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Dan Hust | Democrat

DEVELOPER LOU CAPPELLI makes a point in a drawing of the proposed “Entertainment City” at the old Concord Resort Hotel property. he was making a presentation to the Sullivan County Legislature’s Executive Committee last Thursday.

Cappelli pitches latest Concord plan

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — February 19, 2008 — Budgeted at $700 million, the Concord’s redevelopment already has half of that ready to go, thanks to owner Louis Cappelli and his investors and bankers.
But as Cappelli told county legislators on Thursday afternoon, a significant portion of the other $350 million is coming from the state – he hopes.
“I’m not asking for money from the county,” he assured, but if the state can’t or won’t pony up, the Concord won’t be anywhere near what’s envisioned now.
“There is a fallback plan that is not a good one,” Cappelli acknowledged, saying the project would be smaller, not first-class and retain the two existing hotel towers. “It’s not something we want to do, because this should be a new building.”
That’s where Empire Resorts has become a key player. Cappelli has joined forces with the company, which owns Monticello Gaming and Raceway, and part of the plan is to move the entire racino – video gaming machines, racetrack and all – to Kiamesha Lake.
In his pitch to the state, Cappelli is not only touting the creation of 3,000 union construction jobs and his recent completion of a $550 million Ritz-Carlton in White Plains but also the racino’s rapidly falling revenues – which he feels can be boosted from $30 million to more than $75 million by making it part of the “entertainment city” proposed at the Concord.
Such an increase in revenues would naturally benefit the state, which currently takes 70 percent of all video gaming machine revenue, ostensibly funneling it to education through the NYS Lottery.
Cappelli is also predicting a $100-$150 million annual economic benefit to the state, county and local municipalities, not counting what he feels will be the land and business rush within a 25-mile radius of the restored hotel.
There are other negotiations ongoing besides the state, however – ones that could also impact what does and doesn’t happen. Of particular note are recent reports indicating that Donald Trump is interested in investing in the project and that the St. Regis Mohawks – who announced they were pulling out of a casino bid at the current raceway due to feeling betrayed by this new agreement between Cappelli and Empire – might now enter into arbitration with Empire.
If successful, Trump’s cash could provide a huge boost to the Concord effort, while the Mohawks’ continued participation would negate Empire’s need to find a tribe to run the casino per state law.
(The racino is an entirely different entity than the casino, being run through the state’s Lottery Commission and needing no involvement from Native American tribes.)
Empire Resorts CEO David Hanlon, however, was blunt with legislators on Thursday, telling them Empire was not going to pour more funds into designing a casino project that was just shot down by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“Very simply, the company is going to run out of money if we continue down that path,” he remarked.
If a new federal administration gives that final needed approval, Empire is still committed to building a casino at the current raceway, Hanlon added, but with Yonkers racino taking 50 percent of Monticello’s customers and the Poconos’ legalized gambling grabbing another 30 percent, Empire has to diversify immediately.
“We’re now down 300,000 visitors because of the competition,” he explained. “Our situation financially is getting worse. . . . [Monticello Gaming and Raceway] is not a compelling enough product.”
That’s why they’ve partnered with Cappelli, who promises to take the Concord’s old, polluted gas station/auto garage and turn it into a 5/8th of a mile, state-of-the-art racetrack and devote 100,000 square feet of his new 500-room hotel to the relocated racino.
The old facilities would not close until the new ones open, which sealed the deal for the local horsemen – and even then, Hanlon and Cappelli are of the mind that the current raceway should not be abandoned.
First and foremost, the Monticello location retains the needed site approvals even should the Mohawks pull out. Moving the tribe-run casino proposal to the Concord would require starting that expensive, time-consuming process all over again.
While casino plans call for the demolition of the 50-year-old grandstand, Cappelli said the current raceway facilities might be razed for “destination retail” – a mall of some sort – if the feds continue to reject the casino idea.
“It’s a great plan and the best opportunity for us,” he said, referencing the positives of “clustering” entertainment destinations.
Legislators, of course, were cautiously optimistic, having heard Cappelli’s grand plans time and time again – to no visible effect.
“Skepticism is good,” admitted Cappelli. “Anything can happen, but in this instance I’m intent on ‘anything’ not happening again.”

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