Sunday, December 13, 2009

SL Green, AEG are Pheffer's Favorites by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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While Gov. David Paterson remains tight-lipped — and slow on the draw — when it comes to both vocalizing his preference and selecting a winning bidder for Aqueduct Race Track, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park) did not hold back at last week’s Community Board 10 meeting in South Ozone Park.

After she and other officials met with the five bidders to hear their proposals for video lottery terminals at the track, Pheffer emerged feeling positive about both Manhattan property owner SL Green Realty and Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which is made up of several partners that include the Navegante Group, GreenStar Services Corporation and Turner Construction. Advertisement

“We find them to be the ones who have been responsive to the community,” Pheffer said.

Likewise, the assemblywoman pulled no punches when it came to explaining why two of the bidders were not at the top of her list.

Delaware North, which won last year’s bid but had to pull out because it lacked the necessary financial resources, is not an ideal choice “because they disappointed us the last time,” Pheffer said. Nor is Penn National Gaming, she said, which has managed to distinguish itself by cutting back on the glitz and glamour that defined bidders like Wynn Resorts — which dropped out of the running last month.

“Their plan is a little too boxy, unimaginative and not too exciting,” Pheffer said of Penn National.

Despite rumors that Paterson was set to choose a bidder to revamp the dilapidated racetrack months ago, residents and community leaders have been waiting — and waiting — for the state to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, each contender has had ample opportunity to share its vision with the borough.

SL Green Realty, with partners Hard Rock International and Caribbean CAGE, plans to generate more than $525 million in annual revenue for the state by building a Hard Rock-brand casino, bar, shops and a 425-seat fresh harvest restaurant and marketplace-style food court. Aqueduct Entertainment Group has unveiled similarly grand designs that include a 300-room hotel, 1,200-seat stadium buffet, 2,500-seat entertainment center and Aqueduct Racing Museum.

Elsewhere, Aqueduct Gaming, a coalition of New York companies comprised of Delaware North, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway and McKissack & McKissack, plans to build a hotel and restaurant, but have also emphasized family-friendly amenities such as Kids Quest, a supervised hourly daycare center, and Cyber Quest, a children’s game arcade.

The Peebles Corporation, with partner MGM Mirage, has imagined a space defined by its luxury hotel and multiple fine-dining restaurants, while Penn National Gaming has concentrated mainly on VLTs, proposing to create a temporary facility with 1,000 to 2,500 slots in operation within eight months of signing an agreement with Albany. A permament VLT facility with 4,500 machines would be opened a year later.

Regardless of which bidder resonates with residents, Pheffer reminded C.B. 10 members that Paterson is costing New York State a million dollars a day in lost revenue as he stalls on making a decision, and said she is angry and upset with the governor for “stopping the wheels” on Aqueduct.

“Hopefully now that the governor has agreed on the budget, he will sit down and listen to us,” Pheffer said. “He’s got to get off the dime.”

C.B. 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton agreed, saying “It’s time for the governor to make a decision.”

But Paterson, who spoke at a town hall meeting in St. Albans Tuesday evening, reminded residents that his vote wasn’t the only one that counted. Both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and state Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) are expected to agree on a winning bidder.

“I’m willing to take whatever choice the other two can arrive at because we need the money and we need to start to generate work and opportunities right here in southeast Queens,” Paterson said.

The governor added that he, Sampson and Silver are expected to meet again and discuss the matter on Friday.

— AnnMarie Costella contributed to this story.