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Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff A rendering of the proposed Montgomery County casino site, on display at the Florida town board meeting Monday night.

Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff A rendering of the proposed Montgomery County casino site, on display at a Florida town council meeting Monday night.

Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff It was standing-room-only at the Florida town board's monthly meeting Monday.

Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort speaks about the county's economy during the Florida town board meeting Monday.

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Public gets a look at casino proposal

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - Updated: 10:20 AM

By NICOLE ANTONUCCI

nicole.antonucci@recordernews.com

TOWN OF FLORIDA -- Developers say a proposed casino at Thruway Exit 27 calls for a $250 million investment in a three-phase project that includes a resort, two golf courses, and residential and commercial units.

But first, those developers say the state will have to consider halving the $50 million licensing fee and extending the application deadline in its competition for one of four coveted upstate casino licenses.

The Florida Acquisition Group unveiled its plans at Monday's Florida town council meeting, where a resolution was unanimously adopted by council members in support of a 512-acre development in the town of Florida and city of Amsterdam.

The meeting was attended by the casino development team, which consists of developer Clairvest Group Inc., partners Great Canadian Gaming Corp. and Finan-cial District Properties, and Vandewalle & Associates as master planner.

Vandewalle & Associates Inc. principal Jeff Maloney said the site will be completed in three phases.

The first phase involves the building of a casino, with 1,250 slot machines and 40 gaming tables; a 100-room hotel with a spa, event space, dining and recreation facility; an outdoor pool and lounge area; an outdoor public meeting space for gatherings such as a farmers market; 100 residential units overlooking the development.

The cost of that phase is estimated at $200 million.

The second phase involves the creation of an 18-hole championship golf course, a golf academy, a recreational vehicle facility, and another 100 residential units, at a cost of between $20 million and $25 million.

The final phase includes a second 18-hole golf course, another 100 residential units, and the potential for additional commercial development, at a cost of between $20 million and $25 million.

"It is an economic driver and a game changer," Maloney said. "It gives you many opportunities to score different land uses in the immediate area, and also spreads to the north in the downtown of the city."

Great Canadian Gaming Corp. vice president Terrance Doyle said the architectural design of the casino is not a tower building, but one that fits into the rural landscape.

"It speaks to what was here before, and what is going to be here after," Doyle said.

Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the development of 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 revenues 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.

Ossenfort said the casino will improve the county's current economic status. He said the county has a 7 percent unemployment rate, and a 19 percent poverty rate, both of which are more than the state's average.

In addition, Montgomery County has the eighth highest tax rate relative to counties throughout the country, Ossenfort said.

Considering that data, Ossenfort said the county fits the criteria in the state's casino legislation, which mandates that the potential casino must provide an economic benefit to the area, he said.

"I feel that Montgomery County is full of strong, blue collar, hardworking people. But it's not the people that are the problem here, it's that we need more opportunities." Ossenfort said. "Other counties say they are a community in need, but we truly are a community in need."

Clairvest Group Inc. CEO Jeffrey Parr said the application process does present challenges since there is a June 30 deadline.

The $50 million licensing fee is also a problem, as it doesn't fit with the economy in the region, he said.

The development team plans to request an application deadline extension of 60 days from the state Gaming Commission. They also plan to ask the commission to reduce the initial licensing fee to $25 million, consistent with lower anticipated gross gaming revenues.

However, Parr said the state would eventually make back the original $50 million through revenues.

He said when the commission set the licensing fee, it did not take into account the economy of the different areas in the capital region.

"Montgomery County is not the same as Albany or Rensselaer," he said. "The economic requirements of the RFA will not support the development."

It was standing-room-only at the meeting, as more than 100 members of the public filled the town hall to hear the long-awaited plans.

After the presentation, members of the public were given two minutes to make a comment about the proposal. The majority of the public said they were 100 percent behind it, claiming it is something the area needs.

"If you build it, they will come," shouted Mario Bruni. "Jobs, growth, everything will come. Support it."

Montgomery County Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael McMahon said 73 percent of the county's family assistance cases are located in the Amsterdam area, and the casino development is an opportunity to regain an economic foothold.

"The will to work is here, but the jobs are not," he said. "By pursuing this opportunity to build a casino, it will have an impact on a great number of residents who have been in need for a long amount of time."

Former Amsterdam mayor Joseph Emanuele III said the casino is the county's only hope to provide opportunity.

"I have seen my hometown, the city of Amsterdam, and the surrounding towns and villages shrink and shift from an economic powerhouse, to be in deep fiscal depression without relief," he said. "Imagine the difference that a casino and its potential job creation would make in the lives of so many residents. It is the difference between poverty and self-sufficiency. An investment here would give us the miracle we need to get back on track."

Jack Betz of Fultonville said the county needs the project, and that it is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Councilman Ronald Phillips said the proposal sounds good, but he raised some reservations regarding the financial benefits.

Phillips wants guarantees that the casino will generate the revenues and the jobs that are promised. He said previous developers in the area have made similar promises.

"Another thing is that I go to Las Vegas a lot, and the numbers over there are down. They are also down in Atlantic City. That is what worries me," he said.

Town Supervisor Eric Mead said the town is in an ideal location because it is right off the Thruway.

"Think of all the revenue that drives past this exit as they head west to go to Turning Stone," Mead said. "Maybe they will stop at our exit instead."

Despite his reservations, Phillips voted in favor of the support resolution when it came before the council later in the evening.

"I initially was a 'no' vote, but then I listened to what everyone had to say," he said. "Because of that, I am going to switch to yes."

Other members of the council expressed excitement regarding the proposal.

"You couldn't build it fast enough for me," Councilman Steven Rackowski said.

With the town of Florida behind the casino, Clairvest Group Inc. must now get the support of the city of Amsterdam.

The development team is expected to pitch its proposal to the Common Council at 7 p.m. today at a special location -- the Lynch Middle School.

     

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