A developer who is competing for one of the three downstate casino licenses in New York has revised its proposal to include hundreds of affordable housing units in its Midtown East entertainment complex. The developer hopes that this will boost its chances of winning the license and gaining the support of the local community.
The Soloviev Group’s Freedom Plaza plan
The developer, The Soloviev Group, has partnered with Mohegan, a Connecticut-based gaming company, to create a casino-hotel complex called Freedom Plaza on a seven-acre site near the United Nations. The site, which was formerly owned by Con Edison, was acquired by the late billionaire Sheldon Solow, the father of Stefan Soloviev, the CEO of The Soloviev Group.
The Freedom Plaza plan includes:
- A casino with table games such as poker
- A 1,200-room hotel
- A museum dedicated to democracy
- Retail and restaurant spaces
- Nearly five acres of green space on the East River, which would be open to the public
The project is designed by Bjarke Ingels Group, a renowned architecture firm that has worked on projects such as 2 World Trade Center and The Spiral.
The addition of affordable housing units
The developer announced on Thursday that it has added 1,325 new units of housing to its proposal, of which 513 would be affordable. The affordable units would be available to households making an average of 80% of the area median income, which is about $68,000 for a family of three.
The developer said that this would be the most newly constructed affordable units in the area in at least a decade. According to the Furman Center, a research institute at New York University, the district where the site is located added only 356 affordable units from 2010 to 2020.
However, the developer also said that the affordable housing would only be economically feasible with the inclusion of a casino, which would generate enough revenue to offset the high property taxes on rentals. The developer also said that it would not proceed with the project without a casino license.
The competition for the casino license
New York State is expected to grant up to three downstate casino licenses by 2023, which would allow venues to have table games such as poker. Currently, there are about a dozen proposals from various developers and gaming companies, including:
- Silverstein Properties’ plan for a casino-hotel complex on the Far West Side, which would include about 100 affordable units
- Related Companies’ plan for a $10 billion mixed-use development on the Western Yards section of Hudson Yards, which would include a casino and 329 affordable units
- MGM Resorts’ plan to upgrade its existing racino at Yonkers Raceway into a full-fledged casino
- Genting Group’s plan to expand its existing racino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens into a casino-resort
The state will consider several factors in awarding the licenses, such as economic impact, job creation, tax revenue, community support and social responsibility.
The reaction from the local community
The local community board for the district where the Freedom Plaza site is located has previously voted to reject any casino plans, citing concerns such as increased crime, traffic and gambling addiction. The board also said that it would prefer to see more residential and commercial development on the site.
However, some members of the board said that they might reconsider their stance after hearing about the addition of affordable housing units. Reshma Patel, a member of Manhattan Community Board 6, told The New York Times that affordable housing is a pressing issue in the area and that some people might be willing to compromise on a casino if it means more low-cost housing.
The developer has also tried to win over public opinion by sponsoring various events and initiatives in the area, such as children’s sports programs and a private bus service. It also plans to host an enormous light installation at the site later this year.