By Kenneth Lovett
ALBANY — Before Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State address
Wednesday highlighted his vision to build the nation’s largest convention
center at Aqueduct racetrack in Queens, the plan had already taken a major step
On Tuesday, the Cuomo administration quietly inked a letter
of agreement for the project with the operator of the Aqueduct racino, Genting
New York, a Cuomo source told the Daily News.
In the letter, the Malaysia-based casino operator pledged to
invest $4 billion to build the 3.8 million-square-foot facility, the source
Genting already controls 67 acres at the South Ozone Park
site. But the source said the state will help make adjacent Port Authority land
available for the project, and turn existing mass-transit infrastructure into a
“convention center” train.
As The News first reported in its Wednesday editions,
Cuomo’s plan to replace the undersized Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan with a
mega-facility at Aqueduct is a key part of his push to jump-start the state
The massive project would generate tens of thousands of jobs
and fuel major economic activity, Cuomo said in his hour-long address
Wednesday. It would also create up to 3,000 hotel rooms and complement Cuomo’s
call for a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling in the state —
and possibly bring a casino to Aqueduct.
Speaking before a crowd of 2,000 that included lawmakers and
Mayor Bloomberg, Cuomo called New York a “destination location” and said
tourists spent $50 billion in New York in 2010.
But the city’s tourism haul is held back by the Javits
Center, which at just 842,000 square feet is only the 12th largest convention
center in the nation. Chicago has the country’s largest facility, at 3.1
million square feet.
“Right now, the Jacob Javits Convention Center is not
competitive,” Cuomo said. “That hurts the New York economy because we’re just
not getting the shows here.”
With the Aqueduct proposal, Cuomo said the state would “go
from No. 12 to No. 1 — because that’s where we deserve to be.”
Genting Senior Vice President Christian Goode praised the
announcement. “It’s a great time to invest and grow in New York, and we are
thrilled to be able to play a role in creating jobs and increasing tourism,” he
Cuomo also wants to come up with a plan to redevelop the
Javits site. Such a plan, he said, would be modeled after the redevelopment of
Battery Park City, which featured new residential and commercial space,
restaurants, hotels, recreational facilities and parks.
The state will come up with a master plan for the 18-acre,
West Side site and seek $2 billion from the private sector to make it happen,
the governor said.
“As part of the redevelopment, we will explore options for
serving the needs of smaller and medium-sized trade shows at the Javits site or
elsewhere on the West Side of Manhattan,” he said.
Coupled with the development at nearby Hudson Yards and
Moynihan Station, remaking the Javits site would transform the West Side in a
way “that can make a difference,” Cuomo said.
Mayor Bloomberg agreed that the city needs a bigger
convention center and said the Aqueduct site “would make a decent location,”
given its proximity to the airports.
“Aqueduct has the advantage of having a lot of land
available,” Bloomberg said. He warned, however, that the state needs to make
sure people can get to Aqueduct from all parts of the city.
And Bloomberg, who has often butted heads with Cuomo, again
agreed with the governor, saying that Javits center redevelopment would help further
the revitalization of the West Side, which he called the city’s “gold coast.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) cited the
massive private-sector investment that will drive the convention center project
and deemed it “an attractive thing to look at.”
In addition to his splashy convention center plan, Cuomo
also called for the following during his second State of the State address:
– A bipartisan education commission charged with boosting
student performance and improving teacher accountability.
– No new taxes or fees in 2012.
– A power highway — a $2 billion transmission network to
bring upstate power to downstate consumers.
– A state constitutional amendment to legalize casino
– A network to improve communication capabilities during
– A unit in the state housing department charged with
– A databank for DNA samples from anyone convicted of a
crime in the state.
– A $15 billion commitment to rebuilding state
infrastructure, including 2,000 miles of roads and 100 bridges.
– Campaign finance reform, including public financing of