JOHNSON CITY — The Walsh family is thinking big, really big. That is the mantra behind the recent push to obtain a new casino license from New York state to create the Traditions Resort and Casino.
Flash back to last summer when Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the “Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act,” an initiative designed to boost the Upstate economy by awarding casino licenses. Four table-gaming licenses were designated in three regions: Albany–Saratoga, the Catskills/Hudson Valley, and the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes region. Seven years later, the state would grant another three licenses Downstate. The only impediment was a vote by the citizens to amend the constitution in order to permit state casinos. The voters responded in the affirmative on Nov. 5, 2013.
What’s the next stop? “The process now moves to the [New York] State Gaming Commission, an agency that regulates the lottery and horse racing,” says William Walsh, a principal and owner of the Walsh & Sons Construction Co. and of the Traditions at the Glen Resort and Conference Center. “The commission is tasked with creating a Gaming Facility Location Board, a panel that has 90 days to issue a request for proposals. The final step is for the board to review the applications and grant the licenses. The process may take six to 12 months.”
The bids will be evaluated based on three criteria: projected economic impact counts for 70 percent, local support is 20 percent, and other issues such as hiring practices represent 10 percent.
Peter Walsh, a third-generation Walsh employed at Walsh Construction and who sits on the board of Traditions, says the decision could have a big impact on the region. “If Traditions receives a license, it would rejuvenate the greater Binghamton area,” he opines. “Everybody knows that Broome [County] needs an economic boost that will create jobs and tax revenue. This is really a golden opportunity.”
Matt Walsh, Peter’s older brother who returned from a stint as an investment manager at Lehman Brothers and now, like Peter, spends 100 percent of his time on acquiring the license, says the family is totally committed to the project. “We have already spent a substantial amount of money on design and on studies for feasibility, local impact, and the environment. The application requires a non-refundable fee of $1 million. Traditions Resort & Casino will offer a full casino experience including slot machines and a variety of table games.”
“The construction phase will add new amenities to the [existing] facility at Traditions,” adds the father, “including restaurants, fitness, and leisure activities. Our research says we can attract several thousand visitors a day to the area. The entertainment venue will have a capacity to seat 5,000 to 15,000 attendees at performances by world-class performing artists. Then, add to this 1,500 new jobs, employee wages of $60 million [annually], and $3.7 million in local tax revenue.”
William Walsh notes that “… we’re not the only parties vying for a license. Jeff Gural [the chairman & CEO of American Racing & Entertainment, LLC and owner of Tioga Downs] owns a ‘racino’ in Tioga [County], which he hopes to convert to a casino. The Visram brothers [owners of Vista Hospitality whose American headquarters is in Binghamton] have also said they would pursue the license. In December, Wilmorite … [unveiled] a proposal for a casino in Seneca County, just off exit 41.”
Despite the growing competition, the Walshes feel confident that their proposal makes the most sense. “We hired Michael Soll of The Innovation Group, [a national consulting firm to the leisure and hospitality industry] back in August of last year to conduct an in-depth study of this project,” notes Peter Walsh. “Soll has decades of experience at leading hospitality companies negotiating licensing agreements, developing projects, and financing. His data shows that the benefit both to the state’s … [coffers] and to the local economy are greater with Tioga Downs and Traditions operating together and complementing our two counties. There is no doubt that Traditions’ casino would generate the most economic impact.”
For his part, Gural contends that the area cannot sustain both a racino and casino 25 miles apart (See letter to the editor, published in the Jan. 17 issue of The Central New York Business Journal.)
Lining up community support
The Walsh family is working diligently on garnering public support for the project. “Community support for our project continues to build,” posits William Walsh. “The Broome County Legislature has overwhelmingly endorsed us as well as the Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce. The Broome County Fire/Police Association has also added its seal of approval.” And on Feb. 6, the Johnson City Village Board passed a resolution for a casino in the Southern Tier and voiced its “strong support for Traditions Resort and Casino … to receive the coveted license from the state.”
Walsh adds, “Our focus has been on educating the local community that Traditions can be the vehicle for truly revitalizing the economy. In addition, we are partnering with SUNY Broome’s new ‘casino management and hotel/restaurant management programs’ as well as hospitality programs at Cornell, SUNY Delhi, and SUNY Cobleskill.”
The Walshes are also turning to the community for investment funds. “This is a $150 million project,” William Walsh stresses. “We need to raise a third of the total, and then we can leverage the rest.”
The construction business
Walsh and his brother James are the second-generation owners of Walsh & Sons Construction Co., founded in 1956 by their father as a custom-home builder and currently headquartered in Vestal. William joined the company in the early 1970s as the third employee. The company ventured into commercial construction in the late 1970s. Walsh & Sons, a full-service construction company, is now complemented by other ventures: AuraTek, which sells security products against outdoor perimeter intrusion; DeTekion, which provides perimeter-detection security solutions; and REWJ, a real-estate development arm that owns 250,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of industrial space, and over 1,000 acres of vacant land. The Homestead Development Group, an arm of the Walshes, bought the former IBM Homestead in 2004 and renamed it Traditions at the Glen. The consolidated operation now employs 200 to 250 and The Business Journal estimates that it generates between $30 million and $50 million in revenue annually.
The purchase of Homestead included 650 acres, of which 200 acres were donated to a conservation group. The Traditions’ property currently includes a spa, a “salt sanctuary,” a conference center with lodging accommodations, restaurant, and a town-home development. Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM, bought the property in 1935 as an employee country club. In the summer, up to 30,000 IBM employees of the 100-percent club camped on the grounds as a reward for achieving their sales goals. The Walsh family hopes to bring back those days when thousands enjoyed the venue.
Contact Poltenson at firstname.lastname@example.org