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Gambling is linked to pair of city pitches

The two groups offering proposals to build on the city’s Parcel 5 on East Main Street are touting the creation of hundreds of local jobs and entertainment options for downtown with two distinct and different approaches.

City documents show one option would create a performing arts venue and job opportunities for local residents off-site; the other would add jobs through a performing arts center and casino on the land formerly occupied by Midtown Plaza.

The city received a comprehensive draft proposal from the Seneca Nation of Indians outlining its desire to build a performing arts center with a gaming facility. The second draft proposal was submitted in conceptual form by a consortium of casino operators and other yet-to-be-identified investors who partially would fund a stand-alone performing arts center.

The leader of the latter group is Thomas Wilmot, chairman of Wilmorite Management Group LLC, which is developing the $440 million del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County.

Both groups behind the development proposals are letting the written submissions to the city do the talking for them at this point in the process.

A spokesman for the Seneca Nation said the group is not commenting on the proposal; Wilmot’s office said he was unavailable for an interview early this week.

Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of Rochester Downtown Development Corp., believes the two proposals are a good starting point for discussion as to what should be located at that site.

Parcel 5 is a key area of the city, largely the heart of downtown, and input from a variety of stakeholders should be included, as should a larger view of the impact development there would have, she added.

“It’s a process, and we need to be sure what’s done (at the site) fits into the needs of a larger vision,” Zimmer-Meyer said.

While developers have shied away from investing in downtown in the past, that does not seem to be the case today, Zimmer-Meyer said, and she welcomes the two proposals.

“It opens the door to a very robust conversation, and we are looking forward to being a part of it,” Zimmer-Meyer said.

The Seneca Gaming Corp. proposal states it has the potential to create thousands of good-paying, permanent jobs downtown. It combines a 3,000-seat performing arts center with a gaming-entertainment center. The arts center could hold up to 150 shows a year, including Broadway plays and concerts.

Seneca Gaming was established by the Seneca Nation in 2002 to run its gambling facilities and it has the right to build a gaming facility on the property.

Under an agreement, the Seneca Nation committed to pay to the state a portion of its revenue from slot machines and other devices in exchange for the exclusive right to offer the devices west of Route 14, which stretches southward from Sodus in Wayne County.

The Seneca Nation owns and operates the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo, the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel in Niagara Falls and the Seneca Allegany Casino & Hotel in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County.

In its Rochester proposal, the Seneca Nation said the site would be similar to the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, but with slot machines and likely not table games. The Buffalo venue has created nearly 500 permanent jobs to date and contributed some $131 million in direct and indirect spending on goods and services.

Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, a $130 million project that opened in 2013, is in the midst of a $40 million expansion expected to be completed next year.

The proposal does not call for a hotel or a signature franchise restaurant, but says nearby businesses should experience increased traffic generated from the venue, and hundreds of construction jobs would be created through the use of a labor agreement with local building trades unions.

The Seneca Nation has pledged to ensure a majority of the jobs will go to residents of Rochester’s most-challenged neighborhoods, including those represented by ZIP codes 14607, 14611, 14621 and all the neighborhoods identified with the area known as “the Crescent.”

A portion of the jobs would go to women and minority residents using pre-determined benchmarks, according to the Senecas’ proposal. They also plan to work with local workforce development agencies to create career training programs in fields such as gaming and hospitality.

The Seneca Nation also wrote about the gaming center’s ability to create a more attractive downtown, with lights that would illuminate the streetscape, as well as adding street-level artwork, street furniture and landscaping around the site.

The Seneca Nation also believes the performing arts center could be used in conjunction with events at the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center, Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial and the Eastman Theatre.

It also could be a location for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival and be a chance to capitalize on the Upstate New York Musical and Theatrical Production tax credit, which offers a tax incentive to reimburse 25 percent of the production costs for touring productions.

People in the area are mixed on their reaction to the development at the site.

Robert Morgan, who is one of the developers behind Tower280, has said recently that the casino and performing arts center would boost the number of people visiting downtown and have a positive economic impact on the area.

Andrew Gallina, whose Gallina Development Corp. is redeveloping the former Chase Tower, now called the Metropolitan, has voiced concerns over a downtown casino. He has said the casino could detract from the sense of walkability and sustainability that downtown plans should strive to achieve.

The Wilmot-led proposal calls for bringing 400 jobs to the area.

In partnership with RochesterWorks Inc. and their participating job training programs, Wilmorite, Delaware North Cos. Inc. and Batavia OTB would source jobs from the city of Rochester. The organizations are working together after Delaware North and Batavia OTB opposed the del Lago project.

Under the proposal, the three would work with the Rochester Transit System to provide free transportation from the center city for employees of del Lago, Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Farmington, Ontario County, and Batavia OTB. The Farmington facility is operated by Buffalo-based Delaware North.

It also describes a plan for funding construction and development of a Rochester performing arts facility for Rochester Broadway Theatre League performances.

The group said it also will participate in existing programs that train and mentor city youth, working with groups that include the Greater Rochester YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, Roland Williams’ Champion Academy and Monroe Community College, to provide resources for these programs and access to a job for youths after high school and/or college.

Wilmot, who at one time proposed a downtown casino, was part of a group of business leaders who got together in the early 1990s to ensure the Hyatt Regency Rochester was completed after an out-of-town developer walked out on the project.

According to the Parcel 5 proposal, Wilmot and the other members of the group were able to raise some $38 million in public and private funds to get the project done.

“We have done it before and believe we can bring the city, state, county, and business leaders together again to solve this issue of a new performing arts center,” the proposal states. 

The group is looking to create a facility that complements existing offerings, according to their proposal. They are looking to develop agreements with the city and work on funding and timelines in the coming months to move the project forward.

6/10/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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