Catskills casino gets county OK

MONTICELLO, NY -- The Sullivan County Legislature today approved an agreement with the Seneca Nation of Indians and Seneca Catskills Gaming Corporation to develop a casino resort on 63 acres of land in the Catskill Mountains.

The long-discussed project will be located off Interstate 86 Exit 107 in the Town of Thompson.

Once completed, the Seneca Catskill Mountains Hotel & Casino will include 2 million square feet of space, 6,000 slot machines, 120 table games, 30 poker tables, a race book center, a 1,500 room hotel and spa, 12 restaurants, retail space, a 5,000-seat arena, 100,000 square feet of banquet space, and an arcade center.

The agreement calls on the county to "actively work with and assist the Nation, to obtain any and all approvals required for the project from governmental entities. In further consideration of this Agreement, the County will undertake, in its sole discretion, to enter into agreements with locally impacted entities to mitigate impacts of the project."

The Seneca Catskills Gaming Corporation will pay directly to Sullivan County for the benefit of the locally impacted entities as determined by the county annual local-impact payments in accordance with the following schedule: years 1-2 prior to hotel completion, $15.5 million; years 3-7 subsequent to hotel completion, $20 million.

Rotate Black projects that the hotel and casino will generate approximately $160 million in exclusivity fees to state and local governments.
New York's Indian Casinos
Dowd's Guides


There's something intoxicating in the air

If you happen to find yourself in London between now and April 25, you can get the effects of a good stiff drink while being able to honestly say you didn't have a drop.

What's the gimmick? It's a temporary bar dubbed Alcoholic Architecture. It is offering a cloud of breathable gin and tonic to its patrons for about $7 an hour.

The "bar" creates an intoxicating vapor using an ultrasonic humidifier system. Patrons put on protective suits and "drink" in the air.

The cocktail mist is made using gin, tonic water and the same technology as Anthony Gormley’s Blind Light at the Hayward Gallery. The interior of the bar is decorated to look like the inside of a cocktail with giant limes and straws.

Harry Parr, partner of Bompas & Parr which created the bar, told the media, "I’m interested in states of matter. Here we’ve vaporised a cocktail. In the future I would like to make a liquid banqueting table.

"In the 1905 Gondola Banquet the Savoy Hotel was flooded and the meal was eaten on a floating gondola surrounded by live swans with dessert presented on the back of a baby elephant. That would be the ultimate meal."

Alcoholic Architecture is open today through April 18th and 23-25 at 2 Ganton Street, Newburgh Quarter, London, W1F 7QL.

Upstate NY town is nation's 'coolest'

From WBNG.com Channel 12

OWEGO, NY -- The Town of Owego was buzzing with excitement after the CBS Early Show announced it is the "Coolest Small Town In America."

"I thought it was totally awesome. I am so proud that people outside the village come in and take a look and say, yes, it is. ... It's a really cool town," says Lisa Curatolo of Owego.

... Owego [located west of Binghamton in Upstate New York's Southern Tier] received 24,000 votes since BudgetTravel.com began its contest in February.
More than 150 towns were nominated, but only about 20 were chosen as finalists. Owego beat second place Rockland, ME, by a thousand votes.

[Go here for the full story.]
• Visit Tioga County
Owego: The Heart of River Country
• Dowd's Guides


'Save our pubs' cry grows in UK

Beer sales at pubs are way down, and several of the traditional drinking spots close each day in the United Kingdom.

There have been sporadic "Save our pubs" meetings and calls for help in the national press, but they haven't created quite the groundswell Bob Russell wants to see.

The Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (MP) has made a parliamentary motion calling on the government to adopt a five-point plan to save the institution of the British pub.

Traditional public houses are being "unfairly priced out of the market while supermarkets offer cheap deals without the level of restrictions and responsibilities required" by licencees of pubs, Russell said in a statement.

He's not alone in the move. A total of 202 MPs backed the motion which came at the start of National Cask Ale Week.

Also, TV news readers Melanie Sykes and Oz Clarke have suppported a call by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Independent Family Brewers of Britain (IFBB) for a declaration of a National Beer Day.

Russell noted in his statement that five pubs close down in the UK every day, and beer sales in pubs at their lowest level for nearly 40 years. He said further tax increases are planned that "will place traditional public houses at even greater risk of closing down".

The five-point plan by the British Beer and Pub Association is:

• Cut plans to increase beer tax.

• Enforce existing laws, rather than creating new ones, to deal firmly with irresponsible drinkers and premises.

• End irresponsible promotion of alcohol in supermarkets, pubs and elsewhere.

• Trust responsible adults to make informed choices about what they drink rather than punishing them for the actions of an irresponsible minority.

• Support the British pub as a vital part of social life in local communities.
CAMRA: Campaign for Real Ale
Save the Great British Pub
Dowd's Guides


A bar, a beer and a boar

William M. Dowd photos

IN THE RAIN FOREST, St. Croix -- As rain forests go, this isn't much of one.

We're bumping along a rutted one-lane road, or what passes for one on an island with no particularly good roads of any kind and a lot of deserted shells of buildings. Typical of the other face of the Caribbean, the one the tourists aren't meant to see. The rundown homes, peeling paint, piles of rusted-out barrels and other metal debris; the scrawny goats and chickens that meander about, poking into corners for something to eat, and competing for walking space along the roads with uniformed school children looking bright-eyed despite the obvious poverty.

We'd been put on the trail of a particular drink called a "Mama Juana," apparently something very special on this American Virgin Island. Go into the rain forest, we'd been told. Look for The Domino Club. That's where you'll find it. And look for the beer-swilling pigs while you're at it.

The 15-acre western part of the island is dotted with all sorts of trees -- kapok, mahogany, turpentine -- as well as scraggly vines and ferns. The occasional banana quit, hummingbird or yellow warbler darts through the thick vegetation.

This spot north of the capital city of Frederiksted is privately owned, although no one stops the public from wandering through it, especially on a variety of narrow trails that snake through the underbrush.

Just when it seems we might have taken a wrong turn, suddenly we are there.

Our driver pulls off the tight road and our little group scrambles out, anxious for a Mama Juana or two. But first, we have to visit the wild, beer-swilling pigs.

A couple of accuracy alerts. For one, according to the strictest botanical definition, this isn't technically a rain forest, we're told, although no one seems to be able to supply that definition. For another, the pigs we were there to visit actually are boars. And for a third, we are told these particular boars are domesticated and have inherited their jobs from a previous generation of once-wild ones that drank real beer. The current creatures drink only O'Doul's non-alcoholic brew, a nod to animal rights groups.

Jacqueline, a stout, blonde-haired woman of indeterminate age, lines us up in front of the high-walled enclosure where she says the pigs live.

"Here's the drill," she says, mustering up all the charm of a Marine drill instructor. "Three dollars each for admission, a dollar a can for the beer, an extra five dollars if you want to shoot any video. Now, how many of you are coming in?"

We dutifully pay our money, then walk through the doorway, immediately spotting a pair of boars behind cement pen walls. They'd just stepped in from their larger outside pen. They are thirsty and bang against the walls.

"Don't let their tusks scare you," Jacqueline says. "Their teeth don't start till way back in their mouth, so you can place a can of beer in their mouth and they'll bite down on it without hurting you."

Several timid feints and the first of our group successfully "feeds" a beer to a boar. It clamps its powerful jaws on the can, crushing it and releasing the foaming brew. He guzzles the beer, spits out the can and looks around for more. His penmate does the same.

The process goes smoothly through most of two six-packs, until one of our group gets a little sloppy, or one of the boars does. A crushed can explodes its contents onto our companion's shirt front, soaking him to the skin. That's the end of the boar fest, and we head across a small clearing to the Mount Pellier Hut of The Domino Club.

We commandeer a rickety table in the thatched three-room hut. The place is dominated by a long bar in a dark part of the structure peopled by a couple who look as if they've been seated there for a very long time. Jaxcqueline, it turns out, also is the head bartender and in charge of the only other obvious employee.

The Domino Club is a structure that looks as if, in case a shot is fired and the authorities are called, it can be packed away and disappear in seven minutes flat.

We order Mama Juanas, then think to ask what is in the drink. Rum, honey and herbs, we're told. What kind of rum? What kinds of herbs? Just herbs, is the answer. Special herbs. And, don't chug the shots, we are warned.

We hoist, toast and -- despite the instructions -- chug. God almighty. This is vile stuff, is my first thought. I'll never need cough medicine again, is my second. The potion should be called Mama-don't-wanna.

Our driver is getting impatient. We don't mind, clambering back into the van and rattling off into what's left of this not-quite-a-rainforest, curiosity quenched, even if our thirst isn't. But, there is a nice bar back at the hotel that serves any kind of cocktail you can think of.

Aah, civilization.

St. Croix, USVI, Tourism
Dowd's Guides


Another comeback in Ybor City

William M. Dowd photos

Visitors view the statue of Vicente Martinez Ybor.

TAMPA, FL -- As the sun beat down on the broad roof of the Ybor Cigar Factory, a man in a crisp, white guayabera shirt walked down the aisle between rows of tables stacked high with tobacco leaves, headed for an elevated platform with a single chair in its center.

To the contrasting rhythms of overhead fans lazily moving the air through the cavernous room and dozens of hands deftly rolling premium cigars, the man took the chair and began reading aloud to the latest shift of workers, part of the 4,000-worker force here at the world's largest cigar factory.

Newspapers, poetry, novels, all were fuel for the reader's efforts that informed, entertained, even distracted the cigar makers, people who in many cases had only their labors in common.

That, from the late 1890s to the early 1960s, was a commonplace sight in Ybor City, the polyglot community on the east side of Tampa that at one time employed 18,000 workers in literally dozens of large and small cigar factories and shops that made it the cigar capital of the world.

The factory reader was more than entertainment for the workers. His efforts formed the basis of an education in English for people who had flocked here from Spain, Cuba, Italy, Romania, Germany, even China to find work in the factories, and for whom English was, at best, a second language.

A vibrant, bustling multi-national community grew up around the factories, full of ethnic social organizations whose vestiges remain today, as well as nightclubs, restaurants, small shops, art galleries -- everything that today would draw free-spending tourists.

For Ybor (pronounced EE-bore), however, much of that community infrastructure is just now being recovered or rebuilt, having succumbed to a series of economic downturns, mechanical advances, changes in health consciousness, and that scourge of the 1960s known as "urban renewal."

Urban renewal, that federally-funded and, arguably, misguided program of modernizing cities by urging demolition of their old architecture, in the 1960s delivered a devastating blow to Ybor City's history. Seventy acres of what once had been a separate city were leveled.

Literally hundreds of residential structures were razed to make way for an interstate highway and little else despite ambitious plans for extensive development. Today, thanks to the unflagging efforts of various civic organizations that really began taking hold in the late 1990s, much of the Ybor City that had fallen into disrepair and neglect has been revived.

Art shops, casual dining places, nightlife offerings ranging from traditional Flamenco dancing to hip comedy, plus pocket parks and tourist sites all have helped revive the 500-acre remains.

The resurgence stumbled a bit in the early years of this century, but in the past two years has regained momentum. My most recent visit, just last week, shows a growing number of new bars, restaurants and boutique shops as well as an even greater number of festival-style events.

Ybor is an easy place to navigate, truly a walkers' delight, with several centrally located public parking lots, and plenty of benches for taking a break. Those with less energy can grab one of the RetroStar Pedicabs.

Once you get there, that is.

Most visitors begin in Tampa, then join the eastbound traffic backup at the 20th Street exit of Interstate 4, still the fastest way from Tampa proper. More than 60 bars, nightclubs and restaurants draw up to 30,000 people to Ybor on weekend nights.

Four years ago, the 2.3-mile TECO Line Streetcar System debuted, linking numerous tourist attractions and remote parking areas. The line serves the "visitors crescent" that covers the Tampa Convention Center, the Ice Palace, Garrison Seaport and Florida Aquarium close to downtown Tampa as well as the historic Ybor City district.

The line boasts some pristine renovated trolley cars, but it is more than merely decorative. Last year an estimated 400,000 riders took advantage of the inexpensive rates -- a $2 one-way cash fare, a $4 all-day pass, and various discount packages.

Ybor, named for cigar magnate Vicente Martinez Ybor who founded the community in 1896, is a pleasantly schizophrenic community. A self-guided daytime walking tour will take you from viewing the remaining former cigar factories that have been put to other uses to various statues of local luminaries to Centro Ybor, the commercial center of the community where shopping, dining and nightlife are packed cheek-to-jowl in a curious architectural arrangement -- a bi-level set of brick structures split by Seventh Avenue, Ybor's main thoroughfare.

Many cigar workers lived in casitas, small single-story homes. Three of them have been restored and are part of the Ybor City State Museum at 1818 Ninth Ave. The museum also offers walking tours of Ybor.

One of the renovated cigar factories is now Ybor Square, a mall filled with dining and retail establishments at 1901 North 13th Street. The 113-year-old building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ybor City Brewing Co. -- its Ybor Gold is one of the favorite local beers -- is located in another renovated cigar building, a 104-year-old brick structure at 2205
North 20th Street.

Still another is the 99-year-old former Lozano cigar factory that has been converted to house the Central Florida Lions Eye & Tissue Bank, the world's largest eye bank,
at 1410 North 21st Street.

By day, shoppers, business people, and strolling retirees create comparatively little noise. By night, Ybor is Tampa's hottest hotspot, with a plethora of nightclubs, bars, comedy clubs such as The Improv or the Comedy Works, and casual restaurants drawing everything from college-age kids to Baby Boomers and beyond.

The $50 million Centro Ybor complex includes a 20-screen theater and a high-tech arcade, but even though such offerings usually cater primarily to the younger set, the management has made it more adult-friendly at night with its parental escort policy. After 8 p.m., no one under 18 is allowed in unless accompanied by a guardian 21 or older.

The range of offerings throughout Ybor pays tribute to the community's multicultural sensibilities, from the Irish kitsch of the James Joyce Pub to the drag shows at La
Femme Buvette or the Pleasuredome, or the Georgia/Carolina atmosphere of Moses White & Sons BBQ.

The Green Iguana (there also is one in nearby St. Petersburg) is one of the most popular spots for both social interaction and downright fine food, particularly what is colloquially known as "Floribbean" food, studded with the likes of grouper tacos, fajitas and Jimmy Buffet-esque cheeseburgers. Streetcar Charlie's, one of my favorites, has a large bar and a nice dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows that make it a great spot for people watching while enjoying a good lunch or dinner.

Then there is Gaspar's Grotto, a 10,000 square foot mecca for barbecue events and live entertainment on a large stage in the restaurant courtyard. Inside, a huge bar as well as a pool table-and-sports-TV area take up most opf the room.

The establishment is owned and run by Eric Schiller, a voluble transplanted Bostonian who spent decades at sea, captaining tankers before putting down on land a few years ago when, as he told me during lunch some time ago, "It dawned on me that it might be better to raise a family on dry land."

His love of beer is shown in his willingness to take visitors on a tour of his huge walk-in beer chiller located behind the courtyard of his East Seventh Avenue restaurant.

Those are examples of comparative newcomers. For a taste of old Ybor, I like the 1,200-seat Columbia, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005. It's only a middling restaurant, but an excellent vestige of Flamenco culture, offering old-world Iberian ambiance in intricate tile work, vivid colors and haunting music.

My most enduring memory of a Flamenco show there was watching from a ringside table after dinner as one young lady energetically worked her way through a 20-minute ensemble performance, hammering away with the required powerful staccato steps despite a heavily bandaged ankle. That's show biz.

Lodging possibilities vary in Ybor. In addition to accommodations offered by the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Holiday Inn chains -- the Hilton Garden Inn has an outdoor pool and an indoor workout room, there is my particular choice, the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn, located on Republica de Cuba street.

It was constructed just before the turn of the 20th Century as an office complex by the founder of Ybor City and was used for numerous purposes, including a hospital, before falling into disrepair. Local developer Jack Shiver has restored it as a boutique hotel with gorgeous woods, mosaics and appointments.

Of course, if none of this appeals to you, you might be lured in by Ybor's version of Mardi Gras, a little something known as Guavaween, not to be confused with Tampa's Mardi Gras-style Gasparilla Festival held each February.

The October event draws 100,000 or more to Ybor each year, many in costume, to enjoy a lineup of festivals, concerts and a family fun fest.

Like Mardi Gras, the scene includes women in platform boots, skimpy attire and glitter, and some men similarly attired.

That, too is, show biz.

Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau
• Ybor Online
• Dowd's Guides

A city where it's good to be square

A view of the Guadalajara Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady
from the steps of the Teatro Degollado.

A full view from the Plaza de la Liberacion of the Cathedral.

William M. Dowd photos

GUADALAJARA, Jalisco, Mexico -- Far from the mayhem in many of its border towns held hostage by drug cartels, Mexico's second largest city has many things going for it. A low crime rate, high employment, sprawling public parks, a strong public education system. But those are things you have to dig a little to realize. What stands out immediately are the squares.

From small to immense, squares -- or plazas -- create a network of neighborhoods throughout the city. Usually anchored by a church or a large municipal structure, the squares boast architecture that ranges from Baroque to Gothic to Art Deco to Modern, from late 16th century cathedrals to such new attractions as the Guggenheim Museum. It's a sign that an erratic economy in much of the country is felt much less in this city of 5 million.

In all parts of this bustling city, workers are ripping out old sidewalks and roadways, replacing them with pavings hand-imprinted to resemble cobblestones, burying power lines, installing new street lamps and benches. Two reasons are behind the activity: An impending election, with politicians releasing funds for public works projects, and a general spruce-up since the city will host the Pan-American Games in the fall of 2011.

One square that particularly stands out is the Plaza de la Liberacion, which has the Guadalajara Cathedral or Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady (La Catedral de Guadalajara or Catedral de la Asunción de María Santísima) on one side and the Teatro Degollado on the other.

The church is the Roman Catholic cathedral of the Archdiocese of Guadalajara and a minor basilica. It is built in the Renaissance style, with neo-gothic towers. It began as a primitive adobe structure in 1541, which was replaced in 1618 by a sturdier structure. Earthquakes in 1818 and 1849 severely damaged it, but over the years it was continually repaired and expanded. However, it has continued to be wracked by earthquakes in 1932, 1957, 1979, 1985, 1995 and 2003.

The interior of the soaring structure is a stunning piece of artwork, with seven side altars. The main altar is made of marble and silver, and the windows are of stained glass imported from France.

An interior view of the Cathedral.

Meanwhile, across the plaza, the Teatro Degollado, which is designed to mimic the famous La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, is home to a wide range of live performances, from orchestral to dance to operatic.

The Teatro, as seen approaching it from the square.

Both sides of the main theater are lined with box seats,
designed after Milan, Italy's La Scala opera house.

The theater dates from 1866. It originally was known as the Theater de Alarcon in honor of the Mexican dramatist Juan Diaz de Alarcon, but several years later was renamed in honor of its main benefactor, Governor Santos Degollado.

The theater has undergone numerous restorations and expansions since its inception. Its current seating capacity is 1,340, plus a 200-seat recital hall. It is the permanent home to both the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jalisco and the Folkloric Dance Company of the University of Guadalajara.
• South of the Border, Down Tlaguepaque Way
Mexico's Day of the Dead a Lively Time
Dowd's Guides


Underwater museum planned in Egypt

I'm midway through a paperback novel called "The Lost Tomb," in which author David Gibbins ("Atlantis," "Crusader Gold") takes readers underwater and underground in search of lost antiquities.

His goal: decipher Biblical mysteries and help find artifacts for various museums.

Although "The Lost Tomb" is fiction, it is based on much real archaeological research, equipment and procedures. All wrapped up in the guise of an adventure story, complete with dangers real and imagined.

So, with all this derring-do fresh in mind, the announcement that the world’s first underwater museum is being planned caught my attention.

This particular project by the Egyptian government and UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) will result in a museum to show the rich cultural and historical heritage that can be found under the Bay of Alexandria in northern Egypt.

UNESCO is expected to start preparatory work this month. The agency has established the "Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage," a global initiative expected to become operational by the end of 2008 after its ratification by 20 nations.

The convention highlights the importance of saving submerged cultural property, which has become increasingly vulnerable to pillaging with the development of more sophisticated and affordable diving equipment.

The Egyptian complex, according to particulars released by UNESCO, will be built partly above and partly under water. The submerged part of the complex will enable visitors to see archaeological remains on the seabed, representing an important advance in the development of underwater cultural heritage exhibitions.

“The first underwater discoveries in the Bay of Alexandria were made in 1911, so you see that this is already a long, ongoing issue in one of the most ancient harbors of the world,” Ulrike Koschtial, the representative for the UNESCO Convention, told The Media Line.

“The whole Bay of Alexandria actually still houses the remains of very important archeological sites. You have the place of the Pharaohs -– the ancient lighthouse of Alexandria -– which is one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. You have the Polonike Palace, which was the palace of Cleopatra, and there might also be the grave of Alexander the Great,” she said.

Other artifacts recovered from the Bay of Alexandria and adjacent sites will be presented to the public in exhibition sites above water. Adjacent archaeological sites include Abukir Bay, where the vestiges of the sunken cities of Canopus and Herakleion are to be found.
• Guide to Underwater Archaeology
• Underwater Archaeology
The Museum of Underwater Archaeology
Dowd's Guides

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