Mayor Ann Thane waves a sign in support of the Thruway Exit 27 Casino during the "Yes Casino" rally on the Route 30 bridge, Amsterdam, Wednesday.
By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Last week it was the heat and this week it was the rain. Twice now, rallies planned for both sides of the Thruway Exit 27 casino debate have been interrupted by Mother Nature.
Perhaps the third time will be the charm.
Since the weather cut the rallies short Wednesday, the "Yes Casino" rally is being rescheduled for this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. at the bus stop in front of the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam.
Wednesday's event, however, wasn't a complete loss.
At 5 p.m., casino supporters began lining up along the Route 30 bridge for the "Yes Casino" rally, lining the sidewalk, and waving signs at traffic traveling north and south.
"It is time for us to speak out and let the state know that we want the jobs," organizer Miguel Gonzalez said as he passed out signs to new arrivals. "We need the jobs and I am tired of opportunities passing us up. The other four applications have destinations. Montgomery County has nothing."
Two blocks to the north, those opposed to the gaming facility could be seen gathering at the intersection of Route 5 and Church Street for the "No Exit 27 Casino" rally.
It looked promising for the dueling parties.
Within 10 minutes of starting, more than 20 residents had showed up on the bridge, grabbing one of many signs that had been made available.
Residents from municipalities throughout Montgomery County stood along the rail, waving the signs to the passing drivers who would honk their horns. It began to get noisy on the bridge as several trucks joined in, some laying on their horns for the entire ride over the Mohawk River. The gatherers responded with exciting "whoops" and yells. At one point, traffic slowed and the honking lasted for several minutes.
The rally was 15 minutes in, with more supporters arriving by the second, when the blue skies and sunshine were replaced by dark heavy clouds rolling in from the west, and the first few sprinkles of rain began to fall on the faithful.
Many already on the bridge just popped open umbrellas, refusing to succumb to the weather. Mayor Ann Thane was among them, holding her umbrella in one hand and waving her "Yes Casino" poster enthusiastically with the other.
"This means money and jobs for the city and that is what we want the state to know," she said.
She said the casino would tie into the other ongoing city projects, including the $16.5 million pedestrian bridge which will span the Mohawk River and connect the downtown to the South Side.
"It's a revitalization strategy that we have been working on for some time and the casino plays right into that," she said. "It would work for us."
Other officials who attended the "Yes Casino" rally included city First Ward Alderman Edward Russo and Montgomery County Undersheriff Peter Vroman, who is also running as the Republican candidate for state Assembly in the 111th District.
"This is not the end of a problem but it is the step in the right direction," Vroman said. "My biggest concern was whether it would fit out here, but from what I have seen, it is well thought out and well planned. As a long-time resident of this area, I think this is a good cause."
More than 100 supporters of the casino were expected to attend the rally, had Mother Nature not unleashed her fury. The rain turned into a downpour and thunder rolled in the distance. Due to safety concerns, patrolling Amsterdam Police officers advised people to get off the bridge.
Some called it quits, packed up their stuff and went home. Others decided to wait it out under the overpass, hoping the storm would pass. However, they too eventually gave up and went home. The rally was finished 30 minutes after it started.
At the "No Exit 27 Casino" rally, a few gatherers stayed through the downpour for a little longer and could be seen in the distance standing with their signs in front of the Amsterdam Free Public Library before also calling it quits.
This is the second gathering for the opposition.
High temperatures had canceled the "Yes Casino" rally scheduled at Shuttleworth Park on July 1, but the opposing party brought extra bottles of water and gathered downtown.
More then three dozen people showed up with signs and voiced their opposition, citing impacts to the agricultural community in the town of Florida and the long-term negative impacts a casino could have on the area.
Organizer Sarah Cornett said at the event last week that they are trying to raise awareness to let people know the county is not completely united. She added that several events are being planned in the coming weeks to allow residents to voice their opposition.
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 $250 million project would also include a spa, two 18-hole golf courses, 300 residential units, and the potential for future commercial development.