It’s Monday night in Ellenville and it’s been sleeting all day; a heavy freeze is on its way. Nevertheless, the village’s meeting room in the multi-story Government Center that once served as a would-be bank headquarters back when this community was considered the manufacturing center for the region is SRO at 5:30 p.m. Several county legislators are there, including chairman John Parete, along with regional planners, business figures, and plenty of local residents.
It’s been almost a month since the state’s five-member Gaming Facilities Location Board dealt what’s been thought to be a fatal stab to the half-century dream of a robust economic revival based on gambling by deciding to place only one casino in the region, at the site of the former Concord Hotel outside Monticello. The board disappointed by limiting its choices to only three casinos statewide.
Now it’s been less than two weeks since Governor Cuomo opened up the idea of a fourth casino in the Southern Tier, and 72 hours since the chairman of the location board said he was open to that idea. But for the Catskills?
The Ellenville meeting was originally called as a session where the community could discuss future economic development plans. But the gambling itch rises again with the first announcements of reopening the process. Then the meeting is called off when word comes down about the region being off the state’s list. And back on again with word that maybe the board could still be swayed.
The back wall of the place is lined with young people holding up signs on behalf of the Nevele, site of Ellenville’s failed bid for a state-sanctioned casino. A press release and eblast had gone out that morning from casino developers calling the meeting a “rally.”
In introductory remarks, Ellenville mayor Jeff Kaplan talks about how the state’s process had betrayed the local community. He mentions how hard everyone had fought for that fourth spot; it didn’t seem fair to now be going to a different region altogether. Wawarsing town supervisor Leonard Distel echos his sentiments, then Nevele developer Michael Treanor — briefly out as head of his effort following a run in with bad press last summer — takes over the podium.
He begs everyone’s forgiveness for not having won the casino, then blames his failure to secure hundreds of millions in financing on neighboring Orange County’s entrance into the process. But now things are different he says, speaking about a bid he is pushing to completion involving a conglomerate, named RatPac Entertainment, made up of a Hollywood-based producer and real estate and Australian billionaire theme park and casino builder developer. All he is asking for is another chance…and the community’s help in making that ask.
“I’m not here to apologize, I’m here to fight,” Treanor concludes while noting how he may have made a mistake by not having given any political contributions as part of his bidding process. “This is a town of fighters.”
The crowd of over 100, stretched into the hall because of a seating arrangement that gave over half the room to sparsely-seated town and village officials, cheers loudly. And then more rise to back up the push for the Nevele, urging everyone to phone, fax, tweet and petition the governor.
Occasionally, others get a word in. Artist and former advertising man Chuck Davison talks about turning the Nevele into a high-end assisted living development with resort amenities to urge families to visit their elders. Which, another woman says, wasn’t all that different from what the Nevele actually was in its final years.
Andrew Faust, an ecological designer, brings up the idea of a community trying to plan for its future better, including ideals of sustainability and diversity. Others bring up the idea of the town and village setting a schedule of further meetings to discuss things besides a casino, including the many state grants that must be applied for come June.
“The Gunks’ ridge line gets 400,000 visitors a year who spend $13 million. Why not here,” asks Wawarsing Environmental Commission chairman Hank Alicandri, decrying the community’s “all eggs in one basket” approach to economic development. “
Kaplan excoriates the state for turning the Wawarsing portion of its Minnewaska properties, formerly known as Sam’s Point and once home to Ice Cave Mountain, forever wild.
Yet Alicandri gets a big round of applause as he speaks about the community taking some smaller, inexpensive steps to draw people its direction again. Just as Aroma Thyme owner Marcus Giuliani does with an impassioned speech about the area’s attraction to hikers and runners, and need for everything from new festivals to a better website.
“Has anyone been to Beacon in recent years,” asks village justice Matt Parker, noting what a contemporary art museum did for that once industrialized city.
“I believe we have an obligation to do more…we are resilient and casino or not, there’s more to be done here,” says Ellenville school superintendent Lisa Wiles. “We need a good planner down here. People are listening to us now. We’re not going to be down and out without a casino but we do need to get our plans in order.”
And while some community leaders continue to warn against any “diluting” of the last effort to get the Nevele back on the Governor’s, and Gaming Facility Location Board’s agenda, those who stay on at the meeting over its hour and a half course give more attention to other ideas.
And then the next evening, Tuesday, the Gaming Facilities Location Board twists the dagger again. No, the process will not be opened up again to the Catskills and Hudson Valley, they say. But a fourth casino would be considered along the Pennsylvania border.
And Kaplan sets a second Future of Ellenville meeting, to start, again, at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, February 9. Only this time at the school…the better to actually accommodate people.