Leaders of the Seneca Nation expect to make a long-awaited decision next month on the preferred site for their second gambling casino in Western New York.
And the site will not be the Statler Towers office building in downtown Buffalo, Seneca President Rickey L. Armstrong Sr. said Friday afternoon.
The Statler Towers site has been promoted in the past by Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and some prominent city business leaders as the best casino site in downtown Buffalo.
"As of (Thursday) night, the Statler is definitely off the table," Armstrong said in an interview. "We've evaluated a number of sites and eliminated some as they became unfeasible. We've eliminated the Statler."
He said the Statler building, at Delaware Avenue and Mohawk Street, was eliminated because there is "a lack of parking in that area, and it's just not suitable for our purposes."
The Senecas expect to announce a preferred site for their second area Class III casino during their June 14 Tribal Council meeting, according to Armstrong and Barry E. Snyder, an influential Seneca businessman who is chairman of the Tribal Council.
Snyder said he doubts the second casino would be ready in time to have another grand opening on New Year's Eve, as the first Seneca casino had in Niagara Falls on Dec. 31.
"We expect to have a site chosen then," Snyder said, "but I don't think we're going to see another casino built in 100 days."
Snyder was referring to the extraordinarily short construction deadline that was met before the Senecas opened the Seneca Niagara Casino in the former Niagara Falls Convention Center.
Masiello said he was surprised and disappointed by the decision on the Statler building but added that he still feels his administration can work with the Senecas on a city casino project.
"I've been knee-deep in other issues over the past few weeks and hadn't heard about this," the mayor said. "I met with a group from the Senecas about three weeks ago. They said they were still in the process of looking at sites and would get back to me . . . I'm surprised they didn't come to me and tell me this themselves.
"I really want to do this project in Buffalo, but only if it's done right. We've been good to the Senecas, and they need to be good to us, too." Masiello said he still believes the Statler was the best Buffalo location.
Financing is an issue
A number of issues, including the financing of the $100 million-plus project, would have to be addressed before construction on a Buffalo-area casino can go forward, Snyder said.
"It will be built somewhere in or around the city of Buffalo," Armstrong said. "We're still looking at some options."
Armstrong said some other possible sites also have been eliminated but declined to name them. He also declined to discuss what sites still are being considered.
"We don't want to say anything to inspire land developers to go out and start buying the properties near the locations we're looking at," he said.
In the past, the Senecas have expressed interest in the Adam's Mark Hotel location on Church Street and in the Outer Harbor property owned by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
"We continue to operate, business as usual," said Kevin Kuchta, spokesman for Adam's Mark. "We've not heard of any discussions about the hotel being used as a casino."
NFTA Chairman Luiz F. Kahl said in February that a gambling casino would be an inappropriate use of the authority's waterfront property. Kahl was not available to comment Friday, and an NFTA spokesman said he was unaware of any recent policy changes on the issue.
The opening of a Buffalo-area casino reportedly would result in 2,500 new jobs with an annual payroll in the range of $100 million.
But critics say it also would harm the local economy by giving problem gamblers a convenient new place to lose their money.
There have been a number of delays in the site-selection process for the second casino. In late February, Seneca officials said they expected to have a site chosen within a few weeks, but in March, they said they were studying the issue further, evaluating a number of possible locations in Erie County.
Tax dispute slows progress
The ongoing dispute with state lawmakers over proposals to tax the Senecas' tobacco and gasoline profits also has slowed the process.
"We're still doing a lot of investigation (and) looking at every possible avenue," Snyder said.
Buffalo developer Carl Paladino, a former member of the Buffalo Casino Task Force, expressed skepticism Friday that any decision is near for a Seneca casino site.
Paladino, who strongly favors the Statler site for the project, said he does not believe the Senecas have done enough research to make such a decision. "I'll believe it when I see them take the deed to some property," he said.
While releasing no financial figures, Armstrong said the Senecas are "very pleased" with attendance and profits at the casino in Niagara Falls.
The casino opened its new Blue Heron Club for "high rollers" Friday night, and within the next week or so, should be opening a nonsmoking area with gaming tables and 450 slot machines, Armstrong said. "We may be releasing some financial figures in the next 30 to 40 days," Armstrong added.