I have lived in the New York City metro area for over 30 years. When in need of a break from the nonstop action and congestion of the urban environment, I usually find myself heading north, into the Hudson Valley and up to the Catskills Mountains.
Like most Gothamites, I was first attracted to the Catskills area for its convenience—it is a fairly quick and easy two to three hour drive from the big city. My first trip into the region took place in 1990, and I thought enough of its outdoor recreations that eventually I joined a ski club outside the town of Phoenicia, in part so I could have a cheap place to stay when I visited. And I have been “going up the country” a few times a year ever since.
Honestly, I think I am somewhat rare in that regard—a lot of New York City residents of my generation visited the Catskills a few times and never returned. I can’t say I really blame them, the region had been in slow decline since the 1980s when, after a 50 year run of success, the massive hotel resorts that catered to city folk looking to escape the summer heat or enjoy the winter snow started to close. This malaise spread and by 2000 the once-lively town centers in communities such as Margaretville, Fleischmanns, and Monticello where home to shuttered restaurants and shops. It appeared the whole Catskills area had fallen and it was having a hard time getting up.
It was about this time that some local entrepreneurs started floating the idea of establishing a Catskills-based casino to help solve some of these economic woes. It eventually became an obsession for many in the area. Often during those years, when I was at an event or a bar and I let my occupation slip, I would be inundated with questions in regards to casinos and when they were going to surface in the Catskills. Suffice to say I did not answer, “Well, 18 years or so seems about right to me…”
But that was how long it took for a casino to come to the region in the form of Monticello-based Resorts World Catskills, a $900 million gaming resort that opened its doors last month. According to press materials, the property includes an 18-story hotel and a casino and entertainment complex with approximately 100,000 square feet of casino floor, more than 10 varied bar and restaurant experiences and year-round live entertainment at the 2,500-seat event center. A golf course is also planned for the facility.
How Resorts World Catskills will fare is open to debate, with pundits pointing out the less than promised economic performance from other recently opened commercial casinos elsewhere in New York. While I understand their concerns, I think Resorts World Catskills has a number of advantages going for it: relative proximity to the massive New York City feeder market, location in an established tourist destination and the regional customer relationships the parent company has already formed thanks to its Resorts World New York operation, to name a few.
What should also help the property is that the Catskills area has been on the upswing, and is becoming trendy with city-living Millennials and hipsters looking for a convenient and inexpensive weekend vacation spot. Phoenicia is one town benefiting from this trade, the locals calling it “Brooklyn North” during the weekends.
Here’s hoping all these factors come together to make Resorts World Catskills a success not only for its owners but for the local community, which has its share of tough mountains to climb of late.