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Casino Fever Crosses The River


Another wrinkle in the regional casino picture - Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan announced this week that the the so-called "E23 proposal" with the casino, hotel, restaurants and water park - is not to be –  "What we have learned is that what was at least presented is not possible."

The dream is gone - left behind as wealthy Rochester developer David Flaum looks across the Hudson to Rensselaer, where Wednesday night the city council, in a 6-to-1 vote,  gave Flaum the green light to site a casino-hotel complex on a 24-acre site along the riverbank.

Flaum's decision to drop Albany sparked  Mayor Sheehan to hastily summon the media Wednesday afternoon to City Hall.   "This project has not failed because the city didn't jump on board early. It failed because the developer can't make the dollars work. Had we jumped on board and said 'this is the greatest thing going and we should all support this project' and not ask any questions, I think we would be having a very different press conference right now."

There were some concerns with the site, the stability of the land, and other unidentified factors.  Mayor Dan Dwyer told the Times Union that Albany will benefit from a Rensselaer location and will not have to worry about being the host community.  This after weeks of Flaum courting Albany officials and citizens , arguing his casino project would offer a myriad of benefits

Albany Common Council member Judd Krasher, who has opposed the Albany casino plan, said Flaum came to town with a suitcase full of empty promises.    "You could see that with members of the public, especially in the impoverished communities, that there was a lot of hope there. And while I still believe that a casino would have ultimately been very bad for the city, for a multimillionaire to come into a city, and say publicly to an impoverished community, things like 'I will stand with you,' 'I will march with you,' 'I will fight for you,' and to then turn their back on a municipality, on a city, is really troubling."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Flaum's team reportedly had concerns that facing a June 30th deadline there didn't seem to be much support for the casino and the Common Council hadn't scheduled a vote. Community activist Marlon Anderson lays blame on Krasher and his supporters and not David Flaum.   "Councilman Krasher and those he galvanized against the jobs, against the revenue, they're the ones who have adversely affected the minority community. I think it's the height of hypocrisy for Councilman Krasher and those who stood against the casino to blame the developer for not being able to provide those jobs and revenue, when they stood like a roadblock against it."

Sheehan’s explanation suggested the Albany casino plan was a house of cards.    "I don't feel that we've lost out on any money. All of those promises were contingent on being able to build a casino at Exit 23. And I have endeavoured throughout this process to be very clear in communicating with our residents, with the common council, and with the stakeholders of our city that a promise isn't a promise until we have something in writing that indicates that they can support the promises that they were making. And I don't spend money before I get it."

David Flaum is also competing for a casino license in Orange County.  The Rensselaer plan goes toe-to-toe against the Saratoga Casino and Raceway/Churchill Downs "Casino at East Greenbush" project and faces competition from other proposals in Schenectady, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.

Mayor Sheehan says Albany will be impacted by a regional casino no matter where it will be located—city officials will engage in conversations about casinos. And  Albany will monitor the Rensselaer, and all other nearby casino proposals.

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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