Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Casino idea greeted with caution

Posted By on Tue, Apr 19, 2016 at 10:43 AM

Downtown casinos are complex projects that tend to stir up strong emotions on both sides, for and against. Attach the Seneca Nation of Indians to any potential project and the discussion gets very heated very fast.

News broke last week that developer Robert Morgan is working with the Seneca Nation to put together a proposal for a combined casino and performing arts center at the Midtown site in downtown Rochester. Morgan is talking with city officials about the idea.

A spokesperson for Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren says that those are precursory, but that the city is open to all development options that will create jobs.

There’s no concrete proposal on the table, and it’s not clear how other developers who are investing heavily in downtown will react to the idea of a casino right in the middle of everything. Morgan’s firm is leading or partnering in some of the big residential projects in the City of Rochester, including Tower280 at Midtown.

Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, says that officials, business leaders, and the public first need to understand any proposal before rushing to judgement.

The developer promises up to 500 jobs, at least some of which would require no more than a high school diploma, which Zimmer-Meyer says is an important consideration in a market such as Rochester, which struggles with high unemployment in areas of the inner city.

A Seneca casino would also provide an opportunity to get a performing arts center downtown without government investment or subsidies, she says.

But there are also significant social impacts to consider, she says. And because the casino would be sovereign territory, it wouldn’t pay taxes, Zimmer-Meyer says, so how will the community be compensated? The Seneca Nation could, for example, agree to hand over a percentage of its gaming revenues, she says.

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