First Impressions of the Cuomo Convention Center Plan

While congratulating Andrew Cuomo on his first-year achievements, Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute thinks yesterday’s State of the State address was pretty weak. In her Post column, Gelinas derides two of Cuomo’s signature economic initiatives — conventions and casinos — as strikingly out of touch.

On the governor’s plan to develop the largest convention center in the country in Queens, Gelinas writes:

Since the 1990s, state and local governments desperate for stimulus have spent tens of billions on convention space with little to show for it. States and cities were spending $2.4 billion a year, even as “the overall convention marketplace is declining,” Brookings Institution expert Heywood Sanders noted in 2005. A decade ago, 126 million people went to conventions; last year, it was 86 million.

Cuomo says he wants our convention center to be bigger than Chicago’s? Hah: The Windy City’s center draws just half of the business it could handle, my colleague Steven Malanga has found.

Bizarrely, Cuomo wants to shut the Javits Center and build the space in Queens. No, Javits has never succeeded, but do doctors who want to let their hair down for a weekend want to go to Queens — or to Las Vegas or New Orleans? Those latter cities are good at conventions, and offer warm weather and location that New York won’t. Plus, they’re cheap.

If the convention industry itself is experiencing a long-term downswing, it’s hard to see how a brand new multi-billion dollar mega-convention center would be much of a boon for business.

While it’s disappointing to see Cuomo tout a glitzy mega-project as economic development while ignoring bread-and-butter issues like subway and bus service (also noted by Gelinas), Streetsblog readers have pointed out one potential upside: Redeveloping the Aqueduct site in Ozone Park could spur reactivation of the LIRR’s defunct Rockaway Branch.

Then there is the issue of the existing Javits Center site. This morning the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association issued a press release [PDF] praising the Cuomo plan to relocate Javits “after years of community advocacy to restore access to the Hudson River by re-opening five streets (W. 35th to W. 39th) closed since 1986.” In addition, if the state sells the Javits site and invests billions in proceeds in transit infrastructure, the deal could work out to the city’s advantage.

It’s a lot to consider. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • Barb

    I would never travel for a convention Queens! Who would? What a horrible waste of all of our money and this is the best the Governor could come up with for economic development!? pathetic!

  • JK

    The Genting Company issued a fact sheet on the proposed convention center here http://www.scribd.com/doc/77265095/Genting-NICE-Fact-Sheet4-2.

    1. It says Genting will pay for the convention center.
    2. Genting says there will be an express subway ride between Aqueduct and Midtown per,

    “RWNY and the state would work alongside the MTA to help fund
    and introduce uninterrupted subway service between Midtown Manhattan and the New
    York International Convention and Exhibition Center.”

  • Eric McClure

    While redeveloping the site of the Javitz Center into a mixed-use neighborhood would be a big benefit, the idea of building a new mega-convention center at Aqueduct is just plain dopey.

    Last I checked, the attraction of having a convention in NYC was having a convention in NYC, and by NYC I mean Manhattan (we can add northwest Brooklyn to that now).  Why in the world does airport access matter?  Any number of cities around the US could replicate that, at a much lower cost to conventioneers.Nicole Gelinas is a welcome counterpoint to the mainstream media that keep on fawning over President, er, Governor Cuomo.

  • More and more conferences are moving online. When you add the increased pressure to be more productive on the job to the indignities of “modern” air travel, businesses are finding it expedient to use webinars and online conferences, while slashing budgets for expensive, inconvenient and time-consuming conventions. Is the Cuomo administration so out of touch with current business realities that they would seriously consider spending billions on this boondoggle? It’s time they got their heads out of the twentieth century.

  • Urbanist

    Last time I checked the State was spending millions to replace the roof on Javits and to redo the interior. I’m all for mixed-use development, but why tear it down after spending millions to spruce it up (if that is in fact what AC is recommending)? And although its frequently maligned as a “failure” and “inadequate”, Javits is one of the busiest convention centers in the US. Why? Location, location, location. The Queens idea is boondoggle.  

  • Ian Dutton

    “Redeveloping the Aqueduct site in Ozone Park could spur reactivation of the LIRR’s defunct Rockaway Branch”
    We are still talking about Gov. “Rip Transit Out of the Bridge Plan” Cuomo, right? Isn’t it more likely he’d want the tracks converted to Corvette-only lanes to the convention center?

  • HamTech87

    Is there a good map of the Rockaway Beach line?  Can’t find one anywhere.  thanks.

  • Gov. Cuomo is basically pulling an end-around on the state Senate with the so-called New York Works Infrastructure Fund, which presumably is going to pay for the new Tappan Zee Bridge. The fund will fund projects much in the same way that private sector and Wall Street companies fund them through highly controversial “public-private partnerships”, or “P3s” for short. Only 33 states have P3-specific legislation, and NY was in line to be 34th via s.5445, a bill authored by Sen. Charles Fruschillo.

    In a typical P3 arrangement, the state will lease a public asset, such as a toll road or bridge, parking meter systems, power plant, social infrastructure complex, etc., in exchange for an upfront lump sum payment, usually raised through the capital markets. They are controversial because states, such as California and Nevada, that have executed these agreements had to pay through the nose when those agreements went bankrupt (see “Las Vegas Monorail” and “South Bay Expressway”) or the economy got tough, and tax payers faced heftty toll and parking rate increases levied by banks such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs (see “Chicago parking meter rates).

    Some states do not allow these types of arrangements for the aforementioned reasons, and have found the notion of turning over publicly-owned assets to a$$holes like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon so that they can hike toll and parking meter rates through the roof to be downright distasteful. Perhaps Dimon and Blankfein can use some of the $700 billion they got for free as part of the bailout to pay for infrastructure?

    Anyway, what Cuomo is doing is pulling an end-around on the legal system. By creating the NY Works Infrafund and having it be controlled in part by the likes of people such as Lloyd Blankfein or Jamie Dimon or John Mack, the state is basically engaging in P3 deals without having to legally say that it is. NYS construction companies and entire unions will be left in the cold in favor of cheaper, foreign construction companies such as Cintra (see Texas’ North Tarrant Expressway) and T.Y. Lin International (see Goethals Bridge).

    All I’m saying is that people should take Cuomo’s plan with a grain of salt.

  • Par-tay…

    in Howard Beach! 

  • New York City had 50 million visitors last year, so whatever extra draw the convention center brings will be a drop in the bucket. Wouldn’t it make sense to spend more money luring big-spending foreign tourists instead of cheapskate convention-goers?

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