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City of Rochester Communications Bureau

City of Rochester Communications Bureau

It’s becoming more likely a performing arts center and perhaps a casino will fill Midtown’s Parcel 5.

The city revealed only two proposals came in for the 1.1-acre site on Main Street. The city won’t allow us to look at the proposals and I haven’t heard back from the two developers on what they have in mind.

The city spent at least $70 million dollars to tear down the mall and get that property shovel-ready. It’s supposed to be prime real estate. It is in the heart of downtown Rochester.

It turns out, few want to take a chance, at least right now. Buckingham has yet to prove it can finish the Tower at Midtown project without founder Larry Glazer. We don’t even know what Buckingham is now capable of pulling off at the building. Glazer’s grand plans are over. Meanwhile, the office market downtown is terrible, so you can’t put that in any building plans. Finally, retail is the great big unknown.

The market just told us Parcel 5 is risky.

The city’s two top choices are likely to let Parcel 5 sit empty or try like hell to get a performing arts center built.

Here’s what may happen: The Senecas will likely look to Rochester to blunt the impact of Tom Wilmot’s Lago casino. They may offer to build a theater at Midtown along with a casino. That solves the city’s Parcel 5 problem and could easily be sold as “economic development.” (Casinos and theaters come with their own costs, of course.) The irony is that this is what Wilmot proposed more than a decade ago. Then-Mayor Bill Johnson said no. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Mayor Lovely Warren gives an enthusiastic yes.

Wilmot is not the only person to have identified Midtown as a good place for a casino.

I have reported that back in July, Delaware North, which owns the Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the city to put a performing arts center at Midtown. Delaware North would have run the theater, possibly even buying naming rights, per sources.

Why would Delaware North get involved? To prevent the Senecas from doing the same. The Senecas wouldn’t be able to offer a performing arts center in return for  allowing a casino. Nothing came of the MOU, as sources say Glazer’s death complicated the picture, as he was working with Delaware North on the idea. With Delaware North now out of the picture, the door is probably wide open for the Senecas.

Few developers were willing to gamble on Parcel 5. The Senecas, however, might.

 

Links of the Day:

 

– Here’s a great look at the federal prosecutor who had Sheldon Silver arrested on corruption charges.

– The state won’t let schools know how much aid they’re getting unless lawmakers pass governor’s education “reform agenda.”

– Four of the top five trending jobs in Rochester are low-wage.

– Three Heads Brewing is considering building a facility on University Ave. in Rochester.

The Seneca Nation appears very serious about putting a casino in Henrietta. The tribe spent $2.7 million to acquire 32 acres on Clay Rd. It’s a heavily-traveled area surrounded by chain hotels, chain restaurants and chain stores. It’s right off the Thruway.

The Senecas no doubt want to expand at the same time the state is allowing up to seven non-Indian casinos. One of them could be on their doorstep. Tom Wilmot, the Wilmorite mall magnate, wants to put one just over the Route 14 line in Tyre, Seneca County. Other developers want to open casinos in the Southern Tier. This is all too close for comfort for the Senecas.

The Senecas have to act now or risk losing a slice of the Rochester pie they share with the Oneidas’ Turning Stone.

Here are some questions:

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Seneca Allegany Casino

1. What would a Henrietta casino look like? It’s highly doubtful this will be some giant Vegas-style gambling palace. In the land of the Henrietta big boxes, this will likely be a big box, with a hotel on top, surrounded by a garage or parking lot. That’s what the Senecas build, though they dress up the boxes with nice lights. 

2. How will existing hotels be affected? There are a lot of hotels already along Jefferson Rd. Double Tree and the RIT Inn and Conference Center have banquet and meeting facilities. Their occupants pay sales and room taxes, while the Seneca guests do not.

3. How will existing restaurants be affected? Casinos are designed to get you in the door and keep you there. No sales taxes and free booze are enticements. Casino proponents talk about choice and free enterprise. But it’s important to note tribal casinos do not play by the same rules as everyone else.

4. How will Marketplace Mall be affected? Keep in mind that Monroe County and Henrietta taxpayers are already in deep with tax breaks to the mall. Local homeowners are paying more in taxes so the mall can succeed. Will a casino mess things up? The Senecas say they want retail at the casino. One thing to remember about casinos is that when one opens up, we don’t suddenly have more money to spend. (On a side note, I mentioned above that the Senecas are playing defense with Wilmorite, which owns Marketplace. One could say a Henrietta casino means war.)

5. What will the Senecas pay Monroe County and the Town of Henrietta? How will the payments be used? Will town and county residents see their property taxes go down when the casino opens? (Name one municipality where that happened.) Will there be a clause that forbids the Senecas from withholding payments from local governments the next time they get into a tiff with the state? (That happened to Niagara Falls.)

6. Will Henrietta residents get a say? A majority of residents voted down the statewide casino expansion referendum in November.

7. Will there be addiction services funded for problem gamblers? Casino supporters say people are already gambling, so a casino is a natural thing to open. But the fact is, we don’t have a full-fledged casino in Rochester. You have to drive at least an hour to get to one. That’s a huge deterrent. What was once a destination is now in your backyard. Yes, people should take responsibility for their own gambling problems, but you and I will pay for their problems when they end up broke or worse.

8. What will the casino jobs pay? How do we know the the casino jobs would not have happened anyway? People only have so much money to spend. If you’re just shifting existing business to the casino, you’re shifting jobs. If you’re stifling potential new businesses from opening, then the casino jobs would have been created anyway.

9. Where are the gamblers going to come from? In order for the Henrietta casino to be a true job creator, it would need to draw in substantial numbers of people from outside the area. Buffalonians have Seneca Niagara. Syracusans have Turning Stone.  I’d love to see a market study. I bet it shows a majority of gamblers will come from Monroe, Ontario and Livingston counties.  Rochester casino is meant to capture the Rochester dollar. If this casino is a true tourist spot, it would not be located in the land of WalMart. I don’t know many out-of-towners who want to plan a day trip to Henrietta. You think they’ll take a break from the slots and drive 20 minutes to the George Eastman House and then to catch a show at the Auditorium? Riiiiiiggght. The only “tourists” will be people needing to stretch their legs during a trip down the Thruway heading someplace else.

10. Will neighboring businesses be helped by a casino? If we’re going to ask whether they’ll be hurt, we should ask if they’ll be helped. Take us to Niagara Falls, Salamanca and Buffalo and introduce us to all the businesses that benefited. Show us all the development. Show us the fruits of a casino.

This is all far from a done deal. A casino can’t open without New York renegotiating the Seneca compact. The agreement allows the tribe to be the sole casino operator west of Route 14, but it only allows three casinos. The Senecas already have three casinos. The governor said negotiations haven’t even started.

Despite the long road ahead, there does seem to be some inevitability to casinos opening up everywhere. People like to gamble. Cash-strapped states and town see dollar signs. The unemployed see jobs. But let’s make sure we see everything else, too.

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I will be on Connections with Evan Dawson on WXXI Tuesday from 1 to 2 p.m. to discuss casinos.

 

Follow-Up:

 

Here is a story on emails and documents I obtained from the city through FOIL on the hiring of the mayor’s uncle as her bodyguard. There’s no smoking gun, but the emails show the city bent over backward to make sure he got this job, even when presented with alternatives and drawbacks.