Adjacent to the UN campus

NY casino race: Soloviev Group and Mohegan partner on "entertainment district" bid in Manhattan

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New York’s downstate casino race is adding another new bid: developer Soloviev Group and resorts company Mohegan are partnering for Freedom Plaza, a proposed “entertainment district” project that would be located in Manhattan, adjacent to the United Nations campus.

Optimally located on Manhattan's east side, Freedom Plaza will emerge as an entertainment district offering green spaces, two residential towers, a first-class hotel, a casino, an iconic Ferris Wheel, and the world's first Democracy Museum,” the parties announced in a joint statement on Monday.

The plans come as a result of the New York State Gaming Commission's Request for Applications to develop and operate up to three downstate casinos. Soloviev Group would be in charge of the development while Mohegan – an extension of the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut – has been named the casino operator for the project. 

"Mohegan is known for the wide array of extraordinary experiences and exceptional service we provide our guests – but it is truly our culture, values and commitment to our community that set us apart," said Ray Pineault, CEO and President of Mohegan. Established in 1995, Mohegan is the owner, developer and manager of eight integrated resorts in the US, Canada and Northern Asia.

Ray Pineault

"Our rich Mohegan heritage provides the foundation for how we operate our business and guides our commitment to our employees, our approach to guest services and our relationship with partners and the communities in which we operate and serve. We look forward to infusing our "Spirit of Aquai," our guiding philosophy, into New York State,” added Pineault.

According to plans shared upon the announcement, Freedom Plaza will serve “the community at large” with the availability of a substantial green area, a performance venue, a Ferris Wheel, a 1,000+ room first-class hotel, and two residential towers “which will work towards satisfying the city's critical shortage of housing.”

In addition to its entertainment features and casino, the proposed Freedom Plaza would have a social responsibility edge through the introduction of “the world’s first museum dedicated to the celebration of freedom and democracy.” The center would feature large slabs of the Berlin Wall from Soloviev’s personal collection, according to Forbes.

Furthermore, Freedom Plaza would generate “thousands” of well-paying jobs, according to the companies, both throughout its construction process and upon opening, while also injecting the local economy “with millions of dollars in new tax revenue.”

“Area businesses will also benefit from the halo effect of the city's newest destination,” the companies said in a statement. “Infusing the brand values of both Soloviev Group and Mohegan will undoubtedly provide a compelling bid and competitive proposal.”

According to the Soloviev Group and Mohegan, the immediate surrounding area is “largely undeveloped” in terms of real estate, providing an opportunity for access “without undue disruption.” Connected to the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive and numerous bus stops, Freedom Plaza is a short walk from the 34th Street ferry and Grand Central Station; and the development team will also explore providing additional dedicated ferry service.

"As a leader in socially responsible development, we will honor, complement and advance Mohegan's principles through sustainable and carbon-neutral property development," said Stefan Soloviev, Chairman of Soloviev Group. 

"This strategic partnership will not only ensure that Freedom Plaza will be ethically developed, but provide long-term economic prosperity for the local community, a positive impression on regional and international tourism, and a lasting impact on New York City for generations to come,” Soloviev added.

The announcement comes almost a month after the New York State Gaming Commission voted on guidelines for applicants that included community benefits, approval from local elected officials and a $500 million application fee.

The Soloviev Group hopes this will be the answer to the long-standing question of what to do with the 6.7 acres near the United Nations purchased by the late Sheldon Solow, father of Stefan Soloviev, from Consolidated Edison in 2000 for $600 million, notes Commercial Observer.

Soloviev recently told Forbes he’s ready to invest $3.2 billion in the project, which would be developed on a site the group’s website describes as “the largest undeveloped plot of land in Manhattan.” The site is “shovel-ready,” according to the billionaire.

As many as a dozen casino operators could ultimately vie for the three downstate casino licenses New York state gaming regulators are set to award. The frontrunners for two of the permits are believed to be Genting and MGM Resorts, operators of Resorts World New York City in Queens and Empire City Casino in Yonkers, respectively. The licenses would allow the properties, currently limited to slot machines only, to expand their gaming offerings.

The Soloviev Group and Mohegan join a crowded field of developers that have already announced partnerships with casino operators including Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands. Proposed sites include Times Square and Hudson Yards in Manhattan, Coney Island in Brooklyn, Willets Point in Queens, and Nassau County on Long Island, among others.

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