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Albany Common Council Vote Supports Rensselaer Casino

Last night the Albany Common Council voted to support the Rensselaer casino project. But there's still a lot of uncertainty and dealmakers are facing criticism.  

Common Council members voted 12-3 to conditionally, and not exclusively, support the Hard Rock Casino project after much eleventh hour positioning. Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer offered Albany $1 million a year for 10 years in exchange for the city supporting the Hard Rock. There was no written agreement - so Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan put to paper her own version, embellishing the deal by tacking on two percent a year to account for inflation. Dwyer nixed the offer and gave the Albany an 8:30 p.m. deadline to accept his offer.

Times Union reporter Jordan Carleo-Evangelist was at the council meeting.  "The council new this deadline existed. What the council didn't really know were any details about what Dwyer was offering beyond the dollar amount."

It appeared that the council would not vote on it, because they didn’t have something in writing.   "At more or less the last minute Councilman Frank Commisso Jr. Offered a sort of compromise where the council took its resolution of support for the Rensselaer Casino and watered it down a bit. They added all these contingencies in it such that their support was contingent on reaching a ten million dollar with Rensselaer, that it was also contingent upon reaching a separate agreement with the private concerns behind the Hard Rock Casino in Rensselaer for jobs and economic development, and its not exclusive to Rensselaer, meaning the city council reserved its right to support the East Greenbush project or conceivably even the Schenectady project, or the Schoharie County Project. It ended up passing 12 to 3 but its certainly not the resounding call of support that Rensselaer was looking for."

Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer did not return calls for comment.  Former Albany County Legislator Brian Scavo argues officials dropped the ball.   "It's bad enough that the Albany Common Council and Kathy Sheehan couldn't put together a deal on behalf of the city of Albany that was handed to them on a silver platter. The mayor of Rensselaer has no choice but to turn this deal down. This is not the deal that he requested, from what I understand. Which leads me to believe that Kathy Sheehan didn't want this deal in the first place."

A spokesman for the Sheehan administration says there are no updates from City Hall.

Third Ward Council Member Ron Bailey has worked hard to involve Albany in the Rensselaer casino process. He defended jabs that the lawmakers haven't been able to get their act together .  "We're not told anything till the last minute, when they need something done. We're left out there in the open, and I tell ya there's only certain council members that the Mayor's office is actually sharing stuff with. So you get a group of us that we don't know anything but you get a group that comes in and knows what the mayor wants to do and stuff...but we don't find out till the last minute. So yeah there's a communication problem goin' on there."

10th ward Council Member Leah Golby was one of three who voted against the agreement.  "I dissented because I did not like the artificial deadline that was imposed on us."

Some in attendance commented on social media about apparent 'strong-arm tactics' by Mayor Dwyer - Golby wasn't comfortable with what she perceived as a lack of details.   "There's been very little information from the developer in terms of the number of jobs, how they would be recruiting people from the city of Albany, because if this is all about the jobs, the information that we received last night included NO information about how many people they were going to be hiring from the city of Albany."

The measure agreed to last night didn’t preclude lawmakers from also supporting a casino project in neighboring East Greenbush from Churchill Downs and Saratoga Casino and Raceway...  What happens next? Again, Leah Golby:  "We need something in writing. Our resolution calls for that. It calls for an agreement  with the developer regarding mitigation of negative impacts and commitments to facilitate and support positive impacts on the city of Albany including economic development within the city, opportunities  for the Albany business community and employment and training of Albany residents. And also a written agreement with the city of Rensselaer for that one million dollars a year. We need that."

The Capital Region is slated to receive one of the state’s four casino licenses.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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