Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Addabbo, Pheffer, Braton & Building Trades: "We Need to Move Forward Quickly on Aqueduct Project"...

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NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., NYS Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer and Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton today urged the Governor, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, to move forward as quickly as possible with their revamped Aqueduct bidder selection.“Given that no new bidders have entered into the Aqueduct selection process for over a year and that the state has all the financial and background information on the remaining bidders, it is conceivable that a quick, efficient and valid selection of an Aqueduct operator can be made,” Senator Addabbo stated. “In order to realize the thousand construction jobs, hundreds of post- construction jobs, local economic benefit, community gain and state financial benefit, we must move forward in a positive, expedient and thorough manner.”

“We have had too many false starts and stops. This project must move forward in a timely and expeditious manner. I look forward to immediately beginning the process to find a new operator for VLTs at Aqueduct. I will continue to demand that the community concerns and input are included. New York State must work diligently to bring to our community the jobs, employment opportunities and economic stimulus that Aqueduct will provide to our local economy,” said Assemblywoman Pheffer.

Queens Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton agrees: “It is important that after eight years of delay, the Aqueduct VLT project moves forward with a vendor who meets the required conditions put forth last month, in order to provide much-needed jobs for people in the surrounding community, spur area economic development, and provide needed revenue to the state."

According to a March 15 Daily News article, Governor Paterson declared on Monday that the Aqueduct racino project should be back on track within a month, and was hopeful “to find a procedure that would work” within that timeframe. Reportedly, Paterson’s administration was drafting new rules to govern the selection of an outfit that would operate 4,500 video slot machines after his first choice, AEG, was dismissed. The draft of the new selection process is set to go before legislative leaders sometime this week, and apparently would be run more like a regular state bid, overseen by the Lottery Division and making recommendations based on “the best value,” according to a Paterson official. Then the governor’s office and legislative leaders would review that analysis “to get their concurrence,” the official said. The governor also said he intends to meet soon with both Silver and Sampson to discuss the selection of a new bidder.

One leader, Senate Democratic leader John Sampson, wants to simply pick one of the remaining bidders that lost out to AEG, so the state could more quickly benefit from an expected $300 million upfront payment. Another leader, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, is said to prefer an expedited process based on the state’s procurement laws, like Paterson officials. But Silver also insisted on four conditions when AEG was picked, and several are likely to make it into the new process, especially that the winning bidder guarantee an upfront $300 million payment to the state. Paterson aides have said the administration wants to water down a condition that every investor go through a gaming licensing process, something along the theory that was suggested by Speaker Silver, but one that’s actually practical and feasible.

A March 14 Albany Times Union article, “A Debacle at Aqueduct,” sums up the present situation: “The state, meanwhile, can’t count the money that a casino deal of this magnitude would mean fast enough. The best estimate is that the slot machines would bring in $300 million a year, quite a sum for a state in dire fiscal shape. The New York Racing Association, which runs Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga Race Course, has serious money woes of its own, which could be alleviated, in part, with promised slot machine revenue…At least other states that see gambling as a way out of fiscal trouble don’t take nearly 10 years to award casino contracts. The last thing New York needs is to reopen the entire bidding process. It needs, as Senate Democratic leader John Sampson says, to just get it done. And it needs, as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says, to follow the procurement laws this time. Doing it right, in other words…”

Why the State Must Do It Quickly

Addabbo continues, “The future existence of Aqueduct as a racetrack depends on a quick selection process.”

Senator Addabbo additionally submits a joint statement he obtained from Gary LaBarbera, President, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, and Louis Coletti, President and CEO, Building Trades Employers Association. The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York includes local affiliates of 15 national and international unions representing 100,000 working men and women in the five boroughs of New York City:

The development of a racino at Aqueduct represents a critically important and time-sensitive opportunity to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed revenue for the state and to create 1,000 union construction jobs for an industry that has lost 21,000 jobs in the last two years.

Due to these factors, we call on the state to proceed with selecting one of the remaining qualified bidders that can both build quickly and provide the state with the upfront money to help close the budget deficit.

The developer must furthermore commit to exclusively use union labor and contractors of the building and construction industry in New York City. This commitment is the only way to assure that New York City residents will be employed on this project at good wages with health insurance and pensions and that local communities will share in the economic opportunity to be created.

We must proceed with the selection of a developer that meets this criteria now. We cannot afford the further and unnecessary delays associated with going through another lengthy request-for-proposals process when other well qualified bidders are ready to invest in making this development a reality.

Why the Project Must Go Forward

Adds the Senator, “If the project at Aqueduct does not occur and it ceases to remain a racetrack, quite possibly the state could sell the land to any developer. Based on the current zoning of the Aqueduct property, most any kind of development could happen there as of right, without a hint of community input. Residents and their concerns would be totally shut out of the process and the finished product. The community’s worse nightmare could become a reality at Aqueduct if it stops being operated as a racetrack.”