By Matt Youngfrau
MONTICELLO June 25, 2002 For months, there has been a great deal of speculation concerning the fate of the Apollo Plaza in Monticello. The mall was recently bought by the Unkechaug Indian Nation, who said they plan to turn it into a high-stakes Indian bingo parlor.
State and county officials have been claiming that this would be illegal. The tribe contends they can and will do it.
On Thursday, June 20, Town of Thompson Supervisor Tony Cellini met with Tribal Chief Harry Wallace and lawyer James Simermayer to discuss the situation. It was a private meeting, but Cellini wanted to make sure that, if it happens, the town is taken care of.
"They agreed to make a payment in lieu of taxes to each municipality and then some," Cellini commented. "I insisted on two other demands, and they agreed. One would be that they would use union construction workers. The second would be that the not-for-profit groups that run bingo and would be affected by this be sufficiently compensated. They will put that in the draft of a contract, and we will go from there. It still has to be approved by the town board.
"If it is not legal, then it will not happen," Cellini continued. "If it is legal, someone should be talking with them. It is another development project. The Apollo is the gateway to the village and the community. Let's clean it up and make it look nice."
The two parcels that make up Apollo are assessed at $7,056,700. The taxes break down as follows: school-$112,766.07, Sullivan County-$42,057.93, Town of Thompson-$15,807.01, Village of Monticello-$135,982.61. The total taxes come to $306,613.62.
Locally, the Unkechaug Tribe is represented by Focus Media, headed by former WSUL radio personality Josh Sommers. Sommers has stated that, in the next few weeks, the tribe will talk to the local media and community groups to explain what they are doing and how it is legal.
"In the Sullivan County community, a lot of people don't understand the legality of the project," stated Sommers. "In the coming weeks, the tribe will be making their case to the Sullivan County community. Chief Harry Wallace is very interested in working with the local people.
"The Unkechaug Tribe is coming to Sullivan County to make friends," Sommers continued. "They will do the right thing with local groups who use bingo as fund-raisers and the store owners in the Apollo Plaza."
As for the legal issue, Sommers stated, "The Indian Reservation was established in 1701, prior to the formation of the State of New York and the United States," Sommers said. "According to the tribe's lawyers, it puts them in a unique legal situation."
New York State Governor George Pataki and county officials still insist the entire plan is illegal. In fact, in the agreements the county has with two tribes for Indian casinos, it does not allow Indian bingo in the area.