Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Addabbo, Pheffer, Queens Community Bd 10 Statement: Why We Must Work to Move Forward on Aqueduct Project

NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., joined by NYS Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer and Queens Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton, today released the following statement on the controversy over the selection of AEG by Governor David A. Paterson as the winning bidder for the Aqueduct racino project:

New York State approved VLT gambling for Aqueduct Racetrack eight years ago. Now, two governors later, VLTs are still not up and running at Aqueduct, a community is in a frustrated limbo, and our cash-strapped state is still not realizing much-needed income.

After seven years of false starts and much delay, a decision was made in October 2008 to select a VLT franchisee, which did not result in a signed memorandum of understanding between the state and the company selected. The inability of the company to deliver on its financial commitment to the state was cited as the cause.

The process used in that selection was the same used this year. There was controversy then, as there is now, about the use of that previous process. There was controversy then about the ability of the entity selected to deliver. That selection was met in the local community with much skepticism. Rumors of “the political fix” ran rampant in the local area. Yet no call for a special investigation or media attack was evident then when the selection took place a couple of years ago.

Now fast forward to the recent selection of AEG to begin work at Aqueduct. The media-driven firestorm now calling for details, criteria used, and investigations is, to some, unfortunate and very late.

“The process created years ago to select a VLT operator for Aqueduct is a flawed one,” said NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. “Its lack of transparency and a set of objective criteria are fair game for criticism. But what is not fair game is to scrap the entire project at this point.”

Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer stated,”It is imperative that New York State moves expeditiously to finalize the contract that establishes the racino at Aqueduct Racetrack. It is a long-awaited project that will bring both construction and permanent, full-time jobs to our community. We welcome this project as an economic engine that is vital to the future of our local economy.”

Also not fair game is the attack on AEG now, at the end of this much-delayed process. This current process has been going on for over a year. There has been ample time for all the calls for documents from all bidders to be released and calls for scrutiny of all investors in each of the bids, over the course of the past year. Further delays now in moving this project forward will hamper efforts to ease the state’s financial crisis, create further problems for the future of horseracing in the state and at Aqueduct, and lose the opportunity of witnessing thousands of quality jobs open up in the area.

“The potential jobs this racino project offers are needed now, not later. The potential economic development in southern Queens is needed now, not later. The state has to deal with its budget now, not later,” said Addabbo. The Senator also mentioned that he has constantly criticized the selection process and the Governor’s apparent decision-making delays. Addabbo stated that many residents in the area have been calling for a decision to be made on Aqueduct and for this project to move forward. According to the Senator, a number of constituents were unaware of the fact that AEG has been part of the selection process for over a year and has complied with all previous requests for financial information and business dealings, as supplied by the other bidders that were not selected.

Aqueduct Racetrack is situated wholly within Queens Community Board 10. “We’ve roundly criticized the process; it’s not the best way to make this kind of a decision, but it’s time for this project to move forward without any further delay,” said Betty Braton, Community Board 10 Chairperson. “Our criteria in looking at the information provided to us by all the bidders could be summed up by five questions: Can they build it? Can they run it? Will this proposal mesh well with our community? Will the company be open to working with us to minimize any negative impacts? And will the state realize a big pot of money that will help ease the burden on NY taxpayers? The AEG selection meets our criteria and we can work with them.”

As this process to select a VLT franchisee for Aqueduct has moved forward, Addabbo, Pheffer and Community Board 10 have been in agreement that while none of the bids were perfect, some, like the one submitted by AEG, were better than others. They have also been in agreement that they would be able to work with whatever bidder was selected to make the project work for the local community.

They all agree that AEG has been open with them as to its plans and they believe the AEG proposal can result in a successful project with much-needed employment opportunities for local residents. Lastly, they all agree that AEG’s proposal can result in a facility that impacts the community positively. The criteria imposed on the decision by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are reasonable and prudent. If they are met by AEG, this project must move forward without further delay.