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County supports Howes Cave plan

Thursday, September 04, 2014 - Updated: 10:19 AM


Recorder News Staff

FONDA -- Despite a request from Capital OTB for support of a casino proposal in Rensselaer County, the Montgomery County Legislature is putting its support behind the casino proposal in neighboring Schoharie County.

The Montgomery County Legislature voted 8-1 in support of a resolution backing the Howe Caverns Casino and Resort in Cobleskill, which was cited by the development team as a partnership to create jobs and improve economic development for the region.

"We are not here holding checks out; the checks will manifest themselves if we get the project. Nor are we here to solicit a piece of paper to hold it up and say we have your support," Jeff Hyman, a representative of the Howe Caverns development team, said. "We intend to be a regionally transformative project, a catalyst for change. We want to be that beacon, that job generator for the community."

Michigan-based developer Michael Malik Sr. and operator Full House Resorts is proposing a $450 million Howe Caves Resort and Casino on approximately 110 acres of the Howe Caverns site in Cobleskill.

The project involves a casino and a 254-room hotel with three full-service restaurants, banquet facilities, a pool and spa. There is also a proposed 55,000-square-foot state-of-the-art indoor water park, a 1.25-acre outdoor seasonal water park, 250-room family hotel, an arcade and entertainment park.

The project is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs and 1,700 permanent jobs. In its first year of operation, the developer estimates that the casino and hotel will generate $158 million, with $131 million in gross gaming revenues. The water park is estimated to generate $23 million.

"There is no site that is more advanced than this one," Hyman said. "If we are granted a license we will be under way in a week."

He added that due to the size of the project, there are plenty of opportunities to partner with Montgomery County in terms of jobs, educational programs and more.

In fact, Hyman said they are committed to supplying seed capital to a regional development fund in association with the license.

"We intend to apply a surcharge to activities on our project site so that that fund can sustain itself on an ongoing basis," he said. "We see that as a tool in cross promoting tourism. We also think there is no reason why the magnitude of those dollars can't make its way into infrastructure projects and educational funding. That is our vision."

The presentation by the Howe Caverns development team follows a week after the legislature was approached by John Signor, president and CEO of Capital Off-Track Betting, which is partnering with Hard Rock Entertainment and Global Gaming Consulting in proposing a $280 million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino at De Laet's Landing in Rensselaer.

The proposal includes a casino with the Off-Track Betting outlet, as well as a 100-room hotel with a indoor/outdoor pool, fitness center and meeting space, a 250-seat restaurant, and a retail outlet.

Signor said OTB has been losing revenues during the past 10 years because of competition. This also impacts Montgomery County, which gains approximately $51,000 in revenue from OTB. The partnership with the casino would double the county's revenues to $100,000 a year, depending on the gaming revenues generated, if it is built.

The relationship with Capital OTB caused some legislators to hesitate but after some discussion they said the Schoharie project seemed to provide the most benefit.

"With respect to my vote I am interested in this notion of regional economic development. We have been victimized for a long time," Legislator John Duchessi Jr. said. "There is a financial benefit with OTB but I am more in favor of this investment in regional economic development and I think the long-term benefit is with this resolution and that is why I am supporting it."

During the public comment period, Schoharie town Supervisor Gene Milone, who was also representing the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, said the project is an opportunity to address the problems of economic development that have plagued both counties as well as the region.

"This is a golden opportunity not only for the residents of Schoharie but for our neighbors," he said. "I am here today asking for your support in our effort to achieve this goal."

District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz said the benefits to the county are undeniable.

"Time and time again in the past I have seen Montgomery County fail to partner with our neighbors," he said. "It's a resort style where they are not putting all their eggs in one basket -- the gaming basket. There will be other amenities. The last thing is the regional development opportunity. I am in support."

District 9 Legislator Alexander Kuchis said that while OTB would create more revenue for the county, the Schoharie project was creating more jobs.

"I just think there is so much more to this application. It affects this region directly," he said.

District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly was the lone dissenting vote.


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