By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- Less than a week after Montgomery County lost its chance at becoming a potential site for one of four casinos in the capital region, officials said they are moving forward in a new economic development initiative to bring revenue to the area.
Yet many in the county still want to know what went wrong, and why.
During the legislature's Economic Development and Planning Committee meeting Tuesday, legislators brought the casino up as a topic of discussion, calling on Executive Matthew Ossenfort to provide some answers.
"I have been hit with questions from my constituents about what happened with the application and what is going to happen with the property," District 5 Legislator Terry Bieniek said to begin the discussion. "Do we have future plans?"
Ossenfort said the casino developers were faced with several hurdles in trying to get an application submitted, which didn't work out.
"We were at a point to not submitting an application or submitting an incomplete application with the hope of getting a chance to finish the application," Ossenfort said. "We did everything on our end. There were just a number of hurdles in the way and while we were plugging away, time was not on our side."
However, District 8 Legislator Joseph Isabel wanted to know who was to blame for the application falling through.
"I can't understand how someone could come in and have so many blanks on an application that is so important," he said.
District 9 Legislator Alexander Kuchis agreed.
"I find it absolutely astonishing that the group we partnered with couldn't produce an application by the deadline, when every other applicant could, including Howe Caverns, who didn't put together team until well after Montgomery County already had."
Ossenfort said the fault partly lies with the state, which made it difficult for the county to compete.
"When you look at the less affluent counties other regions, they had lower licensing fees, they had lower minimum capital investment, making it easier to get a project off the ground," Ossenfort said. "I saw the market study that was done and there was a $90 million annual difference in gaming revenues between Albany and our site. Yet our team was expected to compete in the same financial parameters with someone who had a $90 million head start per year. That is a challenge."
He added that while he was surprised by the lack of detail in the application, he considered it to be a "place holder" to continue in the process while trying to finish the application.
Isabel replied that perhaps they should have gone with another developer.
"Maybe if they didn't step in, then someone else would have come in," he said.
But Ossenfort said no other developers came forward.
"They were the only ones that came forward interested in developing the site," he said.
District 2 Legislator Thomas Quackenbush said the site had been marketed for months. While the loss of the casino is a disappointment, Quackenbush said he was trying to remain optimistic.
"That land is out there now and people know it's there. I think that is worth something. While it may not have been our turn this time with a casino, we can't dismiss that," he said.
Ossenfort agreed, and said while it was a shame that the casino didn't move farther in the process, it was important for the county to move forward in positive way.
Ossenfort said he has begun to work on several economic development initiatives that he will be asking the legislature for input on, as the budget process moves forward. Those initiatives include the 585-acre site in the town of Florida as well as other sites in the county.
"With the loss of the casino and Fiber Glass Industries, now is the time to make an investment with economic development," Ossenfort said. "I hope to have your support with that."
He said there are three people that make up the Economic Development and Planning Department, and while the casino was a large project, the department was working on other projects. He said perhaps if there were more resources, the county could have focused on the casino project more.
"What I am going to be pushing for is to give our team a little more resources so we can do our job and can get some successes here," he said.
The state gaming Facility Location Board unanimously voted Aug. 7 to disqualify Florida Acquisition Corp. as an applicant for one of four gaming licenses in the state. 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."
Details of the application were made public on July 30, 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."
Florida Acquisition Corp. was seeking to develop 585 acres straddling the town of Florida and the city of Amsterdam with a hotel and a casino along with residential and commercial development.