In the first major project since the bungalow colonies and hotels in New York state's borscht belt fell on hard times 30 years ago, a developer plans to demolish the legendary Concord Hotel in the Catskills and build a $500 million resort, with a hotel and conference center, golf village, spa ranch, entertainment center and wilderness area.
Louis R. Cappelli, a Westchester County developer who bought the Concord property on Kiamesha Lake a year ago, said he planned to begin construction by Labor Day on property of more than 1,600 acres -- twice the size of Central Park. He said that the complex, 90 miles northwest of New York City, would be a year-round attraction in an area where most of the old hotels have crumbled and many people work two and three jobs to make ends meet.
Economic Pied pipers have appeared before in the Catskill Mountains with fanciful revival plans that quickly evaporated, but local political leaders have embraced Cappelli's proposal as a substantive development that could bring new life to the area.
"We're very excited to have him here," said Rusty Pomeroy, chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature. "Once in a while you get a project that can reposition the area all by itself. If he's able to do it, it would change the way people perceive Sullivan County. We're not the borscht belt anymore. We're not a dying, depressed county."
Cappelli presented his plans yesterday in Monticello a day after Gov. George E. Pataki seemed to dash longstanding hopes for another project, an Indian-run casino at the Monticello Raceway. Pataki has long said that casinos would provide a much-needed boost for former resort areas like Monticello. He has introduced a bill that would require the state legislature to approve any Indian gambling initiative, which proponents say is unlikely to happen.
In recent months, Pataki had come under attack by casino operators from Atlantic City, N.J., and anti-gambling groups in New York who opposed a planned $500 million casino in Monticello. Some unions have also criticized Indian-run casinos, which are not bound by labor or civil rights laws.
"In my opinion, the governor is bailing out because he has national aspirations," said Pomeroy, who had supported the casino. "He acceded to a campaign against him by the Atlantic City gaming interests. If this goes to the legislature, the people speculating on a casino can pack it in. There's too much Donald Trump influence there."
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt are nearing a decision on the proposed casino, which would be owned by the St. Regis Mohawk tribe. The project also needs state approval.
Cappelli said his plans were not dependent on the casino, which had touched off a land boom in Sullivan County in the last two years. He said the Concord is only 90 minutes northwest of New York City and within a four-hour drive of 55 million people. The resort, he said, should attract conventions looking for an 1,100-room hotel in a rural setting, as well as families looking for a weekend getaway.