Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Track Bidder's Buzz Word is "Community" by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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For one afternoon last week, Aqueduct Race Track was transformed into Shangri-La, complete with waterfalls, shrubs, trees, a bocce court and a three-dimensional glass atrium that let sunlight spill down and scatter across a grand foyer.

Instead of finding a Houlihan’s or Applebee’s in this complex, hungry patrons could delve into hot pastrami sandwiches at Ben’s Kosher Deli and follow them up with cups of coconut ice from the Lemon Ice King of Corona.

These were just some of the arresting images put forward by Aqueduct Entertainment Group at its presentation last Thursday at the Queens Chamber of Commerce. AEG is one of seven bidders vying to create an intricate complex of video lottery terminals, hotels, restaurants, banquet halls and entertainment centers at the track.

As the first bidder to request a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce, AEG put the buzz word “profit” on the back burner to focus on a different one, “community:” a term that would resonate with hundreds of residents more concerned with traffic and their neighborhood’s quality of life than capital gain.

AEG’s proposed complex includes a community meeting space that will be available to all Queens civic groups, Aqueduct Racing Museum and scores of restaurants and retail stores, including many Queens vendors. Its board, chaired by attorney Richard Mays, a former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice, stressed the importance of working with local unions to employ workers from the community and designating employment slots for local residents. In an effort to address a collective community anxiety about Aqueduct’s heavily lit parking lot, AEG proposes using box lighting, which prevents the ascension of light pollution from bright bulbs. It would also like to insert an enclosed elevated walkway from the A train to the complex, which would feature 4,500 VLT’s, a 300-room hotel, 1,200-seat stadium buffet, 2,500-seat entertainment center, banquet and conference hall, 2,400-car garage and, of course, its showpiece, a LEED-certified sustainable casino and track.

“It’s a marvelous building, it’s so huge,” Mays said. “You could walk in it for 15 to 20 minutes and never get through it.”

In May, AEG executives released the names of their partners, a team they called “Best for New York.” Levine Builders, a Queens-based company that has renovated and rehabilitated thousands of residential units and millions of square feet of commercial space, is on their team, as is The Darman Group and Empowerment Development Corporation, the latter of which was created by the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former Queens congressman and pastor of the Greater Allen Cathedral in Jamaica. Flake has spearheaded the construction of more than 1,300 units of housing, commerce and institutional projects in Queens.

“I think what they’re doing that’s great is they’ve brought local people on their team,” said Jack Friedman, executive vice president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. “You can build confidence if they’re going to bring local people on board. It’s unusual for a group to come to us so early in the process and we were really happy with that.”

Other AEG partners include GreenStar Services Corporation, which helped to construct Citi Field and Time Warner Center; the Navegante Group, which oversaw the construction, design and operation of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas; Siemens, an electronics and electrical engineering giant; Turner Construction, one of the largest construction management companies in the U.S., which built station stairs for the New York City Subway system in 1904; PS&S, which has provided architectural, engineering and environmental consulting services at Atlantic City Hilton, Caesars Atlantic City and more; and CleanPower, experts in renewable energy solutions.

Green construction is a major focus of AEG’s proposal. The company imagines a sustainable rain forest atrium inside the complex, alongside a three-story waterfall, thicket of foliage and trees and recycled flooring materials.

The company said it is still in the process of addressing one of the community’s number one concerns: traffic. AEG said it is
performing traffic studies and deciding how it can best mitigate the problem. AEG representatives will meet with Community Board 10 and other civic groups as traffic studies develop, board members said, and will not close the community out of the development process.

If awarded the bid, AEG’s project would consist of several phases. AEG estimates it could build and operate 1,200 VLT machines by April 2010 and complete the installation of 4,500 VLT’s by Oct. 31, 2010. AEG said it could complete the entire project by September 2012.

Other bidders include SL Green Realty Corp., Mohegan Sun, Penn National Gaming, Peebles Corp., which is working with Delaware North; and Development Associates, a subsidiary of Wynn Resorts Ltd., which held a private meeting with the Queens Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.

For more information about AEG’s proposal, visit Aqueductentertainment.com.