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Friday, August 15, 2014

Bidding War for Albany's Casino Blessing

 - Another reminder please that I am writing regularly, and in detail, about racing at Saratoga in my Today in Racing column over at the TimeformUS blog.  Please click here.

Rensselaer mayor Dan Dwyer really wants to see the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino win the license for the Capital District region.  In order to win the support of the city of Albany, he is offering to divert to it $1 million a year of its expected annual revenue of $5.7 million for the next ten years; some 17.5% of the city's expected casino income.  (The Albany Times-Union initially mis-reported the proposed payment to be from the developers; Hard Rock says it is not involved.)  "It's not a payoff," says Dwyer.  Well, I'm not sure quite how else to characterize it.  Dwyer says he's just trying to be a helpful neighbor. 

"Albany is a little tight on cash, so we figure a million dollars would help them in the economic condition they're in. But there's more to it than just a million dollars.  There's job creation, and we're gonna help their hotels over there, because overflow - when the people call into the Hard Rock for a hotel room, it's gonna be upscale and some people aren't gonna be able to afford that price, so what we're gonna do is recommend hotels in Albany." [WAMC]
Yeah, I'm so sure they will.

Turns out that Dwyer's offer is in response to one by Saratoga harness/Churchill Downs, the developers of Capital View, the casino that they hope to build in East Greenbush.  This offer - some $7 million over ten years - is not by East Greenbush, but by the developers. 
"We heard of Feathers' offer of $7 million, so we bettered the offer. We have to help our neighbor," Dwyer said, referring to James Featherstonhaugh of Saratoga Harness, which is a partner in the $300 million East Greenbush casino proposal.

A spokesman for the Capital View Casino and Resort declined to comment. [Times Union]
(What, no comment from Saratoga harness' what-me-worry Rita Cox, who, just the other day, said that, unlike just about everyone else in the Northeast, she's not concerned about the flagging gaming business in the region?)

Albany itself was cut out from any direct casino revenue when Hard Rock and David Flaum moved the site of their proposal from the Exit 23 site in the city, where they determined there wasn't enough room to build, to Rensselaer, just across from the Amtrak station.  Unlike in Massachusetts, where developers are required to negotiate 'surrounding community' agreements, New York cities such as Albany are not entitled to anything.  Nor does Albany officially have any say in who gets the license.  However, Capital View and Rennselaer obviously feel that an endorsement from Albany will hold sway with the siting committee.  Albany, and its mayor Kathy Sheehan, do not at all mind the attention, and are obviously playing the two sides against each other in order to get the best deal.  
Sheehan confirmed that the city's consultants [paid for by the two competing developers - ed.] have been in talks with the Hard Rock team as well as those behind the proposed Capital View Casino & Resort in East Greenbush, but not the team pushing the more distant Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady.

The mayor declined to comment on terms of any offers but said the city's analysis covers three broad categories: the availability of high-quality jobs, mitigation for impacts on the city's infrastructure and services, and how the projects will promote Albany's economic development.

"The city of Albany is a reservoir of employees," Sheehan said. "We have something that the casinos need." [Times Union]
As well as a seal of approval worth, so far anyway, anywhere from $7 to $10 million.  And now, Dwyer is turning up the heat by setting a deadline of Monday for the state capital to accept their $1 million a year offer.  Stay tuned.

 - According to Hard Rock's Executive Summary, their casino resort will include a 100 room hotel, a pool overlooking a new Hudson River boardwalk, a Rock Spa, a Body Rock fitness center, a 250-seat entertainment venue, an "upscale" steakhouse, a "marketplace" casual dining venue, and a Rock Shop retail outlet.  And an OTB, courtesy of Capital OTB. 

 - An East Greenbush councilwoman has recused herself from all Town Board votes concerning the casino after it was revealed that her brother has a possible financial interest in property transactions related to the development. 
The potential conflict of interest was listed by Capital View Casino and Resort in its application for a state license. [Times Union]
If that's the case, I'm not sure exactly why it had to take a letter from the anti-casino Save East Greenbush group to get Councilwoman Sue Mangold to step aside.  In any event, with the previous defection of Councilwoman Mary Ann Matters, who turned against the casino when she learned of reductions in the planned investment, that leaves a 3-1 count on the Town Board in favor of the project.  This comes ahead of a crucial vote regarding necessary zoning changes scheduled for Wednesday.  A 2-2 vote would be considered a rejection, and would effectively kill the project.  If there is any communication going on between the developers and the Town Board members, we won't know, due to the loophole in the law which exempts the developers from having to disclose their lobbying activities in communities with populations less than 50,000.


jk said...

Had the pleasure of staying at the East Greenbush Holiday Inn last week for my Saratoga journey. The area by the hotel is all commercial including a Walmart, Target and a large Fedex depot. It appears the casino is proposed for a tract of land on the other side of the main road from the hotel, fedex etc. There were a bunch of lawn signs saying no for the casino.

The proposal on the Hudson next to Amtrak is only 10 minutes from East Greenbush and is a much better spot in my opinion.

LilKittie said...
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