Soloviev Group Installing Light Display To Gain Community Support For NY Casino

Written By Grant Lucas on September 26, 2023
rendering of freedom plaza on manhattan east side, site of a proposed ny casino from the soloviev group

The process to awarding three downstate casino licenses in New York still has a long way to go. But some groups are already laying groundwork with their local communities.

After all, having their support represents a major component of ultimately receiving a New York casino license — which could ultimately pave the way for a NY online casino license if and when that lucrative market is eventually legalized.

The latest example comes from Soloviev Group, which has targeted a 6.7-acre strip of land along the East River in Manhattan.

The Soloviev Foundation, the charitable arm of the development company, expects to cover the $1.5 million cost of installing and maintaining an extravagant light display from artist Bruce Munro.

As Michael Hershman, CEO of Soloviev Group, told the New York Times: “It’s a gift to New York.”

More details on Field of Light at Freedom Plaza

Munro, an internationally renowned artist, was tabbed to create “Field of Light at Freedom Plaza” to “honor New York’s enduring creative spirit,” according to a press release.

“Field of Light at Freedom Plaza stands for boundless imagination and the freedom to dream,” Munro said in the release. “It is my hope that it warms hearts and inspires both young and old to take from it and create something of their own to pass on to others.”

Free to the public and open for at least a year beginning in late September, the display will feature 17,000 lowlight, fiber-optic stemmed spheres lit up in a variety of colors. Visitors will walk winding paths throughout the display, all surrounded by the city skyline and East River waterfront.

“New York City has always been and continues to be a global epicenter of freedom and the creative spirit,” Hershman said in the release. “We are thrilled to share this transformative experience with our community and the world.”

NY casino plan faces uphill battle with community

Led by billionaire Stefan Soloviev, the Soloviev Group has a downstate NY casino plan for an undeveloped tract of land between 38th and 41st streets just east of First Avenue. Soloviev’s father acquired the land in 2000.

Known as Freedom Plaza, the area expects to include a Mohegan casino (mostly below street level), 1,200-room hotel, two residential towers with about 1,500 units and a new museum featuring pieces of the Berlin Wall.

Initially, Soloviev wanted to install a giant Ferris wheel. However, the group has since abandoned such a plan. As Hershman told the New York Times, the decision stemmed from the group’s effort to win approval from the local community board, which opposes the project.

According to the Times, however, there is only so much that the Soloviev Group can do. As Kyle Athayde, chair of Community Board 6, put it, “the community benefits would not outweigh the disruption of a casino.”

“These are just distractions to get the real moneymaker through. In the end, we get the bread crumbs.”

Soloviev not alone in trying to woo locals

The licensing process for New York downstate casinos is well underway, with state regulators answering the first round of questions late last month.

Considering the weight carried by community support, it comes as no surprise that companies seeking downstate NY casino licensing have attempted to get on the good side of their local residents. Bally’s is launching a free bus service for the Bronx area, for instance.

The rush to gain community support is especially apparent when it comes to the Manhattan area, where multiple groups look to build a casino, including one proposal for Caesars Palace Times Square. However, each effort to connect with the community has seemingly faced its own backlash.

In recent weeks, parents objected to the likes of a Coney Island casino project sponsoring a basketball camp while Las Vegas Sands put on a youth soccer clinic.

Photo by Soloviev Group
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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is the managing editor for PlayNY. A longtime, award-winning sports writer, Grant has covered gambling and legal sports betting since 2018, when he got his start reporting on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania industries. He now oversees PlayNY as New York expands legalized gambling to sports betting and online casino gaming.

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