Home Economic Development Sullivan County places bets on billion-dollar casino and resort

Sullivan County places bets on billion-dollar casino and resort

A $1.2 billion casino proposal is expected to boost tourism in the Catskills.

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Montreign casino in sullivan county
Charles A. Degliomini, executive vice president at Empire Resorts, outside the casino hotel that will be the centerpiece of a $1.2 billion resort under construction in Sullivan County. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh

At 18 stories, the glass-framed luxury casino hotel tower of the Montreign Casino Resort is visible for miles from Route 17 in bucolic Sullivan County.

It’s the tallest building in the county, but by the time the $1.2 billion project opens in March 2018, its importance to the region will stretch well beyond that.

The casino and resort is likely to become Sullivan County’s largest employer and, officials there hope, a catalyst for the tourism sector in the Catskills region.

Its developer, Empire Resorts, Inc., a publicly traded company which also runs the Monticello Casino & Raceway a few miles from the casino site, was one of three companies to be authorized in 2014 to operate casinos in the state.

The casino and resort will sit on 1,695 acres in the town of Thompson. It’s built on land that was once part of the Concord Resort Hotel, which had over 1,500 rooms and was a renowned destination on the Borscht Belt that drew travelers to hundreds of hotels in the Catskills in the mid-20th century.

The casino is the central element of a resort development that will include an entertainment village, golf course and an all-season water park, which is being developed by Empire’s partner, EPR Properties, a Kansas City-based real estate investment trust.

The project has been branded as Montreign Casino Resort at Adelaar through its planning and construction, but Empire announced in April that it had struck a licensing deal to use the Resorts World brand. Resorts World brings an international name to the project, tying it to properties in Malaysia, Singapore, the Bahamas, Philippines, England, New York City and a multibillion-dollar casino under construction in Las Vegas.

On a tour of the construction site on a foggy Friday afternoon, Empire Resorts spokesperson and executive vice president Charles A. Degliomini said the company from the start wanted to provide more than a casino experience. Empire had to do so not only to emerge a winner in the state’s competitive bidding process, but also to be ready to compete with a number of established casinos within driving distance of metropolitan New York.

“We think we have built a better mouse trap,” said Degliomini. “We’re not taking the traditional thought of, ‘Let’s take a big box and fill it with glitz and glamour, neon and slot machines and table games,’” he added. “We’ve thought about it completely differently.”

From an exit off Route 17, a long, winding road lined with trees leads up to the resort. The hope is that visitors will arrive thinking more Disney than Atlantic City.

Farther down the road is the entrance to the casino and hotel tower and its parking garage. The tower will include 332 hotel rooms, averaging about 600 square feet and built up to five-diamond standard.

The casino will have more than 100,000 square feet of space with five gaming areas, 2,150 slot machines and 130 table games. It will also have 10 restaurant options, including a high-end Asian restaurant, an Asian market and an Italian steakhouse, Bistecca, run by chef and TV personality Scott Conant.

“We’re not doing your old-school buffet,” Degliomini said.

The casino will also include a 27,000-square-foot convention center.

Construction on the casino. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh

Connected by a walkway to the hotel will be the entertainment village. There another hotel will offer about 160 rooms. The village will also include a nightclub and two standalone restaurants, which Degliomini said the company has talked with Hudson Valley restaurateurs to fill.

The back end of the casino features large windows to allow gamblers to peer out over the wooded property.

“This never happens in a casino, you will never go into a casino and see a window, right?” Degliomini said. “We decided that the entertainment experience here should be inclusive of nature, not just the neon casino experiences and blinking lights on slot machines.”

A golf course and an indoor water park will be two of the other prongs of the project.

Known as Monster Golf Course, the existing course on the property that is being redeveloped was originally designed as part of the Concord. But Degliomini said the course required maintenance and was difficult to play for all but the most experienced golfers. To rework the course, the resort has hired Rees Jones, who has redesigned multiple U.S. Open courses.

The indoor-outdoor water park will offer a 400-room hotel along with water, snow and ice attractions. It will be designed by Aquatic Development Group, a suburban Albany company that has been involved with more than 100 outdoor water parks and 20 indoor water parks in North America.

The casino resort will open its doors to the public on March 1, 2018. The entertainment village will come along about five or six months later, Degliomini said.

The water park will likely be open by the end of 2018 or early 2019, while the golf course will follow in spring 2019.

The casino and resort will arrive in Sullivan County and the Catskills region at a time when tourism in the area, while not quite reaching its 20th Century heights, is rebounding.

The New York Times placed the Catskills on its 2015 list of best places to go. The article described the region as being “reshaped by a new generation of fresh-air-seeking urbanites.”

Tourism is still a billion-dollar industry in the Catskills. Sullivan County captures about a third of those dollars, second only to Ulster County in the region, which also includes Greene and Delaware counties.

Roberta Byron Lockwood, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Visitors Association, said the Catskills have had no issue drawing visitors to its attractions such as Bethel Woods, a nonprofit arts center on the former farmland where the Woodstock music festival was staged in 1969, and the region’s hiking trails and fly-fishing streams and rivers.

“We’ve always been a great spot, we’re close by to (New York City) and have these great attractions,” Lockwood said.

Empire Resorts projects the casino and resort will bring more than 4 million tourists to the county, doubling its yearly totals.

In a State of the County address in March, Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Luis Alvarez said the project puts the county “on the verge of an entirely new era of tourism.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo talked up the glory days of the Catskills when he visited in 2014, shortly after the state announced that Empire had the winning bid.

“This is so big, it’s so massive, that it will create spinoff businesses,” Cuomo said. “It can generate an entire region, on the theme and essence of what the region was to begin with.”

But on a property that offers everything from indoor water slides to night clubs to blackjack, will enough guests venture beyond the resort?

Lockwood is confident they will. “We’ll be looking to showcase as many of our other attractions as we can alongside it,” she said.

Degliomini said the casino and resort will work to link itself up with local opportunities: concerts at Bethel Woods, trout fishing, water skiing, breweries and restaurants.

“Do we want our guests to stay and play with us? Absolutely,” he said. “But we will have a whole concierge service dedicated to bringing people into the county to do different things.”

Part of that will be through offering reward points from the casino to be used at restaurants, breweries and other tourism destinations in Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties. Casino guests will be able to use their rewards points to buy a meal or a fly fishing expedition with participating companies and the casino will reimburse those businesses directly.

He said the casino and resort will avoid events and offerings that could compete directly with nearby attractions, such as concerts by major acts that could draw away from Bethel Woods.

Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, said the potential impact of the new casino and resort will go beyond just new visitors.

The project is expected to create about 2,500 jobs and $73 million in new wages and benefits once it is fully operational.

“You have 2,500 workers in Sullivan County who are not necessarily going to get goods and services where they work” on the Resort World property, he said. “They will take advantage of what’s available here, that is, housing and places to buy goods and services. That’s where the impact will really be felt.”

On top of the billion-dollar casino investment, Baez said the county has attracted about $700 million in other development. That includes the $90 million, 131-room Veria Lifestyle Wellness Center. The center, developed by Indian billionaire Subhash Chandra, broke ground in 2015 on the site of the former Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club near Monticello.

Baez said the casino has also attracted mid-market hotels such as a Hampton Inn, with other small hotels and residential projects in the planning stage.

The county has also focused on boosting manufacturing and other industries, he said. Ossining-based Metallized Carbon Corp., a manufacturer of self-lubricating machine components for industrial uses, started construction on a 15,000-square-foot factory in Fallsburg in 2016.

“We went down the road of tourism for the 20th century, and when that went down, the whole economy went down,” Baez said. “So we learned from that and we are certainly trying to diversify the job opportunities and sectors here.”

The county, the town of Thompson and the Sullivan County Partnership are currently studying the East Broadway corridor along Route 17 near the casino location. The group wants to bring some design consistency and zoning standards to help guide future development expected in the area.

“We’ve got one shot at this,” Baez said, “and we’re going to do it right.”

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