By CHARLES V. BAGLI
One of Manhattan’s most desirable real-estate assets was at
the center of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal Wednesday to build the country’s
largest convention center at a racetrack-casino in Queens.
A new 3.8-million-square-foot exhibition hall and hotel at
the Aqueduct racetrack in Jamaica, Queens, would free up 18 windswept acres
owned by the state overlooking the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan, a site
occupied since the 1980s by the much- maligned Jacob K. Javits Convention
The land could fetch billions of dollars from developers,
say state officials, urban planners and real estate executives. That could plug
budget gaps and pay for expensive projects, like expanding Pennsylvania
“The Javits site is worth $4 billion,” said Robert Yaro,
president of the Regional Plan Association. “You can release that value and use
it for the long-term advantage of city and state. All by itself, the convention
center in Queens becomes the biggest urban development project in the country.”
Still, the question is whether the Queens project makes
sense, experts said. The convention business is highly competitive, and
attendance is falling around the country. Most convention centers are run by
public authorities at a deficit.
Mr. Cuomo said the Javits center, which is in the middle of
a $500 million renovation, no longer belongs in Manhattan, where it is too
small to compete for the large trade shows now going to convention centers in
Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas.
Under Mr. Cuomo’s proposal, the state would forge a joint
venture with the Genting Group, the Malaysian company that has invested $800
million in opening a gambling hall at Aqueduct. Genting, not the state, would
finance a $4 billion convention center, with a hotel and expanded gambling
space, while the government would contribute the land in Queens.
“This will bring to New York the largest events, driving
demand for hotel rooms and restaurant meals and creating tax revenues and jobs,
jobs, jobs,” Mr. Cuomo said in his State of the State speech. “In addition to
the new convention space, up to 3,000 hotel rooms will be developed. We will
make New York the No. 1 convention site in the nation.”
After the Javits center is demolished, the state would
develop a master plan for housing, hotels and museums on the site, between 34th
and 40th Streets and west of 11th Avenue, and sell or lease the land to
The Javits center has always been busy, but mainly with
trade shows that attract patrons from the New York region, rather than
conventioneers who book hotel rooms and spend a lot of money in Manhattan.
Over the past two decades, many cities have built exhibition
halls or expanded existing convention centers in the hope of attracting
professional associations and similar groups, whose attendees typically spend
four or five days in a city. But competition, the recession and
videoconferencing have taken a toll.
Heywood Sanders, professor of public administration at the
University of Texas and an expert on convention center economics, said he
doubted that the Queens plan would succeed.
“The convention business is a disaster everywhere,”
Professor Sanders said. “Simply building more space gets you nothing more than
a big empty building. And to put it in a place where there aren’t any hotels,
restaurants or amenities next door is to doom it to serving only a local or
But New York City officials said they could lure more
conventions with a larger hall. “It’s absolutely appropriate for the Queens
economy — trying to maximize the benefits of being home to two international
airports,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the Partnership of New York
City. “It would have terrific benefits for the borough and the city economy.”