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Community, officials eye stretch run in bid to save Vernon Downs (VIDEO)

Casey Pritchard
Staff writer
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Posted 5/12/23

Local officials and lawmakers came together Friday to declare their support for Vernon Downs and warned of the devastating effects its closure could have on the surrounding community. See video in the article.

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Community, officials eye stretch run in bid to save Vernon Downs (VIDEO)


VERNON — Local officials and lawmakers came together Friday to declare their support for Vernon Downs and warned of the devastating effects its closure could have on the surrounding community.

A press conference was held in the lobby of the Vernon Downs Hotel, with Gary Bonadonna, international vice president of Workers United Rochester Regional Joint Board, saying they were there to " this facility."

Vernon Downs is asking for tax relief an attempt to break even.

Jeff Gural, owner of Vernon Downs, told the Daily Sentinel that it's been difficult competing with the Oneida Indian Nation owned properties such as Turning Stone, Yellow Brick Road, Point Place, and more. "We were surrounded by all these new casinos and our revenue went from $40 million a year to $28 million," he said. "So the state came in and hired a consultant who said if we got an additional vendor fee of 6.4%, we would be able to break even."

The state granted this tax credit on the condition that Vernon Downs would maintain 90% of the people who worked there in 2016. "Everything was fine and dandy until COVID-19 hit and the state told us we were no longer hiring the same number of people," Gural said. "And as a result, we'd lose that 6.4%. And because of that, last year, I lost $2 million. We couldn't convince. We had no choice. I wasn't going to lose another $2 million."

Vernon Supervisor Randy Watson said Vernon Downs is asking for 6% totaling around $2 million and what they give back is even more.

"What they give back to the state totals around $13 million. And the state is is willing to give that up?" Watson said. "And the town of Vernon will take a big hit, including every business... And the money the town of Vernon gets from gaming and the property taxes equals 12% of our budget."

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said they shouldn't have to fight to save Vernon Downs.

"We have jobs here we have to protect," Picente said. "Our local delegation has been spot on and this isn't directed at them, but our legislative leadership in Albany — the Senate leader, the Assembly leader, and the governor — need to look up state. They talk about a multi-billion surplus, but they can't come up with $2 million for Vernon Downs? Why do we need to go through this year after year. To the everybody at Vernon Downs, we stand with you. We'll fight, because we have to."

(See more comments from Picente in this video clip.)

Senator Joe Griffo said this fight is a team effort and was thankful for his colleagues who work together, regardless of political affiliation, to fight for Vernon Downs.

"We all understand the importance and significance of this," Griffo said. "I've spoken to Gural and while he's lamented some of the investments he's made, but I know he has an affinity for this community and operation. And I think his requests are reasonable. And in 2017, Gural made a reasonable request to be treated the same as other organizations across the state."

Griffo said he and his colleagues would do everything they can to ensure to educate the right people and show what needs to be.

"We have the template from what we did in 2017 and working together at the local level and in Albany, we'll continue to press the case," he said. "There's no reason why this issue can't be resolved."

Vernon Town Councilor John Peters said he's seen the kind of attention Vernon Downs gets and how often the parking lots are packed, but brought attention to something else.

"Vernon Downs has donated around $196 million to education. If kids are our future, look at what Vernon Downs is doing for their education," Peters said. "And look at the donations. The Food Bank of Central New York, American Red Cross, Cerebral Palsy, local schools, and so much more."

Some of the organizations Vernon Downs has made donations also includes Oneida Health, Wanderers' Rest Association, Madison County Office of the Aging, Oneida American Legion, the Rome Health Foundation, The Kelberman Center, the Lee Center Fire Department, Wettel Elementary, and many, many more.

"All of that will be gone," Peters said. "We all need to band together or it'll kill Vernon."

For Oneida County Legislator Keith Schiebel, Vernon Downs has a personal connection. "I've lived in the community here for almost 40 years," he said. "30 years ago, my daughters learned how to swim in the pool here. I've had teacher's conferences in the Ball Room. I've gone to a senior prom in the Ball Room... And you can probably guess I've spent some time at the buffet... But it's family. This facility is part of the community."

Gural told the Sentinel that he's appreciative of all the support he and Vernon Downs has been getting and the work they've been doing.

"It hasn't gotten across the finish line, but I'm optimistic. I'm hopeful," he said. "I'm hopeful people recognize how important Vernon Downs is to the community."


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