Casino plan boosting interest in property

By HALEY VICCARO
Gazette Reporter

SCHENECTADY — The casino planned to be built in Schenectady is expected to attract more people to the city, and interest in homes near — and even at — Mohawk Harbor is already heating up.

Paula Ross, a realtor at Miranda Real Estate Group in Schenectady, said she is seeing a spike in phone calls from people interested in buying multifamily homes close to the old Alco site, now named Mohawk Harbor, between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River.

“Right after the casino announcement I was getting about a 30 percent increase in calls,” she said. “Because the casino is coming people are looking for two-family homes to rent and people are also looking to see how it would affect the sale of their properties nearby.”

The state Gaming Facility Location Board earlier this month recommended Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor for a casino license. The $330 million project is spearheaded by Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago.

Ross said the news “definitely created a little hoopla” with people weighing the positive impacts of a casino on the housing market, and some already deciding to buy homes in the city.

“I recently sold a property two or three blocks from where the casino will be and it was great for the buyer because of the value,” she said. “There is a lot of interest around Seneca Street, Carrie Street, Foster Avenue and State Street. All areas that are pretty close to the casino site.”

The casino will be up and running within two years, possibly in as little as 18 months, according to Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin. The facility is projected to create 1,400 construction jobs and 1,200 permanent jobs.

Those new jobs will mean more people looking for a place to live, said Marion DeSantis, a realtor at RealtyUSA in Niskayuna.

“An increase in home sales doesn’t usually hit in anticipation, but when people take jobs and are looking for homes for their family,” DeSantis said. “When the casino starts hiring I think we will see more people interested in living in the city.”

An estimated $4.1 million in gaming revenue will be provided to the city and the county. The funding will help decrease the city’s property taxes by 10 percent in three years, according to Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy.

DeSantis said she expects the drop in taxes would be a “big boom” for housing sales with more people looking to Schenectady as an affordable place to live.

Jaclyn Mancini, director of development for the city, said her department has received about a dozen phone calls from people interested in Schenectady’s first-time homebuyers program as a result of the casino announcement.

The city’s Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady program is being used to sell properties taken through foreclosure. At the same time, the city has been fighting blight by leveraging a $3 million HUD loan to demolish vacant buildings.

“We’re hoping this will help spur more interest in our city-owned properties,” she said. “Many people aren’t aware that the city has a lot of properties for sale or foreclosed. Just the fact that the focus is on the market here and getting phone calls from people for properties is excellent.”

Brian McKenna, manager at Prudential Manor Homes’ Niskayuna branch, said it’s probably too early to attribute an uptick in home sales to the casino, but there is “a bit of a stir.”

McKenna said in the last six months he has had more young people looking for homes in the city. He attributed the interest to the revitalization of downtown with new businesses like Quirky and new restaurants like Wolff’s Biergarten.

“This area is really changing in terms of millennials,” he said. “There are a lot of exciting things happening in the city and young people are moving out of the suburbs where they grew up, moving to college or grad school and then heading toward small cities like Schenectady. I think we will continue to see more young people head to the area as the casino opens up.”

McKenna compared the arrival of Rivers Casino to GlobalFoundries in Malta. When the computer chip manufacturer established operations in Saratoga County, the first wave was an uptick in rentals and the second wave was the homebuyers, he said.

“We haven’t seen a big spike in offers over the last week or two,” he said. “But we have seen more activity online with people looking in Schenectady. That to me is terrific, and we will see the same waves with the casino as with GlobalFoundries.”

Aside from homes in the city, there will also be new housing at Mohawk Harbor as part of the overall $480 million development of the 60-acre brownfield.

Plans by the Galesi Group call for a total of 304 upscale apartment units, 70 condominiums and 10 townhouses. The first phase of construction will add 184 apartment units, 45 condominiums and 10 townhouses, said David Buicko, COO of the Galesi Group.

There is already “significant interest” in apartments and condominiums on site, he said. About 20 people have requested more information and have been added to an “unofficial list” for an apartment.

“Many people have expressed interest,” Buicko said. “A lot of people are also excited that property values could go up. The simple analysis is there will be the gaming tax split between the city and the county, then you have the property taxes and sales taxes, plus the trickle-down effect of spending from 1,200 new employees. Those are all things that will have an impact on the livability of Schenectady.”

Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, said the casino has brought a lot of attention to Schenectady’s commercial properties as well.

Momentum has already been building with new technology companies choosing to locate in the city and the casino will continue that trend upward, he said.

“We’re getting more of the buzz-type calls right now because there is a good activity level in Schenectady,” Gillen said. “I think there is interest in real estate near the Alco site, not just because of the casino, but the overall development. Momentum is really important in economic development because one project leads to another and investment equals more investment.”

DeSantis agreed that the casino would most likely add to Schenectady’s rebirth.

“When I first moved here there were hardly any restaurants or anything to do,” she said. “Now when I am in town I purposefully drive downtown to show people all of the great options. It has really become more of a destination and I think the casino will add another element onto that.”