As part of his annual State of the State address on January 4, Governor Cuomo surprised all by announcing that he wants to abandon the long-troubled Jacob Javits Convention Center—in the middle of a $500 million renovation—and build a brand new convention center designed by Arquitectonica in Queens. His decision was clearly driven by Malaysian developer Genting Organization making its own recent announcement that it would spend $4 billion on the new convention center, if the state provided the land. It has only been months since the October opening of Genting’s Resorts World, an $800 million casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack where the new convention center would also be located.
Calling the Javits “obsolete,” the governor called for 3.8 million square feet to be built in Queens—outshining the 2.6 million square feet of Chicago’s McCormick Place. The plan also includes 3,000 hotel rooms. The first phase is 2.6 million square feet and is expected to be completed by November 2014. “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.
Back in Manhattan, the governor proposes re-masterplanning the 18-acre Javits site as a mixed-use development akin to Battery Park City, which, he noted, added over 10 million square feet of Class A office space to downtown. While the mega-convention center will be built out in Queen’s, a mere 15 minutes from JFK, the new development on Manhattan’s West Side would include a smaller venue for medium-size trade shows and events. The governor said the plan would compliment the development now underway at Hudson Yards and Moynihan Station.
The announcement drew immediate praise from Community Board 4, which has long sought access to Hudson River Park. As far back as 1999, the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association (HKNA) threw their support behind a plan that would eliminate the Javits and reintegrate five neighborhood blocks back into the street grid.
Architect Meta Bruzema sat on the CB4’s Land Use Committee for several years and developed an alternative plan, with the support of the Municipal Arts Society and the Design Trust for Public Space, in response to Mayor Bloomberg’s ill-fated proposal to build a new sports stadium.
“The plan helped defeat the stadium because there was a credible alternative,” said Bruzema. The design also garnered the attention of the Durst Organization who at the time was competing with Related for the Hudson Yards project. With Durst’s continuing support the plan developed a bit further. Bruzema is now lobbying to see the principles of HKNA’s plans, which also includes developing half of Pier 76 into a community park and drawing Hudson River Park over the West Side Highway, considered in the future development.
A new convention center in Queens faces its own challenges. After praising the governor’s “very bold thinking,” Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia’s GSAPP, said in a phone interview that access to Midtown will be key. “I would promote the high-speed train now that you have deep-pocketed investor with an interest in seeing the area succeed,” he said. “The Aqueduct plan will get you a world-class convention center, but the issue is how to get people quickly back and forth.”
Chakrabarti noted that other Queens options, such as the Sunnyside Rail Yard and Willets Point, both would need substantial infrastructural investments, and do not come with Genting’s money. Still, he praised the plan. “This is the kind of thinking we need to move New York forward. We cannot tax our way out of today’s problems. We have to look at all underutilized assets.“