Thor’s Melissa Gliatta Discusses Its Coney Island Casino Proposal

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Thor Equities is stacking its bench with players that will give its owner, Coney Island native Joe Sitt, what he hopes will be the most compelling argument to be awarded one of three downstate casino licenses.

The firm has assembled a team of Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation and Legends to help Thor run an attraction that could make Coney Island a year-around destination, rather than a summertime hangout mostly confined to the beach’s boardwalk.

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If Thor and its partners get a license, it could only be a matter of time they drop $3 billion to redevelop 5 acres between Stillwell Avenue, West 12th Street, Surf Avenue and Wonder Wheel Way into an entertainment complex with a casino, a roller coaster, an indoor water park, hotels and museums.

Thor Chief Operating Officer Melissa Gliatta spoke with Commercial Observer recently, giving a glimpse into the minds of the developers as they awaited the Jan. 3 release of a request for applications (RFA) from the New York State Gaming Commission. CO will be sitting down with several of the real estate figures vying for licenses in the coming days, and previously spoke with the Soloviev Group’s Stefan Soloviev and Michael Hershman about their plans for a site near the United Nations.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Commercial Observer: Why does Thor view Coney Island as one of the best locations for a new casino in New York City?

Melissa Gliatta: I think the No. 1 thing we’re aiming for is for people to understand that Brooklyn is, in our opinion, the best location for a casino. A lot of the talking points that you’ve heard us say, and I’ll happily reiterate, is the fact that we are incredibly excited to see a very economically underserved area become a vibrant entertainment location, 365 days a year. That’s always been our hope for Coney Island from the very beginning.

Apart from creating a year-round economic engine for Coney Island, how are you and your partners planning to convince the Gaming Commission that this is an economically sound proposal?

I think the most important thing was who we partnered with, right? We gave that enormous amount of consideration because we believe that you get one shot here. We had to assemble what we consider to be the best of the best team to give us the best odds for success and winning. By doing that, and really making sure that we were our most competitive, we feel like we have really touched on all the strengths of it.

This is an opportunity to bring generational jobs — jobs that you can go into and build a strong career and make a meaningful difference. So for us, we feel like it hits a lot of those points. Times Square, it’s so great to hear about that project, but Times Square is in Manhattan and they have so much already. You’ve got Broadway, you’ve got all the excitement of the Times Square district. I hope that doesn’t come through overly enthusiastically. We’ve been working on this a long time.

How long has Thor been looking at this development site, and how does the current zoning help or hinder a casino development?

We have been assembling land in Coney Island for, goodness gracious, almost probably 20 years now. Joe grew up in the backyard and I’ve worked with Joe for literally 28 years, so almost three decades of working together.

The area has been zoned for entertainment for a long time. If you know Coney Island, it’s been a playground for amusement and entertainment for over 100 years. So we do believe that you know we have flexible zoning that allows for a variety of different entertainment uses that are allowed for zoning here and not anywhere else. What we have to wait for right now is the RFA.

How did you go about choosing Saratoga Casino Holdings, The Chickasaw Nation and Legends as partners, and how do they give you the edge in this bid?

We wanted the combination of Chickasaw and Saratoga together. We thought being able to team them up would really be complementary and allow us to have a New York base operator that understands gaming and operations in New York, as well as an operator that literally is running the biggest casino in the world, because we believe that if we are able to successfully win this bid and build this project that it will be one of the most successful entertainment venues in the world. 

It’s like probably putting together a basketball team or something, right? You want to make sure you have all the right position players. But at the same time you have to work together as a team. And I think for us, that’s the vetting process and kind of what we went through with finding out who we thought would really be the right cohesive team. Because even just going for this RFA together is a lot of work together, and really think about it even at the next level. It’s why it’s such an important strong foundation.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.