NYC casino bidder discusses plans that address crime, traffic concerns

A park is part of the plan for a proposed casino development at Freedom Plaza on the East Side.
Photo credit: Bucharest Studios

One of several Manhattan developers in the battle royal for a coveted state gaming license wants to quell New Yorkers’ top concerns surrounding the opening of a possible full-scale NYC casino on the East Side. 

The Soloviev Group and the Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment is collaborating on a proposed casino for the East Side’s Freedom Plaza, located just a short distance from the United Nations between 37th and 41 Streets off the FDR Drive.

Michael Hershman, CEO of Soloviev, told amNewYork Metro that his team has plans in place to mitigate crime in the area and make for easy travel to and from the proposed entertainment destination. Crime and traffic have been among the prominent quality-of-life concerns which local residents have voiced regarding casino plans for Manhattan.

For starters, while the development project will likely include lots of entertainment options, the Soloviev team decided to make a smaller, intimate performance space with a capacity of only 3,000 seats to avoid increasing pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area.

“We didn’t want to compete with Madison Square Garden,” Hershman said. “We don’t want to create an event center in the neighborhood that’s going to overwhelm the area in terms of traffic and safety.” 

Rendering of the casino development, which includes four towers, at Freedom Plaza on the East Side of Manhattan.Photo credit: Negativ

Located just steps from the United Nations complex, the casino project will transform an empty space into a high-end resort that includes hotels and two residential towers. Plans for the project were released in February this year and feature more than just traditional casino games for entertainment options. It will also offer restaurants, bars, a wellness center and a museum.

Hershman said he understands that traffic congestion is a legitimate concern for East Side residents and business owners, which is why the company assembled a plan that aims to make entering and leaving the property a breeze, thus mitigating traffic overflow.

“There will be no vehicular entrances to the property on First Avenue in order to avoid the build-up of traffic on that street,” Hershman said, adding that the busy uptown thoroughfare will only offer pedestrian thruways. 

The site will have three vehicle entrances in total, Hershman said: The casino entrance, which would be an entrance off the FDR service road toward the back of the property; the hotel vehicular entrance on 41 Street; and the residential entrance on 38 Street. 

Do casinos attract crime?

New Yorkers and some elected officials have expressed strong concern about full-service, Vegas-style casinos possibly opening up around the city. In addition to the possibility of increased traffic, crime is another concern at the top of the no-casino list. 

“A lot of folks think casinos bring crime to the neighborhood, when in fact, it’s just the opposite,” Hershman said. “Because of the additional security that is required of casino and a development like this, the neighborhood actually becomes safer.” 

In fact, according to an article in the FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin, casinos are positioned to help local police solve a variety of crimes.

The article refers to casino security and surveillance officers as “the other police,” due to their training in monitoring closed-circuit television and ability to recognize and be vigilant for criminal behavior. 

Even so, opposition to casinos largely remains strong. 

NYS Senator Liz Krueger (D- Manhattan) has been vocal about her opposition to casinos in Manhattan. 

“I have been clear for many years,” Krueger said at a town hall meeting in February. “I oppose casinos and gambling in general. I find it to be a tax on desperation, with no society benefits and real prices to be paid.”

Across town, the No Times Square Casino Coalition released a poll in May that showed 71% of registered voters who live in and around the bustling tourist epicenter of Manhattan said they oppose opening a casino in the area. 

Rendering of a rooftop view from one of the towers.Photo credit: Bucharest Studios

Freedom Plaza, Hudson Yards and Times Square are just a handful of at least nine locations in and around the city being considered for three available casino licenses in the coming years. 

Right now, all casino bidders are in the early stages of the licensing process, which is conducted by the state and includes an extensive series of approvals. 

As for Freedom Plaza, Hershman said he and his team are fully invested in the neighborhood. 

“We’ve been working in the neighborhood, and live in the neighborhood. Seven members of the Soloviev family live near the site we’re the casino will be built,” Hershman said. “It’s really not just a casino, it’s an integrated resort that will include a casino. We wanted to build a community that is in keeping with the neighborhood.”