Hard Rock casino betting on Aqueduct
by Holly Tsang
Sep 09, 2009 | 1253 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last Thursday, SL Green Realty Corporation and Tishman Construction Corporation presented to the Queens Chamber of Commerce their bid to purchase the Aqueduct Racetrack site for the construction of a Hard Rock Casino in Ozone Park.

The state has slated the Aqueduct site to be used as a casino, and SL Green is one of six developers competing for the bid.

Hard Rock representatives were unable to attend the meeting because of personal circumstances within the company which requiring immediate attention.

“Hard Rock is right for Queens, and SL Green is the right group to develop for Queens,” said president/CEO Mark Holliday, emphasizing that unlike some of the other developers vying for the site, SL Green is New York-based.

According to community polls conducted by SL Green, a ratio of 8 to 1 residents knows of Hard Rock, is favorably inclined to a Hard Rock casino, and will attend a Hard Rock casino. Two-thirds of those polled said the project should be done by a New York-based developer.

Jack Friedman, executive vice president of the Chamber, pointed out that one of the problems with Queens county is that it’s not a destination area.

“People fly into our airports and take cabs into Manhattan and never spend a dime in our borough,” said Friedman. “Aqueduct is a prime opportunity for Queens and for Queens Chamber to see a destination area.”

He suggested the inclusion of a conference center/trade show space in the proposal for the Hard Rock facility.

Presenters referred to the proposed 3,500-seat performing arts theater, which would be capable of doubling as a live concert space and conference center, complete with removable tables and chairs.

Aside from the theater, other components of the project include a Hard Rock Hotel; parking for at least 6,000 cars; a 425-seat market buffet; 500,000 square feet of retail space; and a shuttle that will transport local patrons from the subway station.

“We want to be a part of what leads the city out of this cycle. We will not give any excuses,” said Holliday. “Good economy, bad economy, we’re ready to go.”

Instead of knocking down the Aqueduct Racetrack site and rebuilding from scratch, Hard Rock would be expanded on the existing facilities, saving an enormous amount of time and money. SL Green guaranteed that if it wins the bid, it will have 1,500 to 2,000 slot machines up and running by spring 2010 in phase one of the proposal.

Most importantly, jobs would be created now instead of two or three years down the line.

Jay Bedame, president and CEO of Tishman, took into account the dollar value, time constraints, and different logistics of the project and estimated that about a thousand construction jobs alone would come out of it.

SL Green has been meeting regularly with Community Board 10, which represents Ozone Park.

“We are looking for a proposal that fits the community where it’s going to be located,” said CB10 chairperson Betty Braton.

Braton said there are 50,000 people living in one- and two-family homes within a half-mile radius of the racetrack. The community has raised concerns about an increase in traffic and crime rate that may come with any of the casino proposals.

While she felt there were pros and cons with each proposal, Braton was confident that SL Green, if selected, will work with CB10 to address concerns.

All pitching parties insisted that the project is shovel-ready, pending only the selection of a bidder by the state government.

Holliday said SL Green had purchased a number of retail locations on Rockaway Boulevard in anticipation of the area coming forward.

“I trust there’s no other bidder who’s taken money out of their wallets and purchased land in this area,” said Holliday. “We have, and regardless of if we get the bid or not, we‘re going to work to revitalize and upgrade those locations.”

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