Gambling in Catskills back on the table

The Nevele Resort outside Ellenville made it back into big-time news of late, riding a news cycle begun when governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new statewide push to legalize gambling on January 17.

On January 23 and 24, over 50 persons from interested parties crowded before judge Mary Work at the county courthouse in Kingston, where Mitchell Wolff, court-appointed receiver for the property since its last ownership fell apart two years ago, is seeking approval for the sale of the 433-room hotel on 500 acres to Claremont Investments LLC, a New York-based investment group. Wolff and Claremont have been in negotiation over sale of the bankrupt property for months, with Claremont pushing for a quick judgment that would allow sale of the property for a price in the $6.7-million range if gambling gets state approval within the next five years.

Both parties had been pushing for judgment by January 26, a date set by Claremont as necessary in light of current plans to legalize gambling statewide. As of press time, Work had scheduled sessions through the week. Claremont’s ties to other gambling entities of questionable ethics have emerged. At least two other potential bidders on the property emerged at this week’s court sessions.

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The Nevele property suffered considerable damage due to burst pipes and vandalism in the two years since it last closed. Claremont reached a general agreement with Wolff in December that was outlined in a January 10 letter to the attorney. In that deal, Claremont has offered to pay delinquent taxes and other obligations adding up to about $1.7 million, by January 31 of this year, with another amount “up to $5 million” to be paid within 60 days of a trigger date defined as “the date on which casino gambling at the Property is open and operating to the public.”

An additional clause stipulates that Claremont would have “no further obligations under this agreement” should gambling not be legal within five years of the agreement’s initial signing.

News of the sale was noted in a press release from Ulster County executive Mike Hein. Since then, local politicians, including Ulster County comptroller Elliott Auerbach, former village manager for the Nevele’s home town, have weighed in on the number of jobs and amount of investment such a development would bring to the county and region.

The January 10 letter from Claremont outlining the deal noted that the investment group had been negotiating with county and local officials for months, and included a long list of creditors owed money from the resort’s past failures.

Those included everyone from linen rental and fuel companies to private investors, a local Buddhist monastery, the Village of Ellenville, and the state Department of Labor.

Biographies of Claremont LLC principal investors Larry J. Woolf, Michael R. Treanor, Jeffrey E. Levine and Steven Charno note one partner with experience of over 40 years in gaming, “extensive experience in leisure resort development, including hotels,” management of “early-phase gaming investments,” work in corporate acquisition, financing, construction, marketing and management, and New York metro area real-estate development company.

Auerbach, in his own press releases, talked about getting Ulster County in line for eventual repayment of owed funds.

By Tuesday, however, Claremont’s ties to the casino development company Navegante, named in a 2010 investigation of the video lottery concession at Aqueduct Raceway in New York City, had forced Hein to step back from his earlier press release endorsing the development plans as first outlined.

Former Nevele owner Joel Hoffman was present at the hearings this week, along with former congressman Benjamin Gilman, representing another group interested in purchasing the Nevele, along with two other potential buyers.

Attorneys for iStar, which holds the mortgage on the Nevele, have also objected to Claremont/Navegante’s terms for purchasing the resort property while not covering all remaining mortgage costs.

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