Trevor Junquera/Recorder staff Route 30 cuts through vacant farmland south of the Mohawk River, straddlng the town of Florida and city of Amsterdam. The land will remain vacant for the time being, on the heels of its elimination Thursday from the state casino citing sweepstakes.
By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
The city of Amsterdam and Montgomery County were dealt a losing hand Thursday when the development team for a proposed Exit 27 casino was disqualified from the application process.
The state gaming Facility Location Board unanimously voted to disqualify Florida Acquisition Corp. as an applicant for one of four state gaming licenses at its monthly meeting in New York City.
The board cited the incomplete application that was submitted by the development team, stating, "Staff finds Florida Acquisition Corp. failed to file the required materials and objectively failed to meet threshold application requirements."
The meeting started 35 minutes late but within 15 minutes the board had made its decision, saying that to give the developers more time would not be fair to the other applicants.
"It undermines the efforts that everyone else made," a board member said. "It would undermine the whole process."
Florida Acquisition Corp. said in a release afterward it was disappointed that the commission didn't reconsider.
"While we are deeply disappointed to be leaving the site selection process, we believe that the upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act is an important, well-designed act of legislation that will provide much needed economic relief to long-downtrodden communities in upstate New York," Florida Acquisition Corp. said. "We wish the groups that remain in the process well."
The development team said that when they first thought they would be unable to submit an RFA because "building a first-class gaming destination at Exit 27 was not economically feasible given the required minimum capital spend and license fee set forth for Region II in the RFA."
It goes on to explain how officials met with the gaming commission to work out possible solutions -- a $25 million license fee deferment and a 60-day extension of the deadline -- which were denied by the commission.
However Florida Acquisition Corp said, "The commission representative urged the officials to encourage us to submit what we could in the RFA response and suggested that there could be further discussion after submission to work through the issues facing our bid."
After submitting an application, Florida said it continued to make amendments to the application and tried several times to update the board on the progress, without success.
"We were surprised and disheartened by the release of the commission agenda after hours on Aug. 6, less than 24 hours prior to the meeting," the group said. "This is the first we had heard of any objections to our RFA response or the process we were following."
Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane said she was saddened for the community because the project looked at the need in the city of Amsterdam, especially with this week's announced closing of Fiber Glass Industries.
"We have taken a real body blow," she said. "The state is going to have to come up with some type of strategy to manage the needs of upstate New York."
Thane attended the meeting to ask the board to reconsider the disqualification, stating the city of Amsterdam and Montgomery County are in an economically depressed area that could benefit from a casino.
"The city of Amsterdam, town of Florida and Montgomery County have been working for months on what we perceive to be the first glimmer of hope our impoverished communities have had in years," she said. "This could truly transform our municipalities."
She told the board about the steps leading up to the application deadline, the challenges the developer faced, and the meeting with the commission.
"We were repeatedly instructed that to have any consideration in the process we must submit an application regardless of the state of completeness. If we didn't have an application submitted there would be no further conversation," Thane said.
She explained the steps taken after the application was submitted and how was she was surprised to learn, via the website, that the Gaming Commission was considering the disqualification.
"I can't stress enough how important this is for us," she said. "We only want a chance. Give us a chance to participate."
The board acknowledged her comments but said it would be unfair to the remaining applicants who followed the rules.
Prior to the meeting, Clairvest Group Inc. investment banker Peter Marcil released details regarding the amendments to the application. He stated the $50 million license fee was resolved after the group brought in additional operating partners for the non-gaming portions of the site and additional capital partners.
As a result, the proposed project changed from a $250 million to $280 million with a larger casino and hotel, 300 golf villas, a separate retail development, and allocation for additional residential development. The project would have been built in one phase, rather than three as originally proposed.
Florida Acquisition Corp. was seeking to develop 585 acres straddling the town of Florida and the city of Amsterdam.
In addition, the development team was discussing a redevelopment project on the city's South Side, which would have been completed in conjunction with the resort site. The project would have been handled by Rodney Blackwell of Financial District properties, who specializes in riverfront redevelopment projects in distressed areas.
Clairvest Group Inc. CEO Jeff Parr attended the meeting Thursday and tried to address the board but was told he was not allowed, as per the rules in the application process.
Parr could not be reached for comment following the meeting.
Marcil said while he believed the project was a perfect fit for what the statute intended, the time frame did not give them the ability to achieve what they had envisioned. He said he was glad to have been involved in the process.
"Personally, it was a great joy to have the opportunity to lend a hand to a community that has given so much to me, my parents and my siblings," Marcil said. "I gave it my best shot and I am sorry it didn't work as I had hoped."
Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said while he is disappointed, there are other developments occurring in the county.
"As I said before, you can't put all of your eggs in the casino basket," he said. "It is a shame it didn't work out but there are a lot of other opportunities out there and we just got to move forward."
Florida town supervisor Eric Mead and Montgomery County Economic Planning Development Director Ken Rose could not be reached for comment.
In a memo attached to the Facility Location Board agenda, staff cited the developer's previous request and pointed out issues with the physical filing of Florida Acquisition Corp.'s application and how they failed to submit the required number of copies for different documents required.
For example, 20 hard copies of the application and its attachments were supposed to be submitted along with 10 electronic copies, but only two copies of each were received. In addition, Florida Acquisition Corp. failed to submit financial statements and background information forms.
Also, the RFA required each applicant and its respective related parties to submit with its application, a variety of materials necessary to conduct a background check on the applicant, which Florida Acquisition failed to do, according to the memo.
Those sections that were not addressed by the developer are defined in the memo with the following statement: "The submitted application was nonresponsive to this requirement."
Details of the application were made public last week, approximately one month after being submitted June 30. Upon review, the public became aware that large sections of the document were missing details or for the most part, were incomplete.
Incomplete sections of the application were defined by the following statement: "Florida Acquisition Corp., and Clairvest Group Inc. and Great Canadian Gaming Corp. will complete this section of the RFA within 60 days of the date at which the New York Gaming Facility Location Board of the New York State Gaming Commission agree with the applicant on the solution for the challenge of the License Fee as noted in the Executive Summary."