Casino events

Proposed skating rink near Schenectady Casino to be used by Union College brings in $10 million from state budget

SCHENECTADY — Mohawk Harbor is set to host a new arena for Union College’s ice hockey program after receiving $10 million in state funding.

The proposed facility would be constructed between Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady.

“The casino is already the No. 1 tourist attraction in the Capital Region and is another draw to attract visitors to visit downtown Schenectady and the waterfront,” said Ray Gillen, President of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.

The Daily Gazette first reported on the developments, which took years to prepare. State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Amsterdam, worked with Governor Kathy Hochul to secure $10 million in the capital budget as part of the state budget, the outlines of which are met last week.

Union College’s Frank L. Messa Ice Rink at Achilles Center was built in 1975 and is “functionally obsolete,” said David Buicko, president and chief executive of the Galesi Group, which turned the former polluted wasteland into a a residential, commercial and entertainment complex along the banks of the Mohawk River.

The current rink, said Union College President David Harris, has many pitfalls that can be prohibitively expensive to correct, including limited bathrooms, non-existent parking, accessibility issues and broader infrastructure fixes.

“Hockey rinks are not cheap venues,” Harris said. “It’s more expensive to build a new arena, but there are other revenue opportunities.”

The site would also be made available for events, conferences and trade shows, Gillen said, noting that the 2,850-seat facility would be the right size for the location.

Buicko said the proposed rink is part of a long-planned second phase at Mohawk Harbor, the sprawling waterfront complex that includes the casino, condominiums, hotels and an artificial harbor for boats.

Buicko estimates a floor of $40 million for the project. The construction schedule, he said, is subject to the same vagaries that plague the construction industry nationwide, including inflation and rising material costs.

“(The $10 million in state funding) is a good first step in getting the financial package in place,” Buicko said.

Union College continues to negotiate a long-term lease for the site, Harris said, and officials are trying to negotiate a deal that’s “fair and within our budget.”

Harris said the project would only build on Schenectady’s momentum and act as a valuable recruiting tool, including for prospective Union College students.

Santabarbara called the arena the city’s “next big business”.

“This is a multi-purpose project that will positively impact our community as well as the local economy and tourism, adding to all that Schenectady has to offer as a destination,” Santabarbara said in a statement. “That’s why I worked throughout the budget process to ensure this important funding was included in this year’s state budget.