State regulators in New York have begun the process of creating advisory boards to wrestle with issues in the communities surrounding the New York Racing Association’s racetracks.

The Franchise Oversight Board, a state panel created to oversee NYRA’s finances and operations, Oct. 17 approved a measure creating a mechanism for stakeholders to start naming members of the community boards.

The boards will be strictly advisory in nature to address such matters as real estate developments at Aqueduct, which will be a key issue when the state finalizes plans for a casino and other development projects at the track, and changes NYRA may want to make to its historic Saratoga track.

The boards were created as part of the deal earlier this year to grant NYRA another exclusive franchise to operate the racetracks. A partisan feud, however, left unresolved the conditions for creating an advisory board at Belmont.

In Saratoga, the advisory board will be composed of five members appointed by the county board of supervisors, five by the mayor, and five by NYRA. At Aqueduct, a local community board in Queens gets nine members of the advisory panel, while NYRA and the future casino operator get three seats apiece on the board.

Under terms of the franchise legislation, NYRA must meet with the community boards at least twice yearly.

On the Aqueduct casino front, there is still no break in the impasse over selection of an operator for the long-stalled VLT project. Gov. David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon, both Democrats, a week ago tapped Buffalo-based Delaware North to build and operate the casino, which will feature 4,500 VLTs and be the only casino operating in New York City.

But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican, balked at the selection, saying Delaware North’s plans were not bold enough to make it the kind of destination spot he wants the site to be.

Since then, the issue has become bogged down in a fight between Republicans and Democrats from Queens to Buffalo, and even has become a campaign matter in an increasingly nasty campaign battle by Democrats to take control of the state’s Senate after seven decades of GOP dominance.

Delaware North officials have since met with Skelos and are meeting with community leaders in Queens to try to salvage its bid. Delaware North has also recently said it has plans to build a hotel and entertainment and retail space on the site to make it a destination-type resort area.

Delaware North officials met Oct. 17 at the Capitol with members of Skelos' staff. Executives with the firm sought to stress that it has not amended its original proposal for development at the track. The company has floated some new ideas for what could be built at the site after it brought on a Florida development company as a partner for any future expansion that may be done. Some state officials have warned that it is too late for any changes to the plan because the bidding was closed months ago.

William Bissett, president of Delaware North's Gaming & Entertainment said the meeting was "all about dispelling certain misconceptions regarding our approach. Chief among them is that our proposal does not involve economic development. In fact, our proposal always included a comprehensive vision for a world-class destination attraction that would be a catalyst for regional growth.''

"Governor Paterson and Speaker Silver have already endorsed our bid, and we are eager for Senate Majority Leader Skelos to do the same,'' Bissett said.
 

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