The Coney Proposal Goes The Extra Mile To Reach Locals

Written By Matt Boecker on May 2, 2023

Each downstate New York casino proposal has faced an abundance of backlash from community members. But one has a strong group of supporters, and it didn’t happen by chance.

The Coney Island casino proposal got 3,363 signatures from community members that support the downstate NY casino project. You’re probably thinking these came on a popular petition website like — well think again.

Former New York City council member Robert Cornegy is now a consultant for The Coney, and he knocked on more than 16,300 doors to discuss the casino proposal and get physical signatures from residents.

Momentum grew for a Coney Island casino proposal last October when sources told PlayNY that Thor Equities backed the intentions. Along with Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation and Legends.

“I was going door to door to residents and getting their input, which is kind of old school,” Cornegy told PlayNY. “But we believe it’s very reliable to go and actually talk to people individually, to not just get a signature, per se, but to get a sentiment that’s associated with that signature.”

Cornegy spoke to three groups of people when knocking on doors: homeowners, those living in New York City Housing Authority buildings and apartments, and business owners.

Why is The Coney Island casino proposal going the extra mile with community outreach?

Cornegy noted the importance of getting real feedback from residents by having face-to-face conversations.

“I believe it makes a difference in the overall project,” Cornegy said, “because what we got was what people wanted to see. What people were feeling about it. We got a lot of comments around what they perceive to be an investment in their area in particular.”

The community outreach efforts by the other downstate casino proposals have varied. But other groups have often tried connecting with the community by hosting meetings.

Cornegy believes only the most active members of a community attend meetings and voice their opinions, making them unrepresentative of the neighborhood as a whole. Instead, The Coney took a more grassroots approach.

“We believe that the true methodology to get the best snapshot is to go all over the community as opposed to inviting people in,” Cornegy said. “That’s about style, I think. Our style is wanting to have the maximum input of the community — not just get yeses and get signatures.”

The former council member added that knocking on doors prevents The Coney from controlling the environment and narrative in the same way hosting a meeting does. But that’s not a negative, as it allowed the group to build a more sustainable relationship with the community.

Speaking with residents allowed The Coney to set the record straight

When casinos are proposed in any area, residents’ most common fear is a spike in crime. Cornegy revealed the same is true among the Coney Island locals he spoke with.

But he’s in the camp that believes the addition of The Coney could actually decrease the crime levels in south Brooklyn.

“I kind of beat that back with the idea that as a crime prevention technique, in most large metropolitan areas in the country, they use lighting up areas and cleaning up areas as a crime prevention technique,” Cornegy said “Almost to say that the more people that are traversing a space, it de-escalates the crime because most criminals want to be where it’s dark – illegal activity can go unnoticed.”

Cornegy commented that many people formulate opinions on erroneous information. So speaking with residents in person allowed the group to set the record straight by providing facts and statistics, which opened up the minds of those opposing The Coney.

“What I’ve found is when I’ve had an opportunity, or the team has had an opportunity to actually present the project in its entirety, people have walked back a step or two,” Cornegy said. “Some people on the spot are like ‘Oh, I didn’t know that. That makes a world of difference, I look at this differently.’ And then some people, the majority of people, say ‘That makes a lot of sense, I’d like to hear more about the project.’”

Cornegy called to the old Syms Corporation slogan: ‘An educated consumer is our best customer’. He believes the same rings true for The Coney, and once the locals get on board, word of mouth will further promote the proposal.

Coney Island casino promises to help residents and business owners

Cornegy’s dedication to The Coney stems from the potential upside it could bring to the area. Putting the actual casino aside, The Coney’s proposal calls for a hotel and convention center — you currently can’t find either of those things in south Brooklyn. Renderings for The Coney were released in March.

“This project has the potential to change the scope and scale of the community, in addition to adding jobs and opportunity and careers,” Cornegy said. “There’s this different distinction that should be made between jobs and careers. These are in some instances union jobs with union wages which propel people into the middle class and beyond.”

The groups backing The Coney believe this project could positively transform the lives of Brooklynites. This is the same neighborhood Cornegy was born and raised in. That’s why he’s incredibly passionate about advocating for The Coney.

More community outreach to be done

Cornegy said there’s far more work to be done to connect with Coney Island locals. Because it’s such a diverse neighborhood, The Coney prioritizes connecting with each group of people.

“New York City is unique in the fact that projects and things are driven by very unique constituencies inside a larger constituency,” Cornegy said. “The larger constituency is Coney Island residents, then there’s the ecumenical community, which consists of churches, mosques, synagogues. Then there’s the small business community, then there’s the MWBE community – there’s ethnicities that vary within those communities.”

Now, it’s time to dig into those constituencies to reach each and every Coney Islander. Cornegy realizes how time-consuming and expensive it will be, but he also knows it will yield the most impactful results.

Photo by Frank Franklin II / AP Photo
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Matt Boecker

Born in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Matt graduated from Northern Illinois University, where he covered NIU hockey for the Northern Star. Since then, Matt has specialized in NFL and NBA coverage for various websites and podcasts before shifting gears to casino and sports betting coverage.

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