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Developers propose $100 million racino, hotel, outlet mall at Alexandria Bay


ALEXANDRIA BAY — Two Rochester developers are proposing a $100 million project for the Bonnie Castle Recreation Center site that would include a racino, hotel, convention center, outlet mall and other amenities.

Mark Bohn of Bennett Heights Capital LLC and Marc R. Vasile, vice president of Vasile Construction Corp., both seasonal residents of the Thousand Islands, said Thursday that “River Isles” along Route 12 is designed to be a year-round destination catering primarily to Canadians and create at least 400 permanent jobs.

“It really will impact the community in a way the community has not been impacted in many, many years, in a very positive way,” Mr. Bohn said. “There are a lot — a lot — of opportunities for a lot of people.”

Mr. Bohn and Mr. Vasile said all of the needed components for the project, including financing, are in place, but the deal hinges on receiving the approval of the state Gaming Commission and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for the racino, which is a harness racetrack with video lottery terminals. Mr. Bohn said the state has indicated it will allow one more racino to operate within the state, but has yet to put out a “request for application,” or RFA, to potential operators.

“Right now, our biggest stumbling block is the RFA,” Mr. Bohn said.

He said he and Mr. Vasile met with the Gaming Commission in March and were hoping to receive an RFA by either May or sometime this month, but are still waiting. He said if the RFA comes out as soon as July, approval could come within 30 days and construction could begin as early as September. Otherwise, the work may wait until spring, with a planned opening next summer.

The developers said they have met with a number of state officials and are confident of receiving approval for the racino, given the scope of their overall proposed project and the fact the nearest harness track is at Vernon Downs in Oneida County, about two hours away.

“If you look at a map, this is the logical place to do it,” Mr. Bohn said.

In addition to the 35,000-square-foot racino with 1,000 video lottery terminals, the immediate project would include a 128-room state-of-the-art hotel and a 500-seat convention center. There also will be both fine and casual dining restaurants. Expansions of the 600-acre site near Interstate 81 would include an outlet mall and other commercial space, a spa and an all-terrain and recreational vehicle park, including for snowmobile use.

“It’s not just a racino; it’s not just a hotel; it’s a whole conglomerate of projects,” Mr. Vasile said.

The developers said that surveys of Canadians entering the United States over the nearby Thousand Islands International Bridge have shown that the top destination for travelers is an outlet mall in Waterloo along the Thruway in Seneca County. Mr. Bohn said, “We’re going to save them the time” by building a similar outlet near the bridge.

“There are two million cars that come across the Thousand Islands Bridge every year, and these are the people we’re hoping to catch,” Mr. Vasile said.

The developers said they recognize that water and sewer service along Route 12 is inadequate for their needs and they are working with the state Environmental Facilities Corp. on funding to improve it.

Mr. Bohn said that in addition to the 400 year-round jobs the project is expected to create, there will be at least 600 construction jobs created. The project, once completed, will generate an estimated $16 million in annual payroll, he said.

The developers also have been in contact with local farmers and owners of wineries and distilleries in an effort to ensure as many local products as possible are used at the proposed facilities.

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