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MONTICELLO, NY-The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe states that Empire Resorts Inc.’s plans to shut down its development office here constitutes a breach of its development agreement on a planned $600-million casino at Monticello Raceway. Empire Resorts, a JV partner with the tribe on the casino project, issued a statement in response saying, “it has not abandoned the St. Regis Mohawk casino project and has no intention of doing so.”

Last month, US Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne rejected the tribe’s land into trust application for the nearly 30-acre casino project site. Shortly thereafter, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe filed suit in federal court to overturn the ruling. In its statement released on Feb. 6, Empire Resorts states the company and the tribe “must work together on a joint litigation strategy” to overturn the Department of Interior’s ruling that prevented the project from breaking ground. “The 29.31-acre proposed land into trust site at the raceway will continue to be available to the company for a future St. Regis Mohawk gaming project,” Empire Resorts says in its statement. “The company has no current alternative plans for this site.”

Empire Resorts notes that it is now in discussions with Concord Associates LP, the owner of the Concord Hotel property in Kiamesha Lake in the Town of Thompson, to possibly relocate the Monticello Raceway harness track and the video gaming machine operations to a 160-acre parcel on the expansive Concord Hotel & Resort grounds. Concord Associates is a partnership controlled by real estate developers Louis Cappelli and Scott Rechler. Concord Associates has an 8.5% ownership in interest in Empire Resorts.

This is not the first time that Empire Resorts and Concord Associates have had discussions regarding the Concord resort. In 2005 a deal was proposed to sell the resort to Empire Resorts, but the deal was never finalized. The redevelopment of the once famed Concord Hotel has been a sore point for local officials for years. Cappelli staged a ground-breaking ceremony in October 2000 to transform the 1,735-acre Concord site into a luxury hotel, convention center and resort and spa. However, after some initial site demolition, work stopped shortly thereafter. After some prodding by local officials to move forward, Concord Associates presented a new multi-phased plan in 2006 to build a new lodge hotel and spa across from the Monster Golf Course as well as some retail space and residential housing.

Town of Thompson supervisor Anthony Cellini tells GlobeSt.com that the town has since approved a Planned Resort Development Zone that would allow for a host of uses on the property, including gaming. However, Concord Associates would have to get an amendment to the PRD zone to allow for a racetrack on the property as well as obtain state approval for the move. Cellini says that he has had discussions with Cappelli, president of Valhalla-based Cappelli Enterprises, about his firm’s latest plans for the property. He says Cappelli has promised to come up to Sullivan County soon to update officials on the developments. While significant site work and other improvements have been made to the property over the years, the original Concord Hotel still has yet to be demolished and work on the major facets of the plan have yet to begin in earnest.

While Empire Resorts stresses it has not abandoned the casino project, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe disagrees. In its statement, the tribe notes, “The tribe received a letter from Empire on Feb. 5, 2008 informing the tribe of their intentions to shut down their Monticello development office and to immediately cease funding of necessary pre-development expenses associated with the Mohawk project.” The tribe later adds, “The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council has determined that Empire’s notice constitutes an express breach of its gaming agreements with the tribe and is committed to aggressively pursuing any and all appropriate legal remedies to protect the interests of the tribe.”

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