Locals debate casino impact



The debate continues over whether a potential casino at Thruway Exit 27 could provide an economic boost to the area or create more harm in the long run.

Recently, local businesses in the city of Amsterdam and the town of Florida have joined in the conversation, describing how the casino could help or hurt their business.

In the city's South Side, the majority of the businesses said they are excited at the prospect of a casino.

"Progress is never a bad thing," Dolci Bake Shop owner Lisa Vertucci said. "It is going to bring more people, help with the economy and the taxes. How can this be a bad thing?"

Vertucci has owned the bake shop for four years in the city's South Side and has managed to keep it going even when business slows down in the winter months.

With the construction of the Gateway Overlook -- a pedestrian bridge linking the South Side to the city's downtown already cited as a tourist attraction --Vertucci said the addition of the casino will only attract more people to the area.

"If it brings 10 more people in my shop a week, that would be fabulous," she said. "With the casino here, we are going to be more visible."

Many of the businesses that sit along Bridge Street are all too familiar with the challenges of surviving in an economically depressed area.

"The businesses that are struggling need this," Jackie Parillo, owner of Parillo's Armory Grill said, adding that she hopes to have the opportunity to work with the casino. "If there was ever an opportunity for me to move my restaurant up there, I would love it."

Southside Food Company owner Phil Rossignol said anything that brings more people to the area is good for business.

While it remains to be seen if many of the business could benefit from the casino, Herk's Tavern owner Philip Bracchi said he was proud to support it, pointing to a "Yes Casino" sign that sat in the corner of the bar, visible to the public.

Bracchi said he was not worried about the South Side losing business to the casino because the casino restaurants could only draw from people there.

"The people that are going to these places [in the South Side] are going to continue to go to these places. They know the food and they know the people," he said. "They are not going to go to the casino just to eat."

For those against the casino, primary concerns were about the potential long-term impacts the casino could have on the area.

June Leonard, owner of Halcyon Farm Bed and Breakfast in the town of Florida, said it was difficult to say how the casino could impact the business directly.

"Several of our guests chose us because we are convenient to the Thruway and a halfway point on their trip. They just need a bed. Some of these guests will undoubtedly opt for the hotel at the casino," she said. "Guests who are looking forward to a peaceful stay where they can walk, bike, or run safely, be surrounded by lush countryside, singing birds, gardens with flowers, veggies or fruit, which they will see for breakfast the next morning, will choose us, as they do now."

However, Leonard said that upon doing research, she found that crime had increased in areas where casinos have been built.

"Crime has not been a particular concern of ours but with the introduction of a casino all will change and our lives and business will definitely be negatively impacted," she said.

Dan Weaver, owner of the Book Hound bookstore on Main Street, said he was concerned how the proposed site could impact the businesses in the area.

"The casino is going to have golf courses, which are going to affect the golf courses here that are barely surviving. It is going to have a hotel, which is going to affect this hotel that is barely surviving," Weaver said. "Why are people going to come over the bridge to go to restaurants or bars here when the casino is going to have all that?"

Clairvest Group Inc. is seeking to transform a 512-acre site straddling the city of Amsterdam and town of Florida with a casino and hotel. The possible $250 million project also includes a spa, two 18-hole golf courses, 300 residential units, and the potential for future commercial development.

The project is expected to create approximately 450 construction jobs over two years. Another 850 jobs would be created once the site opens, with a median income of $42,000. Additional jobs are expected to be created by the additional amenities.

The development is also expected to generate approximately $170 million in revenue in the third year, the first year the site is open.

Municipalities in Montgomery County would share approximately $11.4 million in gaming tax revenue, with the county receiving approximately $5.7 million; 21 percent of its current property tax revenue.

The city of Amsterdam would receive $1 million, 17.5 percent of its property tax revenue, while the town of Florida would receive $4.7 million, 190 percent of its current property tax revenue. That's because the majority of the property is in the town of Florida; just 36 of the 512 acres are located in the city.

However, Weaver said he doesn't believe the casino could generate as much revenue as the developers have reported and cited recent news reports about casino closings in neighboring states.

"I think we are catching the casino wave after it has gone by," he said.

A few doors down, Main Attractions hair salon owner Tami Bedell said she was hopeful that the casino could generate more revenue for the area.

"I don't think it will pull business away from me," she said. "We are one of the closest salons to the location so, unless they put a hair salon in the casino, I would hope it would bring me more business."

Tina Wade, an independent hair stylist at the salon, said many of her customers currently go to nearby casinos, such as Turning Stone, and that by having a facility in the city would keep the money in the area.

"It puts Amsterdam on the map," she said.

Around the corner on Market Street, another "Yes Casino" sign was spotted at Emmy Lou's Diner.

"I want it to come here," owner Emmy Hazelton said. "We need something like this."

Hazelton and her daughter Sherri Crouse said the diner currently draws people from out of the area and that a casino will only increase the traffic.

Crouse said not only could the site draw people who are on their way to the Turning Stone Casino, people staying at the hotel would eventually venture into the city.

"Whether there are businesses in there or not, people go outside of the casino, so I don't see why it wouldn't increase traffic for the downtown," she said.

There were several patrons in the diner Friday who said they would continue to frequent the eatery. Mark Capone, owner of Capone's Auction House, sat in a booth with his business partner and mother Barbara.

Capone said he supported the casino because it could draw people who are already traveling through Amsterdam.

"They don't stop because there is nothing to attract them. We need that attraction or allure," he said, adding that he had no doubts that visitors would venture over the bridge.

Even if they only go to one or two of the businesses in the downtown. Local businesses help support each other, he said, pointing to the paper place mat on his table, which was filled with advertisements for other businesses.

The idea is that even if people don't spend money at one business, they will see an advertisement for another and go there.

"My customer's may not buy anything from me at the auction house, but they may go to a restaurant nearby before or after the auction," he said.