Notes from Midtown East Casino Proposal Town Hall, 2024/01/11
Below are some notes I took during a town hall organized by Kristen Gonzalez, on the topic of a proposal for a casino in Midtown East (38th to 41st St, between First Ave and FDR). For some background, see coverage in the Gothamist.
The meeting was structured as follows. First, a member of the gaming location board spoke to give background on the proposal & process. Then, some of the six voting members of the Community Advisory Committee each spoke for a short amount of time, followed by representatives of some locally-powerful groups. Finally, representatives from the proposing group spoke and held a Q&A moderated by Kristen Gonzalez.
I didn’t take notes for the first two speakers, but one was a member of the gaming location board (Jerry) & described process. The next speaker was pretty emphatically a no. Kristen Gonazalez spoke briefly between each speaker, primarily to calm nerves, remind folks that reps should be appreciated for taking time to listen & thanked.
I was pretty impressed with Kristen Gonzalez; despite an extremely raucous crowd that heckled the speakers repeatedly, she ran a smooth event, calming nerves between speakers, organizing it in a sensible fashion that meaningfully informed the community both about the facts and each speaker’s likely position on the issue. The one exception was the Q&A section, where in an attempt to group up attendee questions, she ended up asking vague questions like “Can you talk about public safety?” which had the effect of softballing what should have been much more hard-hitting concrete questions about the proposal.
I was very unimpressed by the attendees from the Manhattan East Community Association (MECA), who seemed primarily there to advertise for their organization. They spent basically all their time talking about unrelated events they’d run, in contrast to the other speakers who stuck pretty closely to the topic at hand. Maybe they didn’t get the memo?
I expect Robert Gottheim (obo Jerry Nadler) to get the most coverage. He had by far the most memorable moment of the night, where in response to a heckler yelling “This is blood money”, he responded “It may be blood money, but the money is coming.” It was a pretty shocking thing to say in the moment, but it fit with his overall (IMO reasonable) message that residents should prepare themselves for the likely outcome that Manhattan will get a casino somewhere in the near future.
Ultimately, it was a lot of fun to attend! The atmosphere was pretty free-wheeling, with attendees interjecting pretty regularly, and it had the feeling of a small-town meeting. I’d highly recommend events like this if you’re at all interested in local politics or shooting the shit with your neighbors in New York.
Keith Powers, NYC Councilmember, District 4
- I get questions all the time about what’s happening here
- Voices of community & nearby are important
- We have a lot of time (180) days to hear feedback
- Numerous proposals and only a few that will make it through
- I live just a few blocks away, have a personal stake
- Doesn’t state personal up/down lean
Lizette Chaparro for Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President
- Notes hundreds of attendees, thanks for coming tonight
- A lot of what I wanted to say has already been echoed
- One of five proposals that we’re aware of in Manhattan
- Aware of magnitude of each proposal
- Thinking of impacts on local businesses, traffic, pedestrian flows
- Thinking of benefits: housing, jobs, public amenities
- Long process ahead of us
- Doesn’t state personal up/down
Robert Gottheim for Jerry Nadler, US Rep NY-12
- Nadler doesn’t appoint anyone to the CAG
- Will use bully pulpit to advocate on your behalf
- Issue that people are passionate about, controversial
- 14th - 96th E side, up to 104th on W side
- Five proposals for casinos, Manhattan is going to get one of them, this is where the money is
- Reality is: Manhattan will probably have a casino
- Our job is to decide: where is the best location? This may not be it
- I’m here to hear from you & your concerns
- This is close to major residential (PCV/ST), impact on children, quality of life
- Some heckling
- “It may be blood money, but the money is coming. Will we want money?”
- We are getting casinos in New York. I wish we weren’t. They prey on the most vulnerable, it’s not what we should be doing. But we have to deal with reality.
- Please speak up, we want to hear from you
Susan Steinberg, STPCV Tenants Association President
- Development plans are extremely ambitious
- Some might really appreciate this eyesore being put to use
- Need to consider effects on (traffic, congestion, …)
- Science Park & Research Center, 1st Ave & 25th, challenges, construction disruption for years
- Is another megaproject good for our community? (waits for people to yell NO)
- Pay close attention to developers’ description of plans
- You and me will be impacted for years to come by this project. You have to convince us that this is a benefit. Otherwise, no thank you
Michael-Ann Rowe, VP Manhattan East Community Association
- Implant from Canada, live in Murray Hill
- Describes MECA
- Story about making a different project halt due to environmental concerns
- Introduces Kevin O’Keefe, MECA president and CB-6 member
Kevin O’Keefe, President MECA
- Story of family being born here
- We’ve heard from many in favor, against, and undecided
- CB-6’s vote earlier in the year was too early
- Want to push for more affordable units
Kirsten Gonzalez describes comunity boards
Sandy McKey, CB-6 chair
- 11 days into tenure
- Describes an earlier Jan 2023 CB-6 resolution in favor of the project
- Describes Mar 2023 CB-6 resolution
- Noted a prime site for affordable housing
- Some heckling, pauses and waits
- CB-6 applications are open
Janni, Freedom Plaza project team
- Working with Soloviev group for ~decade, Mohegan group for ~1yr
- Mohegan Tribe driven by respect for the Earth, have been a part of the northeast for many years
- 1325 housing units, 513 affordable
- Museum of Freedom & Democracy, community food market, retail, daycare
- Thousands of union jobs
- 0 MIH units have been built
- We’re making this affordable housing possible
- Community investment fund: 2% of profits annually, minimum $5M
- Nonprofit not controlled by Soloviev or Mohegan
- Freedom Plaza, big park with events, 100% ADA accessible
- Contact info on bottom of last slide: ProjectTeam@FreedomPlaza.nyc
- Introduces executives from various project team groups
- Literally all of them are older white men
- Why was the site unused all these years?
- They sold part of it?
- We had a plan to build high-rises, but we decided to change the plan
- What does affordable housing mean?
- How much?
- Why is the housing connected to the casino?
- Will any of the housing be used to address the migrant crisis?
- Discusses definition of affordable housing
- Want this to be a “live to work” community
- Gestures at incentives re: housing attached to casino
- Without the casino, this housing would not be built
- We’re trying to maximize the amount of public transit that’s utilized
- 75% will be using personal vehicles
- Public safety?
- Safe & clean environment for our guests
- Work with gaming commission, police, in-house police
- Will be one of the safest blocks in NYC
- Public safety & the UN?
- There are several parking garages in the neighborhood (heckling re: they’re all full)
- Our peak hours don’t overlap with peak traffic hours
- Mental health
- We’re going to have a physical presence in the casino
- We’re not required to do this but we think it’s important
- Identify problematic individuals and take action
- CB6 questions
- CB-6 is advisory, we don’t have a binding role, it’s our advice to our elected officials
- “You’d better listen” heckling
- Community fund: how will it be used? Is it a binding commitment
- We’ll ask community leaders to form a 501c
- Board made of community leaders from all the different community organizations
- Flooding engineering
- Our environmental engineer isn’t here
- Other sites
- Hudson Yards
- Lots of heckling
- Yonkers raceway
- Does Manhattan have to be one of the casinos?
- Not legally
- Lots of cheering
- Gonzalez clarifies it’s likely
- Gaming board doesn’t have a mandate to locate in any specific area
- Nothing is going to happen overnight
- Why was the site unused all these years?
- I only listened to the first few minutes of this, but what I heard felt pretty unproductive to me