Michael Hershman attended the World Cup in Qatar and, as he gave US Bets an interview earlier this week, he noted that he was wearing a Lionel Messi jersey featuring the white and sky blue of Argentina, the reigning world champions.
Perhaps wearing the G.O.A.T.’s kit gave Hershman an extra injection of confidence, because the CEO of the Soloviev Group was optimistic about the company’s new proposal for a New York City-area casino — one that would be built on Manhattan land controlled by Soloviev, one of the largest landowners in the U.S.
“If it’s decided on merit, I believe we win,” Hershman said. “If it’s decided on politics, your guess is as good as mine.”
The Freedom Plaza casino proposal being pushed by Hershman’s company has powerful connections, including its casino partner, the Mohegan tribe of Connecticut, the largest casino operator in the Northeast.
Major players lined up
There is stiff competition as the New York State Gaming Commission begins the process of evaluating responses to its request for information. Among those responding are entities that include Mets owner Steven Cohen, entertainment mogul Jay-Z, and massive developers such as SL Green and Related Companies. Many of the proposals, including Soloviev’s, which would be located near the United Nations building on the Lower East Side, are in some of the area’s most iconic spots, from Coney Island to Times Square and Hudson Yards to the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island.
Thus, Hershman acknowledges it’s going to be a difficult process to win one of the three licenses, two of which are likely to go to racinos in Yonkers and Queens.
“When you look at all of the folks that are involved, this is going to be the World Cup of New York real estate,” Hershman said. “You have so many prominent business people and developers, all of whom are extraordinarily successful people bidding in this process.”
The Soloviev-Mohegan group joined the fray relatively late in the process, but it did meet the Feb. 3 deadline for the initial proposals. It also checks a lot of boxes if New York is looking to make a big splash to help the city emerge from years of pandemic-related financial losses.
The plan (pictured above) calls for developing 6.7 acres of prime Manhattan real estate that already is zoned for both commercial and residential development. In addition to a large casino, the group is promising a hotel and four acres of park land that would include sports fields and walking paths, centered by a London Eye-type Ferris wheel. It would also have two residential towers that Hershman said would include affordable housing and a museum dedicated to democracy and human rights.
Is bigger better?
The group’s biggest obstacle could be Manhattan politicians who have already signaled opposition to a major casino project in the borough. Some of the other proposals, including one proposed in the Saks Fifth Avenue building and another at the Pennsylvania Hotel, are more along the lines of boutique casinos catering to high rollers.
Hershman said his group’s proposal could provide 4,000 well-paying jobs and include $3.5 billion in investment. He pushes back on the notion that any casino built in Manhattan should be relatively small to minimize transit disruptions. Hershman suggests that the Lower East Side neighborhood where the casino would be built has relatively light traffic relative to other parts of the island, except for the one week a year when the U.N. General Assembly is in session in September.
“That would be a significant economic achievement for the city, not to mention the fact that Manhattan suffered greatly over the course of the pandemic,” Hershman said. “The excitement by just creating something like this kind of brings back the shine, if you will, to Manhattan and New York City.”
It could be a while before any of the interested parties find out where they stand. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul may have put the process on the slow train by stating in her budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that the city wouldn’t see revenue from any casino projects until 2026. The Gaming Facility Location Board issued the RFA on Jan. 3, setting the fee at $500 million or more for each casino and stipulating that the minimum capital investment will be $500 million.
Photo courtesy of Soloviev Group