Thursday, January 05, 2012

Cuomo's Convention Plan Makes Little Sense

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued the annual state of the state address yesterday, and there were several nuggets of gold for Southern Queens. He suggested that Genting International, which operates a racino at Aqueduct Raceway, should operate a new 3.1 million square foot convention center facility.

He further suggested dismantling and redeveloping the West Side where the Javits Center is currently located.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an ambitious plan to raze the Javits Center to make room for a multibillion-dollar “21st century neighborhood” on Manhattan’s West Side, as part of a far-reaching State of the State address delivered Wednesday in Albany.

Cuomo proposed replacing the 1986 I.M. Pei-designed complex with a massive new 3.8 million square foot convention center at the Aqueduct Race Track in Queens — built using $4 billion in private funds.

“Let’s build the largest convention center in the nation. Period,” said the governor, who panned the current 842,000 square-foot hall, which is sandwiched between the Hudson River and other properties, as “not competitive” because of its size.

“We’re not getting the shows here,” he said.

The Javits Center recently underwent an expansion — the addition of a modern, column-free hall called Javits Center North that was completed in 2010. It is also in the midst of a major renovation involving the replacement of the roof, skylights and entranceways, which are set to be completed in 2013.

The complex — which is operated and maintained by the state-controlled New York Convention Center Operating Corporation and built on state-owned land — is also near the terminus of the 7 train extension, which is nearing completion as well.
The Javits Center is currently undergoing a nearly $500 million renovation to upgrade and expand the space, which will top out at 860,000 square feet. That's not enough to woo business from other large convention center spaces, but I question the move to redevelop the Javits Center and move conventioneering to Queens.

For starters, the MTA is busy expanding the 7 Line to provide direct access to the subway at the Javits, and it's a 10 minute walk to Herald Square or 20 minutes to Times Square. If you're attending a convention in Queens, you might have easier access to JFK airport, but that's about it. There isn't the kind of mass transit connectivity, nor is there the kind of attractions and businesses that can cater to such development, even if thousands of hotel rooms and other spaces are developed in Queens. People attending conventions want to be in the heart of the city, and a facility in Aqueduct doesn't quite cut it.

It would be a mixed blessing for Queens, and traffic would be even more of a nightmare in that part of Queens to boot (in part due to the lack of transit options).

What would appear to be a better path would be to engage in a serious redevelopment and expansion of the Javits Center into the Hudson Yards area or even atop the West Side Highway. Such a move would make sense from a capital investment perspective. It would also allow for the construction of a bus depot to handle overflow from the Port Authority Bus Terminal for NJ Transit so as to reduce delays and congestion through the Lincoln Tunnel. That's far more critical than trying to build a brand new facility in Queens where the infrastructure isn't even present to deal with the kind of traffic that such a facility would bring.

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