A loser at Aqueduct – Cuomo looks to wrong place for a convention
By LLOYD CONSTANTINE,
Published 12:13 a.m.,
Saturday, February 4, 2012
In every governor’s State of the State address, there must
be one idea, one project, that stands above all. The one that the public and
press will remember when comparing the governor and his "vision
thing" with what actually was accomplished.
Let the Chronicles of
Planet New York forever reflect that on Jan. 4, 2012, Gov. Andrew Cuomo
declared that the state’s most vital need was to build the nation’s largest
convention center in Ozone Park, Queens, on the site of Aqueduct Racetrack.
The state convention
center we have now, named for the late revered Sen. Jacob K. Javits, was
obsolete the day it opened a quarter of a century ago. Plans for expanding or
demolishing it have been discussed ever since.
I participated in more than a decade of those deliberations
as a member of the Javits board from 1995 through 2006.
New York is notorious
for building inadequate massive public works, such as the convention center,
highways on Long Island and the Tappan Zee Bridge. That vital span over the
Hudson, incredibly enough, was built to last only 50 years, through 2007.
Cuomo wants to raze
Javits and construct a 3.8 million square foot facility at Aqueduct, mainly
with capital supplied by Malaysian gambling giant Genting. The Javits site, on
Manhattan’s West Side, would be redeveloped so it could host smaller
This plan involves
two of the most misused plots of real estate in New York City. It also gives
Andrew the opportunity to add his bad idea to the long list of grandiose but
awful plans for the Javits site.
Among those was a new
Yankee Stadium, with adequate mass transportation promised sometime in the
future. Another was a stadium ballpark for the Jets to play in eight days a
year and a grossly unsuitable convention space for the other 357.
Andrew’s plan is also
an opportunity for him to erase the shameful history of the Javits Center
during his father’s tenure as governor. Under the stewardship of a Mario
Cuomo-appointee and close family friend, the center was dominated by organized
My appointment, and
those of former Organized Crime Task Force Chief Ronald Goldstock and former
mob investigator Gerry McQueen, to the Javits management were part of the
Pataki administration’s successful cleanup of Cuomo’s mess.
Andrew’s big plan is
also another chance to pursue the Cuomo family folly, that state-sponsored
gambling is an engine for economic development, regardless of constitutional
barriers. In 1984, Attorney General Robert Abrams opined, as was his legal
responsibility, that Mario Cuomo’s plan for Vegas-style sports betting was
unconstitutional. After that, the governor tongue lashed Abrams, reduced his
departmental budget and threatened to move his offices from the courthouse area
of lower Manhattan to the docks in Brooklyn.
later, casino gambling of the type Andrew proposes for the Aqueduct convention
center is available everywhere. It acts primarily acts as a highly regressive
form of taxation on working- and middle-class local gamblers. The "1
percent" high-rollers will continue to place their bets in venues more
scenic than the Belt Parkway.
New York City has
never needed a convention center in order to be the economic, information and
cultural capital of the world. It has world-renowned theatre, dance, music,
museums, shopping, food, sports, history and commerce.
While Javits loses
some conventions too big to accommodate, it also is true that other exhibitions
that really want to be in Manhattan put up with the limitations. Smaller shows
fill Javits for the vast majority of available dates. But building a mammoth
convention center in a part of Queens remote from Manhattan and attempting to
sell it as a New York City experience is the tourism equivalent of bait and
What is proposed is a
New York state, not city, convention center. Better to build it in Buffalo, a
place almost as convenient to Manhattan as Ozone Park. However, unlike the area
surrounding Aqueduct, Buffalo has things conventioneers should be introduced
It has a finer
Frederick Law Olmstead Park than the one he designed in Manhattan. It has the
largest and best collection of Frank Lloyd Wright structures. Buffalo has
world-class art museums, music, theatre, major league sports teams, two of the
Great Lakes and the Chautauqua Festival and Niagara Falls nearby.
Of course, Buffalo
needs more first-class hotel space and more frequent and reliable service to
its airport. Construction and mass transportation infrastructure and the jobs
that go with them are part of any plan for any massive convention center.
A truly visionary
governor would transcend the parochial boundaries of his Queens roots and see
the map and future of New York from a bolder and loftier vantage point.
Lloyd Constantine is
a Manhattan lawyer. He was a senior adviser to Gov. Eliot Spitzer and is author
of several books, including "Journal of The Plague Year" about the