Racino owners cross the river

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 21, 2014 at 10:45 pm •  Published: April 21, 2014
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EAST GREENBUSH, N.Y. — After months of contentious debate, the owners of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway have abandoned plans for a full-blown casino at Saratoga Springs' 10-year-old racino in favor of a new site off Interstate 90 in East Greenbush.

The move fundamentally resets the chessboard as multiple developers vie for what will likely be the lone casino license handed out in the Capital Region.

James Featherstonhaugh and Daniel Gerrity, the partners behind the racino at the Saratoga harness track, have purchased about 72 acres off Route 4 between I-90 exits 8 and 9 in a section of town known as Thompson Hill, Featherstonhaugh told the Times Union on Monday. There, across Route 4 from a FedEx distribution center and a Walmart, they propose to build a $300 million resort casino.

The partners have also acquired an option for 80 adjacent acres and nearly 300 more acres six miles away off Exit 11 in Schodack, where they intend to build an 18-hole championship golf course and spa at the Evergreen Country Club to complement the new gambling complex.

''Our decision there is final: We're going to bid from East Greenbush," Featherstonhaugh said, praising "the most spectacular" vistas of Albany. "I'm really excited about the location and what we can do there."

The new strategy comes less than a week after the suburban Rensselaer County town quietly passed a generic resolution supporting "any reasonable" casino development, and after months of rancor in the Spa City between factions supporting and opposing gambling expansion at the racino. That bitter debate had cast serious doubt on the viability of a Saratoga bid.

''It had become apparent to us that no matter how much we and the city worked together that it was unlikely that we were going to be able to bid from Saratoga in a robust enough way to win a license," Featherstonhaugh said. "The city of Saratoga, for whatever reason, is not comfortable supporting a facility of the kind, size and nature which would be needed to win a license."

The 100,000-square-foot project would include a 300-room hotel, nightclub, sports bar, show room and 20,000 square feet of high-end retail space, and create 1,700 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent positions, Featherstonhaugh said.

Plans also call for partnerships with local entertainment venues — a chief source of opposition in Saratoga Springs — and athletic fields for youth sports.

While East Greenbush had been included in early speculation about where a Capital Region casino might wind up, town Supervisor Keith Langley said Friday that he had not seen "any formal presentations."

In a statement Monday, Langley said the Town Board is eager to learn more about the proposal.

''It appears we may have a solid proposal that can be placed before the town for review," Langley said, citing the potential financial boost of as much as $7 million annually to the cash-strapped town.

''That amount of funding would help correct town financial issues and help provide property tax relief to our residents if the project moves forward," he said.

Wherever in the eight-county Capital Region the casino lands, the host county will receive $11.4 million in annual community aid. That aid will be split with the host municipality — a promise that has enticed fiscally challenged communities.

A bid could also arrive from Schenectady.

News of the shift came two days before would-be casino operators must pay their $1 million application fees to the state Gaming Commission on Wednesday ahead of an applicants' conference April 30.

Empire Resorts, which plans a $750 million casino project in Monticello, and Greenetrack, proposing a $400 million resort complex in Orange County, were among the first wave of depositors Monday.

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