Thursday, July 22, 2010

Genting Tries to Woo Residents with Aqueduct Proposal by Dawn Lim - Leader-Observer

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Before launching into his presentation on Genting New York’s plans to spruce up the Aqueduct racetrack, spokesperson Jay Walkers faced the 150 South Queens residents and elected officials gathered at a public hearing on July 15 and tried to break the ice.

“We bring an apology; we are not bringing any showgirls along,” Walker said, as the crowd burst into applause.

Genting executives addressed residents’ concerns at a public hearing conducted by Community Board 10 at the Aqueduct Racetrack on July 15.

Although an arm of the Malaysia-based multibillion casino giant Genting Malaysia Berhad, Genting New York is not an established household name locally. Thrust into the spotlight this month as the last bidder standing for the 30-year contract to run Aqueduct’s 4,500 video lottery terminals after two other bidders were disqualified from the race, Genting officials tried to woo residents with as much charisma as they could during the hearing.

Pictured, clockwise, are Genting New York executive Michael Speller in front of Community Board 10's Aqueduct Committee chair Donna Gilmartin and chairperson Betty Braton.
“We want to create a destination area for a great day trip and evening trip,” said Michael Speller, an adviser for Genting.

The new racino is expected to bring in more than $90 million annually to the New York Racing Association and Aqueduct - critical revenue for NYRA, which has been bleeding money and would be facing financial insolvency in 2011 if Aqueduct revenue fails to materialize.

Another bright spot: The racino would create up to 800 permanent jobs, as well as another 1,300 construction jobs.

The turnaround of the ailing Aqueduct Racetrack has been heavily anticipated in the community after repeated failed bids. The New York State Division of Lottery is expected to make its recommendation by Aug. 3. For residents, the stakes are high.

“If it can’t afford to be here, what’s going to be here?” said Frank Dardani, the Public Safety Committee chair of Community Board 10, which organized the meeting. “We don’t want an airport or a trucking depot.”

Genting representatives at the hearing said that the racino would be fully redeveloped in 18 months. The new complex would boast restaurants, a three-story atrium entrance with a water show, gaming areas, and a skyway bridge linking the subway station with the facility.

Councilman Eric Ulrich said that he was not sure if the overburdened public transit system would be able to support the crowds that Genting is expecting to draw.

Councilman Eric Ulrich said that he was not sure if the overburdened public transit system would be able to support the crowds that Genting had been expecting. Also pictured are Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Assemblyman Michael Miller and State Senator Joe Addabbo, Jr
“The A Train is already bursting at the seams and bus service is wholly inadequate,” Ulrich said, cautioning that, “these and other issues still need to be fully addressed.”

Genting responded by saying it would consider the possibility of using shuttle buses and would work with the MTA moving forward.

Sara Woodson, who has lived in the area for 40 years, worried that “I might not be able to be a part of it if it’s too expensive.”

Another nagging concern for residents involved is the fate of the popular flea market, which takes place on Tuesdays and weekends in the Aqueduct parking lot.

“Obviously, we can’t do the flea market in the parking lot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t include a market in the plan,” said Walkers.

Some residents, such as Dardani, think that the flea market is an eyesore and are glad to do away with it. “From the outside, you’d see only garbage bags and trucks with graffiti,” he complained.

But others, like Woodson, think that the flea market is a mainstay of the local community, and they aren’t sure that they want things to change.

Genting New York Spokesperson Jay Walker (photo right) addresses the crowd.

The revitalization of the racetrack has been a much-anticipated affair, but Ozone Park residents fear change or are worried that the project might fall through.