In Sullivan County, Experts Weigh Expectations for Montreign

By Melissa Jones 

MONTICELLO – In the 1950s, Sullivan County saw hundreds of thousands of tourists vacationing in the 538 resorts, which were gently nestled in the Catskill Mountains. Restaurants in the towns of Liberty, Monticello and South Fallsburg were flooded with New York City weekenders and tourists from around the world, who would render traffic incessant. This was known as the Golden Age of tourism in the county.

Today, Sullivan County is plagued with boarded-up businesses, rotting, decrepit houses and desolate roads. New restaurants open their doors one day and then close their doors weeks later. Locals have difficulty finding work that is permanent, and not seasonal, leaving many people unemployed for long periods of time during the year.

The Montreign Resort Casino at Adelaar is set to open in Monticello, NY in 2017. The resort will stand on the grounds of the former Concord Hotel, which was a world-renowned resort in the 1950s.  Sullivan County won the casino bid against five other counties in December 2014. Many in this rural area, located approximately 90 miles from New York City, hope this new venture in the hospitality industry will welcome the return of the county’s previous Golden Age.

“It is the most significant project that has taken place in the Hudson Valley and certainly in Sullivan County,” said Marc Baez, President and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development.

Montreign will be built across 1700 acres of land, and will include a village, waterpark, casino, five-star hotel and a nature area for scenic tours. The resort is expected to create an Atlantic City atmosphere in a small town in the Catskills.

What developers project the resort will resemble, located on the grounds of the old Concord Hotel, Monticello, NY. (Credit: Montreign Resort)
What developers project the resort will resemble, located on the grounds of the old Concord Hotel, Monticello, NY. (Credit: Montreign Resort)

Montreign Resort Casino is seen as a major economic engine driving Sullivan County and the surrounding region into financial stability and success. Resorts and casinos have been a part of the county’s history since 1840 –when the county’s first summer hotel opened in White Lake– and especially the 1950s, otherwise known as the county’s Golden Age of tourism. Sullivan County’s history of resort and casino success, coupled with their present-day economic stagnation, show that the county needed something to boost its economy back what it was in its heyday.

“I believe that Sullivan County was once a wonderful place filled with art and music, but [it] is a fraction of what it once was,” said Dustin Hasbrouck, 23, of Monticello. “I have noticed that there is a large drug abuse issue in the area…I think that the casino will just create more addictive personality, which is not healthy for the neighboring towns,” he added.

“The economy was so bad, people said, ‘We gotta do something about this,’” said John Conway, the Sullivan County Historian. “I think they just figured that how bad could it be? It [the economy] can’t be any worse than it is now.”

(Credit: Melissa Jones)
Conway gives lectures at conferences and classrooms around New York State, and teaches a class on Sullivan County history at SUNY Sullivan. (Credit: Melissa Jones)

This is why a lack of organized opposition in the Montreign project is so significant. For example, in 2005 Governor George Pataki proposed the construction of five casinos in Sullivan County. The Catskill Casino Coalition formed and aggressively opposed the “Room for Five” campaign; the project inevitably failed. For Montreign, residents realized the county was in dire need of something to revitalize the county’s economy.

But expectations for Montreign are mixed.

“There is this notion that it’s gonna have a great impact on the economy, which is absolutely true,” said Baez.

According to Conway, Montreign will not have as great an economic impact on the county as expected. “I think for the most part that most locals will not be working at the casino. So the impact will be minimal.”

In Sullivan County’s resort history, resort and casino jobs went to “unemployable workers from the Bowery, other parts of the city, and –in some cases– even Alabama,” because locals didn’t want these “seemingly menial jobs,” said Conway.

“I see it having a good impact bringing in revenue and new workers,” said Christine Fahnestock, 20, of New Paltz, NY. “So many people on low-income gamble as it is, in hopes of hitting it big, so it could potentially cause more gambling problems. I see the potential for it to help the area, but I also see the potential for it to crash and burn,” she added.

According to the New York State Department of Labor, the county’s unemployment rate as of September 2015 was 5.3%. The Times Herald Record reported in June 2014 that the county, “ranks first in the unemployment rate and last in per capita income” in all of the six counties vying for the casino bid during that time.

But Sullivan County could use another employment hub for locals. According to Conway, the Center for Discovery, an organization aimed to help those with disabilities, employs almost 2,000 Sullivan County locals. Other major employers in the county are New Hope (similar to the Center for Discovery), Shop Rite, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, and local nursing homes.

Since the Montreign project was announced, the county’s unemployment rate shrunk. “The project isn’t really underway in the sense of being built,” Baez said. “And we’re already down 1% [unemployment]. So already, it’s had a significant impact, because years before that unemployment hasn’t gone down.”

Montreign just began construction in the last few weeks, and some locals are disgruntled about if the resort will be built by 2017 as projected. “A lot of people are disappointed that it’s taking so long, but I suppose that we may look back on this someday and say that we’re glad they [the developers] did their due diligence and took their time with this, so we aren’t left with a disaster,” Conway said.

“We view this very positively in the sense that it’s a tremendous attraction in terms of an entertainment venue and a destination that people from all over the world are going to be coming to,” Baez said. “It’s gonna draw other investments in the area, workforce housing, and retail; all things that we’ve desperately needed for a very long time.”