Times Herald-Record

A major chain motel – think Hilton, Marriott or Holiday Inn – could finally be rising just outside Monticello.

New stores and offices could be opening in the Town of Thompson.

And, it seems, just about everyone who owns real estate on the eastern end of Sullivan County wants to build affordable housing.

Just seven weeks after Sullivan County finally landed what developers, real estate brokers and speculators have been betting on for nearly a half century – a casino – the frozen eastern Sullivan real estate market is showing signs of heating up. It’s “percolating,” as Orange County Realtor RJ Smith describes it, because of the Montreign Resort Casino at Adelaar and the more than 2 million visitors per year and 3,000 construction and permanent jobs it will bring.

“No question about it,’’ says Town of Thompson Supervisor and longtime Monticello Realtor Bill Rieber, “there’s been an uptick in interest.”

It’s too early for records to show exactly what’s been sold because of the $1.1 billion casino resort at the old Concord hotel site, but real estate brokers, county officials, developers and some title searchers see real action in this county where only 21 commercial MLS properties were sold in 2014 and where some For Sale signs are so old, they’re often as tattered as the properties they advertise.

“They know the game is on, and they want to get a foot in the door,” says James DiNapoli of Rock Hill’s Country Homes and Properties, a former president of the Sullivan County Board of Realtors. “All day long, I have people calling, saying they want to open a clothing store, a day care center. Most impressive are the attorneys from Rockland and Orange who want to expand their offices.”

That, says DiNapoli, is an indication that those attorneys think there are more clients – and businesses – coming to Sullivan.

“There’s real life going on; the casino is a catalyst,” agrees one of the holders of some of the choicest casino-area properties, Samuel Eisenberg of Monsey in Rockland County, who owns 300 acres of prime highway land bordering Route 17 between Exits 105 and 104, among other large parcels.

While he and others, such as RJ Smith and motel developer Chet Patel of Middletown, mention interest from national mall, motel and restaurant developers, by far the most demand is for affordable housing for the casino workers.

Apart from the under-construction Golden Ridge housing project behind the McDonald’s on Route 42 in the Town of Thompson, which will feature 104 units of workforce and veteran’s housing along with 200 units for seniors, Sullivan County has little if any new housing for workers at Montreign, which could open in 2017.

Montreign has been deluged with calls from property owners and developers who want to provide it.

“We’ve seen significant inquiries,”  says Charlie Degliomini, executive vice president for Montreign’s parent company, Empire Resorts. They’ve received so much interest, Empire has created a special email address for anyone with information or questions about rental and/or permanent housing: housing@empireresorts.com.

Empire isn’t the only party fielding requests. Western Sullivan County real estate agent David Knudsen of Catskill 4 Sale has gotten calls from construction companies looking for garden apartments for its workers.

Eisenberg says he’s “involved” with a Monticello-area development of 185 workforce housing units.

Dennis Newberg, president of Upstate Abstract of New York title search company, says that need is why many landlords of rundown properties on the outskirts of Monticello are now “fixing up large buildings for rentals” and trying to unload properties they’ve held onto for years.

All of this interest – before the traditionally busy spring thaw of both ground and market – is why many property owners throughout Sullivan are raising asking prices by tens of thousands of dollars, say realtors like Rieber, DiNapoli and Knudsen.

Those sellers may be asking too much too soon.

“They’re getting a little greedy,” Rieber and other brokers say.

And developers whose projects have been in – and out of – the pipeline for years, and who finally see light at the end of Sullivan’s dark economic tunnel, still want to make absolutely sure their plans jive with the casino’s. That’s why motel developer Patel doesn’t want to say much about his project, although he does say he’s licensed by the corporations that own Marriott, Hilton and Holiday Inn.

“It’s an ever-changing landscape,” says Patel, whose site is located near the McDonald’s on Route 42, “and we want to be prepared.”

The real test will come in the spring, when Montreign begins construction and the real estate market normally heats up.

“I believe when the weather breaks, that’s when things will really take off,” says Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President Marc Baez.

And that’s when the true impact of the long-awaited casino will begin to be felt.

“The question is, how far will the tentacles of the casino reach?” says Smith.