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Can Hard Rock turn around hard times in Rensselaer?

Updated: 06/20/2014 9:36 AM
Created: 06/19/2014 11:53 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

RENSSELAER - The city of Rensselaer got "rocked" on Thursday night. More specifically, they got "Hard Rocked." For supporters of a casino development, that's a good thing.

The view from DeLaet's Landing in the city of Rensselaer might be on the verge of a major transformation. In a community that's been immersed in financial hardship for decades, people are now banking on the iconic name and worldwide reputation of Hard Rock Cafe to be their savior.

"The roads lead to Rensselaer," said Mayor Dan Dwyer. "I already had a traffic study. We're ready to go. We're shovel ready. We'll be in operation probably in a year or a year and a half."

For Dwyer, Hard Rock International is music to his ears. The company with more than 180 hotels, restaurants, and casinos around the world is now partnering with casino developer David Flaum and Capital Region OTB to build a $150 million to $200 million destination casino resort on a 24-acre site on the banks of the Hudson River.

"I think it's going to be great for the city of Rensselaer," said Maureen Nardacci, a longtime city resident. "I think it's something that the city needs."

"We all live here and we know what we've been subjected to," said Christine VanVorst, chair of the city's planning department. "We have nothing to help our tax base."

Part of the problem is that 665 of the properties in Rensselaer are tax exempt. In addition, more than 10 percent of the city's population is unemployed. Many residents, according to the mayor, are living on the edge. That's why so many people are banking on Hard Rock to turn around hard times.

"That name is going to draw a lot of people," Dwyer stated. "It's going to make this a very successful venue over here."

The community's economic distress was one of the factors that drew Hard Rock's attention. The company's chairman, Jim Allen, who delivered a 30-minute presentation on Thursday night to a standing room only crowd at city hall, says he was also pleased there was no significant opposition to the casino development.

"As we go through that criteria, which we do all over the world, we found this was an environment that looked like it would be favorable to allow ourselves the opportunity to compete in this particular region," Allen said.

Allen says he's been working on the Rensselaer project for months and he expects to meet the June 30 application deadline.

Meanwhile, the casino developers who are putting together a project near Thruway Exit 27 in Montgomery County, sat down face-to-face with state gaming commission officials on Thursday, "imploring" them to provide a 60-day extension and to slice their initial license fee in half from $50 million to $25 million.

A spokesman for the developers says the meeting went well and they expect to hear back from the commission in the coming days.

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