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Utica leaders outline downtown arts, sports and entertainment district

Oneida County Executive's Office
Oneida County officials are trying to build an arts, sports and entertainment district in downtown Utica. The so-called U District would include a casino, craft-beer museum and sports complex that could be used for tournament and recreational events.

Oneida County officials want to capitalize on the state's recent investments in a hospital and nano technology center in the Utica area. They say the key to developing Utica is building an arts, sports and entertainment district in the city's downtown.

The U District project aims to add a craft beer museum, casino and a sports complex for tournaments and recreational events in downtown Utica. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente laid out the plan at the centerpiece of the U District -- the Utica Memorial Auditorium, which is currently undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation. He thinks the project will attract more public and private investment in the city. 

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente unveils the U District project to create an arts, sports and entertainment district in downtown Utica.

"It's creating a different type of downtown that Utica hasn't had but that other communities around us have had," Picente said. "So the why not us is no longer because it is us."

Several Utica and Oneida County officials are endorsing Picente's plan, yet some are worried about adding another casino in the area. The del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County opened this year and another casino is being built in Madison County.

But the plan only calls for a gaming floor with no hotel or entertainment venue. Councilman Joe Marino is encouraged by that and the developer the Oneida Indian Nation, which is committing $50 million to the project.

"I’m concerned about the socioeconomic impacts from casinos as we all are," Marino said. "I’d like to see how that plays out. But again, we are talking about the Oneida Indian Nation who’s got a track record of doing things the right way. When you’re not competing with other restaurants in the area, which is a big deal to me, this play is just for playing, not for staying. While I’m concerned I’m not as concerned as some would be because I’ve got confidence in the future of it."

Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri, who was noticeably absent from Picente's presentation, has come out against a casino in downtown. However, Palmieri says he is willing to learn more about the plan. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.