind and start saying that Lady Liberty is too small to fit in, and is not contemporary enough to fit in, at Gateway Plaza? The following rendering of the proposed (and later adopted) view of the Plaza as seen from Washington Avenue and State Street shows, in my opinion, that Lady Liberty fits in well, giving us continuity with our history and a continuing message of welcome that is most relevant to our present and future. (click on the image for a larger version)

birdseye view (marked with blue asterisk) . . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

GPLady-NotTooSmall . . Not Too Small . .

The 100-inch-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty, sitting atop its base, is neither inadequate as a statue or sculpture, nor obtrusive in style, so as to somehow mar or overcome the “contemporary” feel now being stressed by Ms. Wallinger. The Implementation Plan she authored in 2012 and promoted to City Council in 2013, declared that Gateway Plaza is meant to “celebrate the City’s past, present and future.” Our Statue of Liberty does that in a timeless style and dauntless spirit — a spirit of welcome and inclusion that more than ever needs to be highlighted, and a spirit of freedom that is always fresh and yet always needs to be renewed.

A few salient points:

  • Riggi. At the March 13 City Council meeting, Councilman Vince Riggi (Ind.) pointed out the appropriateness of having Lady Liberty in a Gateway welcoming people to Schenectady, just as the original Statue of Liberty has welcomed tens of millions from its perch in New York Harbor. The National Parks webpage on the Statue of Liberty states: “The symbol of American freedom and opportunity, Lady Liberty has long been a beacon to those seeking refuge on our shores.” Riggi also reminded the Council that he was assured that the Statue would be returned to her original home after construction just seven months ago, by the City’s Commissioner of Operations.

  •  History. Lady Liberty would be the only vertical (above-ground) element in the Plaza Plan that refers to Schenectady’s history. The two historic markers [out of seven] that have been salvaged and returned to the Park are recessed in the sidewalk, hard to find and difficult to read. (see the greenish marker in the photo to the left) And, the “Historic Railroad Pedestrian Way” included along the east side of the Plaza refers to an “underground railway” of short duration that may be little-known because of its historical insignificance, and is to most residents a minor curiosity.
  • Porterfield: At the Council Meeting on March 12, Council member Marion Porterfield stated the City should listen to those who live near the Park/Plaza, and noted that she has seen nothing indicating that the Mayor had changed the Plan regarding Lady Liberty; she also pointed out that this is not a matter of favoring one neighborhood over another. [Ed. note: Last year, when City Council voted to alienate a piece of Riverside Park for use as a pumping station, it “substituted” land at Gateway Plaza, tying the Stockade even closer to that new Park.]
  • Gillen: Has the Mayor made a final decision? On February 26, 2018, Ray Gillen, Chair Metroplex, wrote in response to an email asking about the markers and monuments that had been in Liberty Park that, “The Statue of Liberty is being relocated by the City and will likely be located in a another City park in the spring.” The finality of that statement should be a reminder that those opposed to the exile of Lady Liberty must speak out now and loudly.

My message to the Council on Monday is not a new one: Your Resolutions need to be implemented and the Council needs to fulfill its oversight role to see that the Executive Branch of City government follows the policies made by the Council.

  •  Sunshine Week. As the Gazette‘s opinion page editor, Mark Mahoney, has been reminding us, we are currently celebrating Sunshine Week. We need open government and the people need to know that they have access to information that will shed light on the workings of their government and leaders. When thinking about the importance of following through on the treatment of Lady Liberty in the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, I hope our Council members and our Mayor, along with the Plaza design team, will ask themselves “What good are sunshine laws and policy if an open design process, with community input and support, and approval by City Council, can be undone secretly a few years later by the Mayor, just before an Implementation Plan is completed?”

Raise Your Voice. So, please, if you agree that Lady Liberty belongs back home at Gateway/Liberty Plaza, let Mayor McCarthy and the entire City Council know you have neither seen nor heard anything that justifies not following through on the original, adopted Implementation Plan, which made so much sense and was fully supported at the Public Workshops. The Mayor and Designer Mary Wallinger have misled the good folks who support a Veterans’ Memorial at Steinmetz Park, by acting as if Lady Liberty’s future in Schenectady had not yet been decided; they need to come up with a suitable alternative at Steinmetz Park for the values and history represented by Lady Liberty.

  • Mayor Gary McCarthy – gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov
  • Ed Kosiur – ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov, City Council President
  • John Polimeni – jpolimeni@schenectadyny.gov,
  • Leesa Perazzo – lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, chair of the Council Planning and Development Committee
  • John Mootooveren – jmootooveren@schenectadyny.gov, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield – mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov,
  • Vincent Riggi – vriggi@schenectadyny.gov

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newspaper follow-up (March 21, 2018): Yesterday afternoon, at the Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society, I found a few items in the Schenectady Gazette I want to share:

  1. In his Tales of Old Dorp column (April 22, 1986), historian Gary Hart wrote: Larry Hart wrote in his Gazette column in 1986: “By the way, the green triangle was named Liberty Park after the monument.” (emphasis added) This really is Her Park.
  2. At the time the final Plan was being put together an article headlined “Schenectady’s Liberty Park seen as gateway, college area,” (Bethany Bump, June 13, 2012, B3) reported: 

    “Residents, on the other hand, expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty.

    “The Lady Liberty replica that has sat on its pedestal in the park for 62 years would still remain. But it would likely move closer to the State Street border.”

  3. LibertyTorch And, in an article titled “Passing the Torch” (by Jeff Wilkin, Oct. 27, 2002), I learned that Schenectady Boy Scouts and area Veterans’ groups held annual rededication ceremonies at Lady Liberty in October for decades. A National Boy Scout of American leader is quoted saying that very few cities hold rededication ceremonies and he was very pleased with Schenectady’s efforts. An primary organizer of the events noted that they were held to help commemorate Schenectady’s immigrants, whose first sight of America so often was of the original Lady Liberty in New York Harbor.