Midtown community compares potential casino plan cash to ‘blood money’ at town hall

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By Dan Sears

Through shouts and heckling, developers pitched a $10 billion casino for Midtown East that would include a five-acre park, a museum, a 1,200-room hotel, restaurants, entertainment venues and 1,325 units of housing – 38% of which will be deemed affordable.

Representatives for the Soloviev Group dubbed the project Freedom Plaza and promised the creation of an independently-controlled community fund that would direct 2% of the casino’s back to the neighborhood. Still, community members who spoke at Thursday night’s forum overwhelmingly opposed it, comparing the developer to a “drug dealer” and calling the community fund “blood money.”

“I do not believe, deep in my heart, that a casino should become a residential neighborhood,” said a woman who only identified herself as Amy who lived above the proposed location at First Avenue between 38th and 41st streets.

Residents at the town hall complained about having to potentially trade more traffic and crime in order to receive more affordable housing.

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“The casino is the economic engine for the affordable housing,” said Robert Huberman, the Soloviev Group’s land use attorney. “Without the casino, we would not be developing the affordable housing.”

Soloviev is one of five gaming companies competing to open Las Vegas-style casinos in and around New York City. The state’s gaming commission is only granting three licenses downstate — and two are likely going to the local “racinos” in Yonkers and Ozone Park.

Applications have yet to be submitted, but so far five proposals have been publicized. A six-member Community Advisory Committees appointed by the mayor, governor and local elected officials will select one – or none – of the proposals. The application then goes before the Gaming Facility Location Board, which will make a recommendation to the state Gaming Commission, which will make the final licensing decision.

If none of the five proposed Manhattan locations are approved, the Gaming Commission could approve its own.

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“We certainly welcome the money that it brings, but it also brings–” Robert Gottheim, district director for U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, tried to say before the audience began yelling, “blood money.”

“It may be blood money, but the money is coming,” Gottheim said.

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