Investor and restaurateur Ken Sturm has been doing business in Times Square for more than three decades. The owner of Bacall’s Steakhouse on West 44th Street and the world-famous Ellen’s Stardust Diner (named after his mother) on Broadway and 52nd Street, Sturm has seen what the pandemic has done to the heart of Manhattan.
He thinks it’s time the neighborhood got a shot in the arm, and he’s joined a group of neighborhood business people backing a proposal by SL Green Realty, Jay-Z’s Roc Entertainment, and Caesars Entertainment to build a Las Vegas-style casino in a high rise in Times Square. The group is trying to counter the arguments put forth by two neighborhood groups — the Broadway League and Community Board 5 — battling both it and a competing Midtown Manhattan plan for a casino in nearby Hudson Yards.
“In its heyday, New York City would have 62 million visitors a year, and 80 percent of them would visit Times Square. That’s 48 million people,” Sturm said. “In this proposal, you’ve got a 65,000-foot floor plan, 900 hotel rooms in an area with 11,000 hotel rooms, and the best public transportation in the world. It doesn’t even make a dent. It’s just a new piece of excitement that New York City needs.”
Sturm isn’t overly moved by the Broadway League’s argument that the gambling parlor would overwhelm the area’s infrastructure and alter its character.
“It’s complete and utter nonsense,” Sturm said. “They’ve had their nice run of 120 years glomming onto the tourism industry in the Times Square area. They don’t seem to understand New York needs another shot of excitement right now.”
Board soon will issue RFA
For now, the parties bidding to land one of three downstate casino licenses from the New York State Gaming Commission are pleading their cases in the court of public opinion. Soon, they’ll have to make their ideas more formal.
Two of the most prominent proposals are one involving a partnership of Legends Entertainment (owned in part by the New York Yankees and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones) with Saratoga Casino holdings and the Chickasaw Nation to build in Coney Island, and an idea by New York Mets owner Steven Cohen to build near Citi Field in Queens.
Public hearings could be just around the corner after the holidays. The Gaming Facility Location Board, which now has a quorum of three of five appointed members seated with two more candidates being evaluated, will issue a Request for Application by Jan. 2, according to gaming commission spokesman Brad Maione. By law, the RFA must be issued by Jan. 6.
Existing racinos in Yonkers and at Aqueduct in Queens are considered likely recipients of two of the three licenses being dangled, effectively leaving one at large. The casino location board will have wide-ranging powers to issue the RFA, develop the criteria to evaluate the plans, determine the license fee (which, by law, will be at least $1 billion), and make other crucial decisions about the multi-billion-dollar proposals.
The three board members so far
Rabinowitz, the president of Hofstra University for 20 years ending in 2021, also served on the Gaming Facility Location Board when it was discussing and deciding on upstate casinos in 2014-15.
“That’s great experience to bring to the current board,” said Sen. Joe Addabbo, chairman of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee.
Rabinowitz, a senior attorney at Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone LLP, focuses his practice on state and federal litigation, appellate litigation, constitutional law, civil rights law, voting rights law, and education law. He was a law professor at Hofstra before becoming president in 2001. He helped bring three presidential debates to Hofstra in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
Quenia A. Abreu
Abreu and other business women founded the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce in 2002. She is the president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to fostering the economic development of women and minorities through business ownership, micro-enterprise and self-employment.
Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York, Abreu also served as director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation and the Hunts Point Economic Development Women’s Business Center. One of the ideas floated for a casino — by Bronx Assemblywoman Amanda Septimo — is to place one at Hunts Point in the Bronx.
Abreu started as an office assistant at Columbia University and rose to become an associate director of recruiting and placement at the school.
Vicki L. Been
A law professor at New York University, Been focuses her work on the intersection of land use, urban policy, and housing. She has done extensive research on New York City’s land use patterns, inclusionary zoning, and historic preservation. She also has studied gentrification, mortgage foreclosure patterns, racial and economic integration, and the effects of supportive housing developments on neighborhoods.
Been is co-author of the land-use casebook Land Use Controls. She clerked for Judge Edward Weinfeld of the Southern District of New York and for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.
Like Abreu, Been figures to center much of her attention on the proposals’ hiring practices and impacts on the various neighborhoods being discussed, as well as looking into zoning questions that could become obstacles for some of the proposals, particularly Cohen’s Willets Point plan.
While the board is expected to have its full five members when hearings get underway, it previously issued an RFA for the upstate casinos with just three acting members.
Photo: Tariq Zehawi/USA TODAY