Cuomo’s Convention Center Plan: A Gamble in Any Form

While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan for the $25 billion revitalization of the state -- including a convention center, hotel and casino in Queens -- is ambitious, is it the right move?

January 5, 2012
By Nicholas Ziegler, News Editor

A rendering of the proposed convention center.

In his State of the State speech on Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out an ambitious plan for the state that included plans for a 3.8 million-square-foot convention center in Queens – as well as what could be New York City’s first full-blown casino. In order to do so, he called for the sale of the 1980s-vintage Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the city’s West Side.

The plan, where Cuomo called for “public-private partnerships that leverage state resources to generate billions in economic growth and create jobs,” would see private firms submit investment proposals to the state legislature before the administration would put together funds in return in the form of tax breaks, capital aid, matching federal funds and more to finalize the deal.

Cuomo said the convention center – which is in the middle of a $500 million renovation – no longer belongs in Manhattan, so bold steps would be needed to compete for trade shows in other cities such as Orlando and Las Vegas.

One of those private firms, Genting Americas – a subsidiary of the Malaysian firm Genting Group, which spent $800 million in developing the Aqueduct Racetrack gambling site – would have a joint venture with the state to finance the $4 billion project. Genting already operates the Resorts World New York Casino on the site, where it has a 30-year lease on land with an option to renew for another 10 years.

On Thursday, Genting said it would have the first, 2.6 million-square-foot phase of the project completed by 2014, with construction of the first of 3,000 proposed hotel rooms to begin in November 2015.

The Associated Press reported that the city has been losing billions in convention revenue – and has faced a flight of companies out of the city since the passing of the so-called “millionaire’s tax” last year.

According to the New York Daily News, Gentring, the developer which already runs the racing events at the site, the company wants exclusivity in the area were casino gambling to become legal. While neither Cuomo nor Gentring commented on specifics, a Gentring rep said the project is not contingent on casino’s legality. Cuomo is reported to be pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow gambling in the state.

“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,” Cuomo said in his speech. “In addition to the new convention space, up to 3,000 hotel rooms will be developed. We will make New York the number-one convention site in the nation.”

Cuomo’s plan is already under fire from some sides. “Convention centers all over the country are money-losing white elephants, so basically what the governor is saying is that we ought to build the nation’s largest money-losing white elephant in New York City,” E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute told CBS New York.

Haywood Sanders, a professor of public administration at the University of Texas at San Antonio, spoke with NPR affiliate WNYC and called Cuomo’s ideas “crazy,” noting that, in the face of economic uncertainty, “travel to conventions is something that is relatively easy to cut back on.” He also disliked the center’s location, saying that, since the convention center would not be in Manhattan, “it is not a site surrounded by the kinds of visitor amenities that one would think make for an attractive, desirable convention location.”

But the other side has been seen as well. Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, was “thrilled” to hear the plans. “Repurposing the Javits Center Site holds the potential to create thousands of jobs and revitalize the metropolitan area. I applaud Governor Cuomo for using this moment of economic challenge as an opportunity to launch long-discussed but rarely acted on projects, and for his leadership in putting New Yorkers back to work.”

After demolishing the Javits Center, the plan would see the existing land sold to developers, with the state creating a master plan for housing, hotels and museums on the site.