Even those who are not particularly astute observers of the current battle for casino licenses have recognized that the struggle has devolved into one in which some of those in the running have resorted to pointing out how desperate they are.
Sullivan and Ulster Counties seem to be in the lead in this dubious category, and although it will likely be worth it if it lands a casino for one or both, it remains to be seen what the long term impact of such reverse promotion will be, especially if no casinos are forthcoming.
The New York Times has noted the irony, as their capable Catskills reporter, Charles V. Bagli pointed out in a September 14 article entitled, “Putting Our Worst Foot Forward.”
“The bitter competition between casino proponents in the Catskills and Orange County has set up a peculiar dynamic,” Bagli writes. “The typical scenario when a community is hoping to lure a new business is to promote its best features: an educated work force, a good transportation network, beautiful scenery.
“But the battle for casinos, jobs and tax revenues has become like a beauty pageant in reverse: communities are jockeying to put their worst foot forward to show just how badly they need a casino.
“Proponents in Sullivan County say they have the highest unemployment rate of any surrounding county, 8.9 percent, a low per capita income level of $24,462 — compared to $30,397 in Orange County — and a declining number of businesses. The unemployment rates put forward do not always correspond to current state Department of Labor data, but it’s clear that both areas are in need.”
Bagli has been covering Sullivan County for more than 15 years now, but he has not been around long enough to know that, while this scenario might seem peculiar, it is not the first time the county has resorted to such a strategy.
Witness the efforts of the Board of Supervisors to land the Space Technology and Atomic Research Center’s proposed pulsed nuclear reactor in 1962.
That campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, but while it was underway, it eerily foreshadowed the current casino push, even down to the fact that the unusual approach was noted in a newspaper account, this time in the Middletown Times Herald-Record.
“Using a reverse promotional twist, Sullivan County called upon New York State yesterday to locate its proposed space technology and atomic research center in Sullivan County,” the Record reported in its March 3, 1962 edition.
“Most approaches to potential industries are usually based on an area’s claim that it has a substantial growth potential and is located in proximity to a major metropolitan area. The request made yesterday to the state by the county’s publicity and development committee took an opposite approach.
“The county in its formal presentation to the state legislature and to the state’s Office of Atomic Development, argued that Sullivan County has ‘a sparse population with a low growth potential’ and boasted that the county had no city within its borders. Although the county report did not say so, it suggested by inference that these factors would make the county an unlikely target in case of atomic warfare.”
Incongruously, Sullivan County’s proposal urged the state to locate the reactor “within Sullivan County or contiguous to its borders because of an exceptional combination of advantages to the State and to Industry.” It then went on to list mostly disadvantages from which the county suffered, among them an unemployment rate that had increased steadily since 1958 from 4.8 per cent to 5.1 per cent in 1959 to 5.7 per cent in 1960 and 6.7 per cent in 1961.
“Sullivan County is one of the State’s least industrialized counties because of its false sense of economic sufficiency in its resort and poultry industries. The error has only recently been widely recognized,” the report noted.
To be fair, not all of the proposal focused on the negative. It listed thirteen “advantages” and summarized the list by claiming that “this combination of advantages is unduplicated in the state.”
The advantages included: 1) Geographic location – highly accessible from Albany and other upstate cities, New York and Long Island. 2) Mountainous terrain providing desirable shielding. 3) Sparse population – low growth potential, no city. 4) Low cost land with excellent drainage and bearing. 5) Superior arterial highway access from all directions. 6) Favorable climatic conditions. 7) Plentiful water and power supply. 8) Major rail transportation. 9) Plentiful labor supply for construction and maintenance. 10) Community College applied for – good educational facilities. 11) Unsurpassed living and recreational conditions. 12) Hospitable attitude by government and citizenry, reflecting the need of and the desire for such an installation in the area. 13) Proximity to market for the products of the installation.
The proposal highlighted “recreational opportunities without parallel” such as “famous fishing streams and hundreds of lakes, hunting grounds for deer (largest herd of any county in New York State), bear and small game,” 16 golf courses, 4 ski areas with snow making equipment, 11 tourist attractions, night harness racing, and professional entertainment at the large resort hotels.
New York State had formed its Office of Atomic Development (a forerunner of today’s NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) in 1959 and had announced in January of 1962 that Sullivan County was one of the sites being considered for the location of the pulsed nuclear reactor, along with Sterling Forest in Orange County and a site in Cattaraugus County. Needless to say, the “reverse promotional twist” was unsuccessful and the nuclear reactor ended up elsewhere.
Photo: A press clipping from the Catskill Mountain News, February 1, 1962.