Times Square Casino Proposal Drawing Neighborhood Pushback

Times Square Casino Proposal Drawing Neighborhood Pushback

As one of the four Manhattan proposals for a New York City-area casino attempts to distinguish itself by building community support, another high-profile project continues to deal with stubborn, and highly public, neighborhood resistance.

The Times Square project backed by Caesars Entertainment and SL Green Realty Corp., the largest commercial landlord in the city, has for months been battling the narrative that it isn’t welcome in the neighborhood. A New York Times story this week highlighted the headwinds the proposal faces from theaters, restaurants, and other businesses in the heart of the Big Apple.

“I’m still waiting for one human being who lives in my district who doesn’t work for one of the casino companies bidding or the P.R. companies working for them to tell me that they really, really think that a casino is a great idea,” Liz Krueger, the state senator whose district includes Times Square, was quoted saying. “I think it’s a terrible idea.”

The Broadway League, a 700-member group of theater owners and operators, this month organized the No Times Square Casino Coalition, which includes the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association, the American Bus Association, and Encore Community Services among various groups opposing the proposal.

Local support is crucial

The Times Square proposal isn’t the only project facing pushback from prospective neighbors. The Citi Field proposal bankrolled by Mets owner Steven Cohen, the Nassau Coliseum project in Long Island, and the Coney Island proposal all have faced local protests.

Neighborhood support will be a crucial first step for any of the proposals to get off the ground. That’s because each proposal must get the support of a six-person community advisory committee before it ever advances to be considered by the Gaming Facility Location Board, which is administered through the New York State Gaming Commission.

Because of the importance of neighborhood support, the leaders of the Times Square project in December organized their own Coalition for a Better Times Square, which includes workers, musicians, small-business owners, construction unions, hotel operators, and others who are friendly to the notion of building a casino in a high-rise at 1515 Broadway.

One of the supporters of a casino in Times Square told US Bets the theater owners shouldn’t be making decisions about the future of the neighborhood, saying it needs a “shot in the arm” coming out of the pandemic.

“It’s complete and utter nonsense,” said Ken Sturm, owner of Bacall’s Steakhouse and Ellen’s Stardust Diner. “They’ve had their nice run of 120 years glomming on to the tourism industry in the Times Square area. They don’t seem to understand New York needs another shot of excitement right now.”

The size of the project draws protests, promises gains

The Times Square project, which includes Jay-Z and his Roc Nation entertainment agency as a partner, suggests it can attract more than 7 million new visitors to Times Square and generate more than 600,000 new overnight hotel visits, along with $166 million in local retail spending outside the project itself.

The large scope of the project in one of the densest urban areas in the world is at the heart of the matter, with opponents saying the construction would lead to congestion delays for years. Proponents assert it could generate 3,000 full-time construction jobs over a two-year period, more than 4,700 permanent jobs during operations, and over $60 million in tax revenue for the city.

In addition to Times Square and Freedom Plaza, two other Manhattan sites are under consideration to host a casino. One is Hudson Yards on the Lower East Side and the other is the Saks Fifth Avenue Building. All told, there are 10 projects in the mix for three licenses, including existing racinos at Aqueduct Racetrack and Yonkers, which are considered heavy favorites to land two of the licenses due to speed-to-market advantages.

Photo: Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales