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Can Gaming at the Nevele Save Ulster County?
By Debbie Kwiatoski
Mark Trainor is a man with a plan -.along with a great big problem. He's one of the principals of Clermont Partners, who bought the Nevele at a tax sale last year, with the idea of snagging one of the three new casino licenses New York has promised to sanction, providing voters accept the idea of state-regulated gambling at the polls this November. What he was not counting on is Gov. Andrew Cuomo coming up with the concept of dividing the state into six regions (excluding New York City, Long Island, Rockland and Westchester counties) and having the regions compete for them. Under the governor's plan, only one license would be awarded in any given region and even money is betting on the Concord Resort in Sullivan County winning the only license that could then be given in the Hudson Valley/Catskill region.
That presents Trainor and his venture capital group underwriting the Nevele project with a serious setback in their plans to redevelop the former "Borscht Belt" resort into a viable spot for destination tourism. Lacking a gambling license, says Trainor, his group will have no choice but to allow the bank to foreclose on the old resort, sending it back to the proverbial scrap heap of closed sites and businesses in a portion of Ulster County that has fallen on hard times since tourism patterns from New York City residents changed sometime in the sixties and early seventies and the once-booming resorts (and the local economies they underpinned) faded into boarded up storefronts and rotting hotels.
Recreating a reason for New York City dollars (in the form of tourists looking for a good time at the gaming tables and shows that are part and parcel of destination casinos) is key to reviving the economies of communities as Ellenville and its environs, said Trainor.
"We re talking about jobs (upwards of 1,700 ) and tens of millions in tax revenue for the county, moving forward," he explained at a recent New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Trainor stresses that he's not opposed to one of the licenses going to the Concord in Sullivan County. In fact, he welcomes it, stressing that the economic studies that have been done in other places point to the fact that having more than one casino resort within a short driving distance actually makes for a more successful industry.
"This really is a case when one and one makes three," he said. "People want to be able to come up for a vacation or a weekend and, if there's a show in another resort they want to see , they want to be able to get there easily, ¦or they might want to sample the games or the food in more than one location. This is what makes for a successful gaming industry."
Trainor speaks from some experience. Together with Larry Wolf (another principal in Clermont Partners), he bought into four casinos in Las Vegas in the nineties, selling them in 2007. As he recession lifted, he followed the gaming industry to New York.. The Nevele deal was his biggest gamble.
"We got the Nevele for $16 million dollars, today it's worth about $4 million. If we can't develop gaming there, we're dead." He explained.
This week, NYS Senator John Bonacic said publically that he believed that the three licenses were "most likely" to go to the Concord, Saratoga and a site in Tioga County, leaving the Nevele out of the mix, because of Cuomo's working assumption that only one license will be granted in a given delineated region. Now, Trainor is out to get that general guideline changed before the legislation is actually written and the licenses are decided. That is expected to happen on June 20th.
"When I began this, I did not expect this to become a fight for my life," he said, asking that anyone who supports the concept of changing the guidelines to allow for the three "best" spots to be awarded licenses write the governor and the state legislator, expressing their views.
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