Do the people of Greater Rochester want a casino downtown? Nobody knows. Nobody has asked.
Would a casino help the economy? If so, would the benefits outweigh the costs that legalized gambling brings? Nobody knows. There's been little chance to study it.
Would a casino help downtown development efforts or hurt them? Would it be compatible with a performing arts center a block away? With the Eastman School of Music? With the growing number of downtown housing developments? Nobody knows.
Given the increase in the number of casinos in the region, is a casino in Rochester likely to succeed or fail? Nobody knows.
Will we get a casino downtown, whether we want it or not? Quite possibly.
In stunningly secret negotiations, Governor George Pataki, Rochester developer Tom Wilmot, and representatives of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma are crafting a deal that would put a casino and hotel at Midtown Plaza and the Sibley Building.
Nobody else is involved in the discussions. Not even the mayor of the City of Rochester.
This is absurd. Whatever your opinion on casinos, this is too important a proposal to be pushed through with no public input.
Should downtown become one big entertainment district?
If the casino caused an increase in crime, who would pay for police? City taxpayers alone? All Monroe County taxpayers?
Are county taxpayers willing to pay for more social services to cope with gambling addiction and related problems?
There are way too many questions about this project for the public to be shut out of the process. And it's impossible to discuss the casino without pointing out the obvious: one party in the project is the Wilmorite Corporation, which owes city taxpayers about $14 million in taxes, delinquent loans, and fees on the Sibley Building.
This is the same Wilmorite that had the money to expand Eastview Mall recently --- a mall that has contributed to the evaporation of retail business from downtown Rochester. It's perfectly legal for Wilmorite set up different entities, the assets of each one protected from the problems of the others. But that doesn't mean the public should be happy about it --- or that the public should be shut out.
Do you want a casino in downtown Rochester? Do you want more information, and more time to learn about the issue?
Should the governor of New York, and the governor alone, be able to decide whether the casino will be built?
Although nobody seems certain, apparently the State Legislature and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have to approve the deal. It's time for a strong protest --- from local citizens and from government and civic leaders. It's time to insist that the Rochester public have a voice in the decision.
If you're concerned, speak up. Write to Pataki and to area state legislators. Write to County Executive Maggie Brooks. Tell her to insist, on your behalf, that the project be brought out into daylight.
Here's the address list:
County Executive Maggie Brooks, 110 County Office Building, 39 West Main Street, Rochester 14614-1476
Governor George Pataki, Executive Chamber, State Capitol, Albany, New York 12224.
Senator Michael Nozzolio, 119 Fall Street, Seneca Falls 13148.
Senator James Alesi, 220 Packett's Landing, Fairport 14450.
Senator Joseph Robach, 2300 West Ridge Road, Rochester 14626.
Senator George Maziarz, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport 14420.
Assemblymember Joseph Errigo, 3045 East Henrietta Road, Henrietta 14467.
Assemblymember Susan John, 840 University Avenue, Rochester 14607.
Assemblymember Joseph Morelle, 1945 East Ridge Road, Rochester 14622.
Assemblymember David Gantt, 74 University Avenue, Rochester 14605.
Assemblymember William Reilich, 2300 West Ridge Road, Rochester 14626.
Assemblymember David Koon, 268 Fairport Village Landing, Fairport 14450.
Assemblymember Charles Nesbitt, 121 North Main Street, Albion 14411.