Edited by: TJVNews.com
In the ongoing competition for three state gambling licenses in and around New York City, developers are facing a challenge as casino projects receive mixed receptions from city residents, as was reported by the New York Times. The Soloviev Group, owner of a 6.7-acre lot near the United Nations in Manhattan, is taking a unique approach to sway skeptics by offering a package deal. The NYT report indicated that they have proposes to include 1,325 apartments, with nearly 40 percent offered permanently below market-rate rent, which would be the largest number of such apartments built in the neighborhood in at least a decade. However, the catch is that these affordable housing units are tied to the inclusion of a casino, the report added.
The Soloviev Group’s plan, known as Freedom Plaza, would include two residential towers with 513 income-restricted units, ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments, as was noted in the NYT report. The rents would be accessible to individuals and families earning an average of 80 percent of the area median income, making them affordable to those with less than $102,000 income for a family of three. The NYT reported that the rest of the apartments would be a mix of market-rate rentals and condos. If the company obtains a gambling license and zoning approval, construction could commence in 2025.
Speaking to the NYT was Michael Hershman, the firm’s chief executive. He said of the affordable housing plan, “We’re not required to do it” and referred to plans approved by the city several years ago that would allow the developer to build mixed-use towers on the site without affordable housing. He added that the inclusion of the proposed casino would make the affordable housing “economically viable.” The casino, however, would require the support of local politicians and community members, according to the NYT report.
Previous proposals by the Soloviev Group have faced resistance, with concerns about traffic and skepticism about the benefits of a casino. However, the new proposal aims to address some of the local community’s pressing needs, namely housing and green space, the NYT reported. In addition to the affordable housing units, the project includes a 1,200-room hotel, a museum dedicated to democracy featuring sections of the Berlin Wall, and 4.7 acres of waterfront green space open to the public, as was stated in the NYT report. Plans for a Ferris wheel were scrapped after public objections.
The casino itself is expected to be constructed mostly below street level and would include 1500 parking spaces for residents, visitors, and hotel guests. According to the NYT report, the developer is working with Mohegan, a casino and resort operator affiliated with the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, and has enlisted the services of Bjarke Ingels Group, a renowned architecture firm, for the project’s design.
The decision on casino licenses is subject to approval from local elected officials, and bidders are making efforts to gain community support. As was reported by the NYT, at least 11 bids are expected to be submitted for a downstate New York casino license. Proposals span across various locations, including Times Square, Hudson Yards in Manhattan, Citi Field in Queens, and the soon-to-be-renamed Trump Links golf course in the Bronx. The emphasis in these proposals is on economic benefits, while the gambling aspect is downplayed.
As was indicated in the NYT report, it is anticipated that it will be several months, if not longer, before a decision is made regarding the approval of casino locations.
The centerpiece of this proposal includes two residential towers sharing a podium, with the taller one reaching a height of approximately 600 feet. Within this tower, there would be 513 income-restricted units, varying from studio apartments to three-bedroom homes, according to the NYT report.
If the Soloviev Group obtains a gambling license and prompt zoning approval, construction could commence in 2025.
Despite previous skepticism and community opposition to the casino element, the latest iteration of the project could win over some community members. The NYT report said that Reshma Patel, the chair of the board’s budget and governmental affairs committee, acknowledged that while she still opposes the plan, there may be individuals who reconsider their stance in light of the affordable housing component.
The development would transform a long-vacant stretch of First Avenue between East 38th and East 41st Streets. As was noted in the NYT report, this project, if approved, would offer more affordable housing than has been constructed in Midtown East from 2010 to 2020, where only 356 apartments were built, according to the New York University Furman Center.
The New York State Gaming Commission will take several months, if not longer, to make a decision on the approval of casino locations. As was reported by the NYT, the Soloviev Group is making an extensive effort to gain community support, including commissioning a light installation on its site by Bruce Munro, featuring over 17,000 fiber optic stems that change color, which was set to open in December. The balance between casino entertainment, affordable housing, and green space in this ambitious Manhattan project showcases the complex dynamics at play in the competition for state gambling licenses in New York City.