Facility Location Board Does Not Recommend Sterling Forest Resort

We are disappointed in the NYS Gaming Commission Facility Location Board's decision not to award a license to Sterling Forest Resort. The economic and employment benefits were clearly superior to other options, and we share the enthusiasm that the Resorts World Orange County team showed throughout the process in our town. That said, we do want to pause and point out that at the moment, we are uncertain as to the impact that the location board's decision will have on the existing plans for Sterling Forest Resort. Any final review should wait until we've had a chance to sit down with the developers. Assuming that the project will not move forward without a gaming license, there was much good that came out of the last eight months. The reality is that the Town of Tuxedo and our local school district have already benefited financially from significant outside investment. This is a credit to our elected leadership - Mike Rost and the Town Board, Lili Neuhauser and the Village Board, and Joanne Vernon and the TUFSD School Board - who were instrumental in negotiating up-front, irrevocable financial commitments while simultaneously buying time to begin a thorough due diligence process. We want to affirm that the future of business in Tuxedo remains very bright. Tuxedo was only five votes away from a $2.5 billion investment in our economy. This is not the only chance that Tuxedo has to win a significant investment in our economic future, to say nothing of several large projects that are already underway in our community. We are excited to continue to work with these parties, along with several new voices that came to the table as a result of Sterling Forest Resort who have interesting ideas for our shared future. Throughout the process, we kept an open dialogue with several entities, including sister Chambers of Commerce, environmental groups, and other interested parties. My own personal thoughts on the subject evolved continuously based on new information that they brought to the table. This ability for various individuals and groups to communicate is and will always be absolutely critical. We are very impressed with the passion and commitment that so many have for Tuxedo, and are glad that we could be a part of the conversation, even if we did not always agree. We have to remember that those who care about our community share a common goal, even if we don't always arrive at the same conclusions. We do not perceive this decision as a setback. The Chamber's mission remains unchanged. As stakeholders in our future, our members and our leadership are committed to the long-term growth and development of the Tuxedo business community. The Tuxedo Chamber of Commerce will continue to work in town to make things better each and every day for those of us who live and work here. Thank you for your support. We're looking forward to 2015 and beyond. William Sweet President, Tuxedo Chamber of Commerce tuxedochamber.org

Changing the Conversation about Development in Tuxedo 

I’ve received more feedback regarding the Genting / Sterling Forest Resort proposal than any single issue during my time with the Chamber of Commerce. Yet this is far from the only major development in Tuxedo currently underway. 

Last winter, a development group purchased the Duck Cedar Plaza, and under the new name of Tuxedo Plaza, is actively recruiting small business tenants to bring life to the now-vacant building. A Tuxedo Park resident is reportedly under contract to purchase and completely renovate the IGA / HomeTown Market building. After decades of controversy, Tuxedo Farms (formerly Tuxedo Reserve) is set to break ground this fall, not to mention Ramapo Woodmont Hills in neighboring Sloatsburg. The Watchtower / Jehovah’s Witness world headquarters – comprising of four massive buildings just shy of one million square feet – is currently being constructed off Long Meadow Road. The organization has also recently purchased both the International Paper building and NYU apartments.

Change is not just coming to Tuxedo – it’s already here, for better, and for worse.

Therefore, the question isn’t whether or not the Sterling Forest property on 17A should be developed, because that will happen sooner or later. It’s whether Genting New York is the right partner for Tuxedo with Sterling Forest Resort.

We believe that it is. With unanimous support of the Tuxedo Chamber of Commerce Board of Trustees, and the vast majority of our members, we are recommending that the Town Board approve the Genting New York preliminary proposal to build Sterling Forest Resort. With the oversight of a public-private partnership for the greater good for Tuxedo, we feel that this will result in tangible positive changes to our small business economy, employment, property tax situation, and infrastructure.

That said, we are mindful and cognizant of the social and lifestyle change this could potentially represent for residents of Tuxedo, particularly those who, like members of my family, live in Laurel Ridge and Clinton Woods. Their concerns, voiced eloquently by community leaders such as Tony Davidson and Bob and Ruth Ortmann, are valid and deserve our attention. Their voices can and must be heard.

This is why Monday’s vote is the beginning – not the end – of negotiations with Genting, which still must seek approval by Orange County and the New York State Gaming Commission. It is now time to change the conversation from whether or not this property will be developed – it will, whether we want it to or not – and find out how we can build a better Tuxedo that meets the needs of our residents and business owners together. Keeping an open dialogue and working together are critical during the next few months, which is why I am calling on business and community leaders to unite.

Genting offers some incredible and measurable benefits over any other developer for this space. To begin, they have expressed a real and genuine interest in connecting with our community. They are a professional, well-managed, and resourceful organization with decades of experience in building small, resort-style gaming facilities in the US and abroad. New York State has vetted and approved the organization in the past, and they received a technical and financial score of 95/100 during the 2010 competition to operate the Aqueduct Racetrack.

In addition to the 5% of gaming tax revenues that will be coming directly to the Town of Tuxedo, improvements to the property by an experienced and well-capitalized developer will result in a much higher assessment base. Above and beyond all of us as taxpayers, many owners of surrounding property are likely to benefit from these improvements. These factors stand in stark contrast to the other major development going on in town, which is actually removing large chunks from the taxable roll. As my business partner is the tax assessor for the Town, this has weighed on my mind heavily during the past few months. Genting’s promise to remit 50% of school tax revenues to the Tuxedo Union Free School District comes at a critical and much-needed time as George F. Baker High School is in the initial phases of a conversion charter process. We will certainly not enjoy these specific, measurable advantages from any other private developer.

Genting is very serious about doing business in Tuxedo. Before they will even know whether or not the NYS Gaming Commission will select their bid, they will have invested millions in the project in property acquisition, planning, engineering, infrastructure, environmental studies, and application fees. The 24-month time frame to complete the project is so short that they cannot sit idle while they wait to see if they will be one of the four out of 22 applicants selected for approval.

They have an excellent chance of winning a bid. Of the 22 applicants, the Sterling Forest Resort is the closest in proximity to New York City (thus, the highest in expected revenue). The Genting group has offered to pay for construction of New York State Thruway Exit 15B, and no other group’s commitment to infrastructure development will have nearly that level of impact. Finally, remember that this group won the bid to run the Aqueduct, giving them an instant advantage over the other applicants.

Since even before the Great Recession, Tuxedo has been losing businesses at an alarming rate. We used to boast a food market, a hospital, a car dealership, drugstore, florist, and bakery. All have departed or gone out of business. Our largest employer – by a factor of 10 – is currently the public school district. Granted, much of this has to do with the Walmartization of America, but the lack of amenities is one of the oft-cited reasons why young people avoid our town. For those of us who do run a service-based business in town, the opportunity to have 2,000 employees of a world-class facility move in is a golden opportunity to meet the needs of a new population, to say nothing of the secondary and tertiary effects of bringing economic activity and tourism to our back yard. I have personally spoken to the owners of Tuxedo Ridge, the Renaissance Faire, and several surrounding businesses, and we are all enthusiastic about the opportunity.

However, you should be suspicious of people who claim that this proposal will be 100% good OR 100% bad for Tuxedo, because they are both either deluding themselves or lying to you. The truth is somewhere in between, and where in between depends greatly on your point of view.

My promise to you and all of Tuxedo is to work every day to improve the place that we share through open dialogue, conversation, and tireless community service. The Chamber’s mission is to promote economic activity and small business growth, both of which we will achieve in leaps and bounds with Genting New York’s tremendous investment in our community. We need to ensure that this doesn't come at a price that is too high for some of our residents, and we will do this through tough negotiation and oversight in a coordinated effort with the Town Government.

Change is coming, and we need to work together to ensure that it is for the better. Regardless of the outcome of Monday’s vote, the Chamber will remain committed to making Tuxedo a better place to work and live. Thank you for your support.

William A. Sweet, CFP®

President Tuxedo Chamber of Commerce Stevens & Sweet Financial