BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Should Midtown East roll the dice on a massive casino and mixed-use project that would also include market-rate and affordable housing?
The scheme could well be in the cards for the centrally located area — but first must pass muster with an advisory committee whose members are appointed by politicians.
State Senator Kristen Gonzalez, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein and Councilmember Keith Powers, along with the Stuyvesant Town Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, are sponsoring a Casino Town Hall to hear community feedback on the proposal on Thurs., Jan. 11, at 6 p.m., at the New York University School of Dentistry, at 345 E. 24th St., at the corner of First Avenue.
Dubbed Freedom Plaza, the plan is being pitched by developer Soloviev Group. The proposal calls for a hotel, two residential towers, retail space, a human rights museum, public green space and a partially subterranean casino operated by Mohegan, all stretching from 38th to 41st Streets between First Avenue and the F.D.R. Drive.
The proposal includes 1,325 apartments, with more than 500 of them slated to be permanently affordable.
The sprawling site, just two blocks south of the United Nations, was formerly home to Con Ed’s historic Waterside power plant, which was the city’s oldest operating electricity-generating station. But Con Ed decommissioned Waterside in 2005 and increased capacity at its East River plant at E. 14th Street. The East Midtown site was sold to a private developer.
Currently, the 6-acre parcel is being used for a yearlong art installation called “Field of Light,” which opened Dec. 15. The made-for-Instagram nighttime attraction features 17,000 fiber-optic bulbs that change color. Tickets are sold out through Feb. 1.
Meanwhile, for an applicant to obtain a casino license, they must demonstrate community support by gaining the required two-thirds vote of a Community Advisory Committee (CAC), which holds public meetings and takes testimony from the public. The membership of each CAC depends on the proposed site location, with members appointed by the mayor and governor and the remaining seats being filled by politicians.
The CAC for the East Midtown site, in addition to having one appointee each chosen by Governor Hochul and Mayor Adams, will have one appointee each from state Senator Gonzalez, Assemblymember Epstein, Borough President Mark Levine and Councilmember Powers.
The Gaming Facility Location Board (GFLB) can only consider applications that are approved by at least two-thirds of the CAC for any given site.
Last January, the GFLB issued a request for applications (RFA) for the East Midtown site. Applicants were given opportunities to ask two rounds of questions about the RFA, which concluded on Oct. 6.
The GFLB must now respond to the latest round of applicants’ questions for the next step in the process to occur. Once the gaming board gives its response, that information will be available at nycasinos.ny.gov.
The CAC process begins 30 days after the second round of questions is answered by the GFLB.
After the CAC is created, a deadline for a vote on the casino will then be set and public hearings scheduled.
The purpose of the Jan. 11 town hall is to gather community input and ensure that the voices of those who live in the community and the surrounding areas have a say in the decision-making process regarding the establishment of a casino in their area.
Presumably, a casino — even one in an urban setting with access to mass transit — would have a major impact on traffic and potentially also quality of life. East Midtown is already hammered annually in the fall by increased traffic and street and sidewalk closures during the U.N. General Assembly.
To RSVP for the Casino Town Hall, go to bit.ly/midtown-east-casino-town-hall.