Top 10 Capital Region stories of 2014

A rendering of the proposed Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. Photo providedA rendering of the proposed Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. Photo provided
A rendering of the proposed Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. Photo provided

A rendering of the proposed Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. Photo provided

BY BETHANY BUMP/MARK MCGUIRE
Gazette Reporters

— From the high of a national championship to the low of a family slain in their home, culminating with Schenectady’s big casino gamble — and victory — we take a look back at the Top 10 stories of the year.

10. “The Book” was booked — and it was good. More than a month before “The Book of Mormon” opened at Proctors in March, the best available tickets to be had were single seats with “limited views.”

“We had people trying to get to our website from Washington, D.C., Maine and all over the Northeast,” Proctors CEO Philip Morris said at the time. “I think maybe it was the newness of the show. It’s still running on Broadway, and we were the first ones to have the show outside of New York in the entire Northeast.”

It didn’t hurt that reviews of the musical put on at Proctors were glowing.

“For those who have lost their faith in the art and skill of the Broadway musical,” Gazette reviewer Matthew G. Moross wrote, “ ’The Book of Mormon’ answers the prayers of the devoted and will collect new converts into the fold.”

9. Signs of progress in Schenectady. Even the biggest cynic has to concede the revitalization efforts underway in Schenectady.

Downtown landed a major new employer — an invention company called Quirky that’s promised to create 180 jobs over three years. The lower State Street neighborhood just got a $1.2 million jolt from the state for an apartment project a local developer is planning on the Robinson block.

Neighborhoods were promised a piece of the revitalization pie, too. Blighted buildings along the city’s Eastern Avenue corridor were demolished and rehabilitated, with more rehabilitation work planned for 2015. The city is using federal monies to demolish six more blighted homes. The Hamilton Hill neighborhood has been targeted for a multimillion-dollar, multiphase redevelopment slated to bring a bounty of new housing for low-income families, veterans and seniors.

Underground and infrastructure work continued this year at the Alco site along Erie Boulevard in preparation for a $480 million redevelopment that includes a 50-slip harbor, two hotels, condominiums, townhouses, office and retail space, and pedestrian paths along the river.

Something else is happening at that Alco site, but you’ll have to read on to learn more.

8. Cuomo to fracking industry: Not in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned a December cabinet meeting over to his environmental conservation and acting health commissioners, who then outlined why fracking should be prohibited in New York, thus becoming the first state to ban the type of oil and natural gas extraction.

Environmental Commissioner Joe Martens said given the current state of energy prices and the limited places where fracking would be legally permissible, the prospects for fracking in New York were tenuous at best, even if approved.

Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said “there are significant health risks” and “red flags” to fracking. He added that based on what he had learned and the unknowns, he would not want his family to live in a community that mined the shale deposits in that manner.

The westernmost part of Schoharie County sits on the fringe of the Marcellus Shale formation, which contains large amounts of natural gas reserves. County officials say they are unsure if gas companies were ever interested in drilling in the area. To the southwest of Schoharie County, large-scale gas extraction is underway from wells in northern Pennsylvania.

7. A family slain in Guilderland. On Oct. 8, a Chinese couple and their elementary school-age children were murdered inside their Western Avenue home in Guilderland. The still-unsolved quadruple homicide stunned the suburban community and Capital Region, and made headlines across the world. The family of four included Jin Feng Chen, 39; Hai Yan Li, 38; Anthony Chen, 10; and Eddy Chen, 7.

Local and state police continue to investigate their murders, but admitted they had difficulties overcoming cultural and language barriers during their investigation. In November, they appealed to the public for help with the case, asking for information via a 1-800-GIVE-TIP hotline. The investigation has spread to New York City and beyond.

6. Amedore declares victory again — and this time it counts. On election night two years ago, former assemblyman George Amedore declared victory over Cecilia Tkaczyk in the newly created 46th State Senate District race — only to lose by 18 votes in a court-ordered recount.

The race was not decided until January 2013.

This time around, there was no doubt, as the Republican Amedore cruised to victory this November in the rematch. The Democrat Tkaczyk conceded on election night.

5. A new bishop for the diocese. On a sunny, breezy April Thursday, the Rev. Monsignor Edward Bernard Scharfenberger was ordained and installed as the 10th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, replacing Bishop Howard Hubbard, who had reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. More than 1,200 people packed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Albany to witness the 21⁄2-hour proceeding, a sacred and solemn proceeding that had its moments of lightheartedness.

In his first year as bishop, the 66-year old has reached out to different groups and even religions.

“Being new, my first task is to be a good listener,” he said this summer. “I’m here to be a priest, and a priest is one that communicates with people to help them grow spiritually. In order to know my people and know where to lead them, I have to do a lot of listening.”

4. Streamlining a Dreamliner — and much more. What can silicon carbide semiconductor technology do? How about shave 1,000 pounds off the weight of a Boeing Dreamliner.

With that example, the importance of crafting such technology becomes clear. In July in Niskayuna, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of a $500 million power electronics consortium led by General Electric in Albany that would give companies a place to do just that.

The state would pitch in $135 million to build the infrastructure for the consortium — a state-owned research and development facility at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering’s NanoFab South campus in Albany— while GE Global Research in Niskayuna will pitch in more than $100 million as the anchor tenant at the new facility, as well as a decade’s worth of intellectual property, technology and know-how.

The rest of the investment is expected over the next five years from private companies looking to commercialize their own silicon carbide technology.

“If you had to pick half a dozen technologies that will define the next 20 or 30 years, power electronics is one of them,” said GE CEO Jeff Immelt, who flew in by helicopter to GE Global Research headquarters in Niskayuna for the announcement. “It’s what’s going to make our devices more fuel efficient and more energy efficient. It’s what’s going to affect miniaturization. It’s going to allow more power density in things like airplanes and automobiles and the oil-gas industry.”

This is a story that could loom much larger a few years from now.

3. It’s just Union, as in national champion. Going into the Frozen Four last spring, Union College lobbied — unsuccessfully — to the NCAA and ESPNU to be called by its given name. The network insisted on referring to the school as Union (NY), as if viewers would confuse it with the Union College in Kentucky, or Union College in Nebraska, or Union University in Tennessee, or any of the 17 schools with “Union ” in their name if they left the state off.

To avoid confusion, just remember the Union in Schenectady is the one with an NCAA Division I hockey title, earned April 12 with a 7-4 victory over perennial power Minnesota (they play in Minnesota).

The win gave Union its first NCAA national title, to go along with a United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association co-national championship it shared with Navy in 1929.

The win put Schenectady on the map. If you’re confused, that would be Schenectady, N.Y.

2. Another rematch goes to a Republican: Joe Bruno acquitted on federal charges. Former state Senate majority leader Joseph L. Bruno was looking at a federal sentence that, even if minimal, could have meant life in prison. The 85-year-old faced two charges of honest services fraud dating to 2004-05, charges hanging over him since 2008.

It was his second trial on the charges. His first, in 2009, ended with convictions on two counts. Those convictions were overturned on appeal in 2011, but the government in 2013 obtained a new indictment.

With his May acquittal, so ended a nine-year legal journey for a man who was once one of the most powerful figures in Albany.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling when the United States of America has been after you, how it weighs on your mind,” the jubilant Bruno said during an interview as his legal team and family members broke out champagne and awaited a celebratory lunch at Jack’s Oyster House in Albany.

On Christmas Eve, the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced it would reimburse $2.4 million in legal bills to Bruno.

And the top story of the year:

1. Schenectady’s gamble pays off with a casino. Schenectady is placing a big bet that an old manufacturing site on Erie Boulevard will pay off as home to a casino, after the state Gaming Facility Location Board recommended to site one on the former Alco property.

The Galesi Group of Rotterdam and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago hope to begin building the $330 million facility as soon as state police complete a background check. The casino is projected to create 1,200 jobs and generate $223 million in revenue by its third year of operation.

The casino proposal was selected Dec. 17 over three others proferred for the Capital Region: at Howe Caverns in Cobleskill, on Thompson Hill in East Greenbush and at de Laet’s Landing in Rensselaer.

The casino project adds to a $150 million project previously planned by Galesi to transform the 60-acre brownfield site into a waterfront community with apartments, condominiums and townhouses. Those plans also include a second hotel, 60,000 square feet of office and retail space and a harbor with 50 boat slips. The site will also have public access to the waterfront with biking and walking paths.

 

Best of the Web

These were the five most-viewed stories on dailygazette.com for 2014:

1. Schenectady seniors give classmate a life-changing night. A girl felt unliked if not unwelcomed until, of all nights, prom night.

2. Weather Service: Storm was a tornado. A dangerous tornado cut through Duanesburg on May 22, damaging buildings but miraculously causing no serious injuries.

3. Hospice patient, fiancé prepare to wed. Jathyis LaJuett spent her final days married.

4. Schenectady High senior a portrait in the absurd. Laser cat. You know the drill.

5. Tax foreclosure may spell end for iconic Schenectady hot dog stand. It didn’t. Mike’s is still with us.

And here is a bonus:

6. 98-year-old Scotia vet dons uniform one last time. A soldier gave a fitting final salute on Veteran’s Day. Outstanding, master sergeant.

This story originally appeared in The Daily Gazette.