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.