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AQUEDUCT GAMBLE

Stephon Johnson | 5/23/2013, 4:20 p.m.
The bidding war for the Aqueduct racetrack has reached a fever pitch. Sitting in Ozone...
AQUEDUCT GAMBLE

The bidding war for the Aqueduct racetrack has reached a fever pitch.

Sitting in Ozone Park, Queens, the land making up the racetrack could provide New York State with millions, if not billions, of dollars in revenue and provide thousands of jobs for the citizens of New York City. Developers have partnered with multiple companies and have presented bids to Gov. David Paterson.

Among the bidders: Wynn Resorts, founded by mogul Steve Wynn (the man behind the Mirage and Bellagio in Las Vegas); Capital Play, whose partners include Mohegan Sun, Plainfield Asset Management and Extell Development; Penn National Gaming, owner of Hollywood Casino; the cleverly named Aqueduct Gaming, a coalition uniting Delaware North Companies, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, and McKissack & McKissack; and SL Green Realty Corp., which plans to build a Hard Rock-type of casino with memorabilia showcases from Hard Rock's collection.

However, if you're a Black New Yorker, there's one particular developer you should look to: R. Donahue Peebles. Partnering with MGM Mirage, Perini Building Company and Harbinger Capital Partners, Peebles' bid for Aqueduct is the only bid with a lead Black developer. Peebles, founder of The Peebles Corporation, spoke with the AmNews about why he decided to go after Aqueduct and how he plans to help the area surrounding the racetrack.

"We've been looking at the New York market for about a year and a half or two brought in a developer with experience in hotel development."

Last fall, Gov. Paterson selected Delaware North to develop a casino based on future revenues from the gaming operation and ancillary projects. Because of the recession and the credit crunch, Delaware North asked out of the deal. Peebles is now back in the game.

"That time around, we were a minority partner in terms of ownership interest and decision-making opportunity," Peebles said. "That's a role we're not used to. We're used to either being a co-developer or a lead developer.

"After doing research and working with the community, we needed to bring in one of the top casino operators," said Peebles. "MGM is a leader globally and has a long history of embracing diversity and female-powered firms. We felt MGM would be the right operation to build a world-class facility." Peebles said Perini and Harbinger's involvement should seal the deal with New York

State.

"Expertise, financial power and brand recognition and development expertise," Peebles proclaimed.

Peebles' plan includes a business development center that would work with small business, especially minority-owned businesses, and an entrepreneurial youth academy that would teach young people how to think like entrepreneurs at a young age. Peebles hopes to

eventually give out college scholarships as a result.

While Peebles can lean on being the lead Black developer in a bid,name recognition could rear its head in the form of one Bob Johnson. The former owner of Black Entertainment Television also spoke with the AmNews about his partnership with SL Green, Hard Rock and Caribbean CAGE, LLC about Aqueduct.

"Hard Rock is owned by the Seminole Indian tribe," said Johnson. "I thought it would be quite an accomplishment if two minorities would get involved in a partnership." When SL Green asked Johnson to join him, it was a done deal. But, according to Johnson, don't mistake this as a personal money grab by him.

"I don't need this deal to make money. I'm in a lot of other businesses that make more money," stated Johnson. "But it's a statement I want to make that Aqueduct ought to have heavy minority participation in jobs, booking acts and restaurants with the new venture."

Johnson made the connection between the rise of cable in urban areas and how the same tracks of footprints can be found with gaming. "Pennsylvania has gaming, Atlantic City has gaming and Yonkers has gaming," he said. "It's the same type of pattern with cable 20 years ago." Minorities, according to Johnson, make up a significant amount of gamblers in America. They're also the biggest cable watchers. He said it's important that Blacks have significant representation in the gaming industry.

"Why should elected officials allow gaming to penetrate our neighborhoods and not have minority owners able to make decisions?" Johnson asked. "[I told elected officials], 'If you don't have minority participations bidding, then Aqueduct's a non-starter.'"

That's something that Johnson and Peebles could agree on.