By Diane M. Calabrese
Bright, bold moves come in all forms. In June 2005, the government of Tioga County, New York, voted to allow horse racing and gaming via video lottery terminals within its borders.
The vote gave the green light to a project conceived by American Racing and Entertainment, LLC, to bring 750 video gaming machines to Tioga Downs Race Track, LLC, in Nichols, New York. Construction began in July 2005 and was completed in time to open on July 4, 2006, with a grand-opening celebration on July 10.
Tioga Downs is at home on 138 acres in the town of Nichols near the Pennsylvania border, just 20 miles west of Binghamton, and equidistant from the metropolitan centers of New York City and Buffalo. The 19,000-square-foot gaming facility is part of an entertainment venue that includes a 90,000-square-foot grandstand, restaurants, lounges, arcades, entertainment, retail, and live harness racing, as well as simulcasting.
The Nichols region has a pool of construction expertise that the builder of Tioga Downs was eager to use. American Racing, which owns 100 percent of Tioga Downs, is committed to hiring local contractors, explains Mark Phifer, its Project and Facility Manager. That commitment was rewarded.
“I was very pleased with the amount of talent and the tradesmen in the area,” he says. “All the contractors were outstanding.”
The racetrack at Tioga is the first built in New York State in 40 years, explains Phifer. A lot has changed in that interval, including the pairing of high-tech services, such as simulcasting, with the traditional live experience. Finding an electrical contractor capable of meeting the aggressive schedule of a nine-month timeframe to create the carnival theme and lighting was easier than Phifer anticipated. “Matco stepped right in to handle the complicated work,” he says.
Matco Electric Corporation, Vestal, New York, was one of more than 20 subcontractors on the Tioga Downs gaming facility project. LPCiminelli, Inc., Buffalo, New York, was the construction manager.
“It’s just a real exciting project,” says Kyle Tuttle, Senior Vice President with LPCiminelli. And that included “working through the heart of winter” to get the job done, he explains.
“Teamwork” accounted for the success, Tuttle underscores. “This was a fast-track project, so we deployed a fast-track schedule. We met the schedule; we met the budget. We had zero lost-time accidents.”
The project began with demolition of an existing building that dated to the 1970s, and the end result was a “beautiful product,” says Tuttle. “The results speak for themselves. It’s nice to go through a project where everybody wins.”
The professionalism of the Matco team gets high marks from Tuttle. “I want to recognize Gary Czuhanich, the Project Manager, and Anthony Salvatore, the Superintendent,” he explains. “They both did a very nice job. And they were both a pleasure to work with.”
Salvatore takes the work in stride. “My role…was to make sure the customer was provided with what was needed, to make sure we were on time and on budget for a quality project,” he says. “The compressed schedule was a challenge for all the subs, and everyone was determined to meet it.”
The Matco team that worked on the Tioga project with Gary and Anthony included Steve Sedlecek, Dean Lillis, Dixie Banner, and Larry Parsons. Their contributions were instrumental to the project’s success.
Matco worked inside the carnival- themed Racino, or the main indoor gaming setting, as well as outdoors. Interior work called for many “different types of lighting under one roof, more than 100 different styles of lights, for the theme,” says Salvatore. “There’s up lighting, down lighting, festoon type, tracks. It has a lot of grandeur to it. Everyone I’ve seen come through the facility is in awe of the grandeur. The high-definition video display and the simulcast areas are very vibrant.”
Indeed, many visitors are likely to come just for dinner, says Salvatore. “It’s a very comfortable facility,” he explains. “It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.” Dining facilities include Country Fair Buffet, Finish Line Deli, and Coasters Sports Bar.
Providing everyone convenient access to all that Tioga Downs has to offer began with the site work. A quarter of the electrical work Matco provided at Tioga Downs was for lighting the parking lot, landscaping, building, walking paths, and track, as well as underground work for power, phone, and data. Racetrack timing and track cameras were also installed.
After removing existing wood poles and light structures, Matco erected 17 70-foot steel poles and mounted structures on the grandstand to support 24 2,000-watt photo-finish lights.
The track lighting operates off an independent generator. All other power is supplied from the grid by New York State Electric & Gas Corp., explains Salvatore.
Global positioning satellite (GPS) site determination was used to locate pole positions. The high-tech tool saved time and allowed excavation and conduit installation to move ahead of schedule.
In all, site work at Tioga Downs for electrical systems encompassed 27,000 feet of excavation, 75 cast-in-place pole bases, 53 hand poles, 16 manholes, and foundations for track lights. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) conduit stretched to 37,000 feet, while 170,000 feet of wire was used.
“There’s an old saying, ‘If you build it, they will come’,” says Phifer. “The first day of racing was the first day in months I got any sleep” — because they did. “Tioga Downs can give a new birth to the region.”
Phifer is elated by the prospect of bolstering the local economy. “People in this area are great people,” he says. “Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for more business.”
In that context, Tioga Downs will truly be a beacon. Phifer credits Matco with the role it had in helping light the way. “Matco did an outstanding job,” he says. “That’s from the owner’s perspective and the perspective of Kyle Tuttle. We’re both very pleased.”