Most neighborhood leaders say they’re all in on casino plan
SCHENECTADY Ask the leaders of the most downtrodden neighborhoods in the city about a proposed casino, and there’s one firm answer: It would help.
“People need jobs and the casino would bring in those jobs,” said Hamilton Hill neighborhood association President Marva Isaacs.
Likewise, in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood, leaders are hoping for a casino.
“It’s development. We need development,” said Sharron Schmidt, who leads the Mont Pleasant neighborhood association.
Downtown, business owners are rooting for it too.
“I really don’t see any negatives,” said Villa Italia owner Bobby Mallozzi.
He said a casino would be a “tremendous asset” to Schenectady in terms of property taxes and jobs.
He added that he’s not worried about competition from casino restaurants. He expects his family’s locations, including Johnny’s on State Street, to continue to do well.
“As Schenectady grows, so does the opportunity for businesses to grow and expand,” he said. “Are we concerned? No. We’re more excited than concerned.”
Proctors CEO Philip Morris is also OK with the prospect of a casino opening in the city.
He is part of the new Coalition for a Fair Game, which is focused on making sure casinos don’t kill local theaters and other businesses. He said the group has been talking with the casino developer and is reassured by the tentative plans.
“I think this could be OK,” he said. “All the conversations we have had with the developer have been very positive.”
Proctors might even run the entertainment at the casino, he added.
“All that’s within the realm of possibility,” he said, adding that he’s been reassured the casino operator has “no interest” in doing Broadway shows or even large concerts.
The neighborhood associations haven’t had time to broach the topic at their monthly meetings, but leaders offered their personal opinions, as well as what they thought most of their members would support.
Frustratingly, they said, they are forming opinions in the dark. They don’t know anything about the casino design and haven’t heard from the operator.
But Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen offered some enticing hints.
He said many casino operators toured the Alco site because they wanted to place the casino on a riverfront.
“That put us in the enviable position of picking a highly reputable company,” he said.
He added that he would define such a company as “people who pay good wages, who promised to work with downtown businesses including Proctors, who would work with the [SCCC] casino and gaming program and make a commitment to hire local folks.”
He added that even “floor” jobs, operating the casino games, would pay well above minimum wage.
“We understand that they’re good-paying jobs,” he said. “They’re not minimum wage at all.”
But he said the operator did not want to make a plan public until the state releases its requirements.
“We’re in a holding pattern until the state comes out with their requirements,” he said.
However, neighbors are already beginning to decide whether they’re pro or con.
Lou Grasso, vice president of the Woodlawn neighborhood association, had heard many of Gillen’s hints. He said he was convinced the casino would not out-compete local businesses, but would lift everyone.
“I think it’s an absolutely fabulous idea,” he said. “They’re not going to build anything that competes with Proctors. It’ll be a smaller venue. It’ll be fine as long as they don’t bring in shows, Broadway shows and stuff.”
Schmidt said she was more worried about cut-through traffic in the adjacent residential neighborhoods.
“I think it’s good and bad,” she said. “The traffic’s going to be horrendous. Something will have to be done with that. But if it brings in people from other states and so forth, that would be wonderful.”
She’s in favor largely because she hopes a successful casino will spread success to the Mont Pleasant neighborhood.
“I’d like to see some of that come up Crane Street — motels, hotels, restaurants,” she said. “To take the overflow from downtown, because I don’t think downtown will be able to handle it all.”
On East Front Street, the closest neighborhood to the proposed location, Mary Ann Ruscitto said she’s wholeheartedly in favor of a casino.
“We’ve all very for this. It’s very exciting,” she said. “Our neighborhood is very, very excited.”
Some have criticized the plan, saying that most jobs would probably be minimum wage. But on Hamilton Hill, Isaacs didn’t blink. Minimum wage is better than no wage, she said.
“You have some people here who don’t have a job now,” she said.
Elsewhere, neighbors offered cautious enthusiasm.
George Sykala, vice president of the Bellevue neighborhood association, said he wanted a casino.
“It’ll bring our name out a little more,” he said, dismissing concerns. “There’s negative things with everything.”
But his wife Patti was not so sanguine.
She said the casino wouldn’t hire Schenectady’s unemployed, but instead bring in workers from the suburbs.
“It’s not going to give those people jobs,” she said. “It’s going to create more crime.”
On Goose Hill, association president Camille Sasinowski said she just couldn’t trust the casino to stick around.
She said she might support it if she were confident it wasn’t going to go away, like the OTB.
But she added that when she visited a casino recently, it was a “rather pleasant experience.” And most people there looked like they were just having a good time. They didn’t seem to be desperate for money, she said.
“But there were some people,” she added. “I hate being a moral compass for anybody, but the one thing that scares me is possibly the increase in crime.”
A few said they needed to see the full casino design before they could critique it.
“I need to know more about it,” said Linda Kelleher, president of the Central State Street neighborhood association.
Likewise, Robert Harvey, spokesman for the Eastern Avenue neighborhood group, said he wanted to know how the operator would create a real regional resort.
“I think to do a casino right you really need more land than just a casino,” he said, suggesting a water park or golf course.
He doubted either would fit in the proposed area.
“There’s just not enough room to do it all,” he said.