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Genting breaks ground on Aqueduct ‘racino’

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Construction is slated to begin on the long-awaited “racino” project at Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park when permits come through in about three weeks, according to the venture’s architects.

Genting New York, the bidder ultimately chosen to build and operate thousands of video lottery terminals at the track, ceremonially broke ground on the project last Thursday morning after nine years of planning by the state.

The event attracted a slew of Queens leaders and union construction workers but did not feature key Democratic elected officials cited in a scathing state inspector general’s report into the initial selection Jan. 29 of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group for the racino contract.

Conspicuously absent at the track last Thursday were state Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn), who were named as allegedly “participat­ing in the multimillion-dollar debacle” that led to the initial selection of AEG for the VLT contract.

After questions arose about alleged coziness between state leaders and lobbyists and other questionable aspects of the mostly behind-closed-doors selection process, the contract was revoked, a second round of bids was taken and Genting won the contract Aug. 10.

Gov. David Paterson led a group of stakeholders in the project in a ceremonial groundbreaking, during which participants each broke a slab of rock with rubber hammers.

Paterson’s took a couple of tries with the hammer — much like the selection process that did not work out the first time around — but he was emphatic in denying his involvement in the scandal, saying he “inherited” the problem despite his office being named in the inspector general’s report summary. The summary alleges that “Gov. Paterson’s office ignored expert advice from the state budget director and Division of the Lottery, which urged them to disregard AEG’s bid.”

“That’s a continuing investigation that doesn’t involve anyone here,” he said after the ceremony. “The main problems with the process I inherited when I came into office was that it didn’t have any procurement rules and it didn’t have any lobbying rules and you can see what happened.”

The racino project will include 4,525 VLTs, a three-story glass entry atrium, a center bar with stage, a food court and a 250-seat buffet, among other amenities. A new, two-lane entry boulevard will run through the entire property from Conduit Avenue to Rockaway Boulevard; a traffic circle at the entrance; a seven-floor, 2,800-spot parking garage connected to the facility; and possibly a bridge from the subway station nearby.

Builders, who will not able to begin work for another three weeks as various permits come through, expect to have 1,600 VLTs installed within six months. The racino project will bring 1,200 construction jobs to the area and 800 permanent jobs and is expected to produce more than $300 million in annual state revenue, according to the New York Racing Association.

“Working alongside our elected officials, union representatives and our neighbors in the south Queens community, we will deliver a world-class tourism and entertainment facility that all New Yorkers can be proud of,” Genting Chairman K.T. Lim said at the event.

Dozens of elected officials and heads of agencies, unions and other groups spoke at the event, including Borough President Helen Marshall, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), Borough President Helen Marshall, Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans), Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Rockaway Beach), City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York Gary LaBarbera and President of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council Peter Ward.

“This long-awaited project couldn’t come soon enough for the people of Queens, as it will create exactly the right kind of jobs — good-paying, stable and local — that are in such high demand throughout this neighborho­od,” Addabbo said.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 6:18 pm, October 10, 2011
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