Cuomo: Schenectady casino plan a ‘home run’

SCHENECTADY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo says a casino is a new chapter that has been a long time coming for Schenectady.

“To the people of Schenectady: Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations,” Cuomo said during an event Thursday morning at Proctors.

Cuomo’s visit to the Electric City came a day after the state Gaming Facility Location Board recommended the former Alco site for one of upstate New York’s first commercial casinos.

Cuomo said he pushed for legislation to allow for casinos because “upstate has been suffering for a long time.” The casinos, which he called resort destinations, will help jump-start a part of the state that was once booming with manufacturing, he said.

“The story of upstate New York became a story of what was,” Cuomo said. “Everything was about what we used to do in the good ol’ days. We were GE. What Proctors was. And there was not enough conversation about what we are going to be and what the future is.”

The future is Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, a $330 million project spearheaded by Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago. The project will create 1,400 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs.

Cuomo said the casino project is “a home run” because it is part of a larger housing plan. Work is already underway on the 60-acre brownfield for Galesi’s previously planned $150 million development that includes housing, hotels and office and retail space.

“Schenectady won because Schenectady deserved to win,” Cuomo said. “It’s a really exciting proposal. It’s not just a casino. It is a resort that a family would come to for a vacation. It’s part of a larger development that has housing, hotels and boat slips. This is more job growth in Schenectady that probably hasn’t happened in a century, so it’s exciting.”

Galesi Group COO David Buicko said he believes his partnership’s casino application has strengths across the board, with progress on the site as a strong factor, particularly meeting requirements under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

“This is an almost $500 million project and we were the largest host community by far,” Buicko said. “That means we will provide the most economic benefits to the most people. We were the only local developer that has huge development experience and you have Rush that has an urban experience, with casinos in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on the river.”

The prep work on-site will enable the developer to build Rivers Casino in as little as 18 months, said Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin. The state is looking for casinos to be up and running within 24 months of receiving a license.

The Gaming Commission will award licenses in a few months after applications are reviewed and background checks are completed by state police, according to siting board chairman Kevin Law.

Cuomo also used his speech to tout START-UP NY, a business tax incentive program he is leveraging to attract businesses to the state. The program allows companies to locate here without paying any local or state taxes.

To participate, businesses are required to partner with a nearby college. Schenectady County Community College, which has a casino gaming management program, is currently in discussions with several companies about locating in vacant buildings on State Street under START-UP NY.

“Businesses that are linked with education are the way of the future,” Cuomo said. “What you’re doing here is exactly right, community colleges training for jobs that are growing in that region.”

At the end of his speech, Cuomo stepped down from the podium and shook hands with everyone in the front row — Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, Rush Street’s Greg Carlin, Galesi Group’s David Buicko … and so on.

When he reached Francesco Galesi at the end of the row, he gave him a hug and said in his ear, “I’m proud of you.”

Galesi founded Galesi Group in 1969 and currently serves as CEO, although Buicko is really the driving force behind the company’s day-to-day operations. Galesi avoids the spotlight — Thursday was only his second recent appearance in the city. He also attended a County Legislature meeting in June to present plans for Rivers Casino.

Cuomo praised the Galesi Group as “a quality developer” that made the site a winner and transformed the brownfield into “a really inspiring project.” It is the largest developer in the region and has played a key role in transforming downtown.

“Francesco Galesi and the Galesi Group has believed in Schenectady for a very long time,” Cuomo said.

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