Rivers Casino Opening: Schenectady's Future

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — It's a brand new view these days from the north-facing windows at Golub Corporation headquarters. Gone are the rows of hulking warehouses, the rusting shells of a former locomotive plant: reminders of an industrial era that has long passed into history.

In their place, new construction is simultaneously building up, and down: the Mohawk Harbor already hollowed out and filled with water, while giant mixed-use complexes rise alongside its docks. On the other end of the near mile-long parcel, the Harbor's more famous sister project is already complete and awaiting its first patrons this week.

"It's not only the casino," says Neil Golub, longtime CEO and now-chairman of Price Chopper and Market 32 stores, as he peers from a sixth floor window overlooking the expansive riverfront construction site.

"This," he says, spanning his arms at the entire project, "just epitomizes everything that's going on in Schenectady."

It is a proud moment for Golub, who co-imagined the city's Metroplex Development Authority in the 1990's. The public-private hybrid corporation has fostered much of the growth in Schenectady since then.

Golub and others acknowledge that it was hard to imagine 25 years ago, how successful Schenectady's turnaround could be. Now things he could not have dreamed then are becoming reality.

"Schenectady is going to become a destination," Golub says, laughing mirthfully at the thought, "and that's something we have never been!"

Golub is not alone in his assessment. City leaders who spoke with Time Warner Cable News last week all shared the sentiment in some form or another, that with a casino and the surrounding construction, Schenectady would become a draw for a younger and vibrant generation.

"It's what Mohawk Harbor can bring to the city," said developer David Buicko, chief operating officer with the project's creator, The Galesi Group. "You've got a lot of private sector employees living around here —" Buicko noted the young minds at General Electric, Ellis Hospital, Knolls Atomic Power and others "—and if they want to go to a cool place, they have to go up to Saratoga.

"Well guess what? We're going to capture them here now."

With that capture, however, comes the task of keeping people coming back to Schenectady, and attracting them to live in the city long-term. Already, Proctors CEO Philip Morris has shared that he is exploring an expanded summer performance series — potentially attracting touring Broadway shows to downtown, during what has traditionally been the theater's offseason. 

"With the casino, we think we will enter a different world in the summer months," Morris said.

City government, led by mayor Gary McCarthy, already has its H.O.M.E.S. program in place to promote home ownership in Schenectady. The mayor says efforts will be more narrowly targeted toward the 1,100 new casino employees, and workers in the corresponding service sector that's expected to spring up.

"We are marketing the home ownership opportunities, not only immediately adjacent to the casino but throughout the community," McCarthy explained, including in long-depressed neighborhoods like Hamilton Hill and around Van Vranken Avenue.

"We're going to continue to build on the interest that has been created in this community" by the casino and downtown's revitalization, said McCarthy. "This is a continuation of the success."

With a grand opening set for Wednesday at Rivers Casino, and more ribbon cuttings and announcements coming for Mohawk Harbor, there is palpable optimism for a bright future in the Electric City.

"It's a pretty exciting time to be in Schenectady," says Golub — once of the city's longest cheerleaders, now basking in the rejuvenation.

"There's a lot going on here," he said, "and we expect it to continue."

 

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