A Victory of Sorts: Plan for Smaller Expansion of Javits Convention Center Suspended

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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New York, NY – A planned modest increase in exhibit space at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center may not be the best and last hope for expansion of the building after all.

A top representative of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s administration told a New York State Senate Committee February 28 that plans to sell off a city block earmarked for a larger Javits expansion had been shelved in the face of fierce opposition from the trade show industry and its allies in Albany and New York City Hall.

Patrick J. Foye, co-chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation,  testified at the hearing that the plan to sell one of two state-owned lots adjacent to the Javits Center had been “temporarily suspended. ” He also said  a task force would be formed to evaluate plans for the possible expansion of the building. The lots are between 39th and 40th Streets, from 11th to 12th Avenues.

“We are committed to working with our partners in government on a task force to evaluate what needs the convention industry will face in the future, identify potential locations for a more modern convention center, and determine how such a project can be funded,” Foye said. “We need to responsibly prepare for the future, and look forward to envisioning an appropriate site for a real, world class convention center in New York City.”

As reported by The New York Times, Foye appeared to give further weight to the idea that an entirely new convention center could someday be constructed in Queens where land for a building and accompanying hotels would presumably be cheaper and easier to come by than in the crowded Manhattan neighborhood around the Javits Center.

Foye’s testimony was the latest twist in a chaotic and increasingly political debate over the fate of Javits Center and its role as New York City’s primary trade show venue.

Spitzer earlier in February effectively pulled the plug on a significant increase in exhibit space in favor of a less-expensive plan that would effectively “land lock” the convention center by selling off the only remaining state-owned property that could have accommodated new construction.

Spitzer’s administration said at the time that the drastic move was necessary due to ballooning costs that had pushed the project’s price as high as $5 billion. It was instead proposed that Javits Center be given a major rehabilitation that would give the I.M. Pei-designed building a welcome facelift but would provide only a small increase in dedicated exhibit area, reportedly about 40,000 square feet of exhibit space and another 60,000 square feet of meeting space. The plan also called for the sale of the two lots on the north and south side of the Javits Center, which would have effectively eliminated any chance of a larger expansion down the road.

The move angered not only the trade show industry, but also proponents of the much-larger Javits expansion. “The reality is that the sale of this land would basically eliminate any chance of future expansion of this important tourism hub,” said State Sen. John Flanagan, who chaired the February 28 hearing on the Javits tumult before the Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.

The Legislature would have approved Spitzer’s plan to sell the lots and earmark the proceeds for projects other than expansion of the convention center.

Ambitious Earlier Plan

The expansion plan unveiled in 2006 was not originally pegged at $5 billion. That estimate was arrived at during a review of the project launched when Spitzer assumed the governor’s mansion from Gov. George Pataki. Phase I carried a $1.68 billion price tag and would have increased the Javits Center exhibit space by 45%, or 340,000 square feet, to 1.1 million square feet. The second phase called for another 500,000 square feet for exhibits; however a funding plan had not been formed. The project also included a new 65,000 square foot ballroom, meeting rooms and screening facility and marshalling yard for trucks.

There were, however, immediate disagreements. The trade show industry was concerned about closures during construction plus the truck facility, which was deemed unworkable. The political sector voiced concerns that the expansion was either too expensive or not large enough.

Industry Insists Major Expansion is Needed

Friends of Javits maintained its stance that a major increase in exhibit space was required if Javits Center was to remain a viable location for large trade shows. “While we applaud the ‘renovation’ with small expansion, we are still 100% in agreement that the plan presented by the Empire State Development Corporation is a disaster for both the short-term and long-term needs of the convention industry in New York,” said Ken McAvoy, senior vice president of Reed Exhibitions.

McAvoy agreed that $5 billion was probably too high a price to be realistic. Most troubling, he added, was the plan to sell off the only property that could conceivably be used for another expansion in the future. “This eliminates all further expansion for a significant amount of time, because New York will need to find an alternative location, most likely in Queens or Brooklyn, for a new center,” he said. “This could take up to 15 years to complete and would most likely cost more than the $5 billion that it would cost to build the Javits expansion the right way.”

John O’Connell, another member of the Friends of Javits,  called the plan “toxic for New York and its trade show customers.”  He is executive vice president and COO of Freeman.

“If the proposed plan by Gov. Spitzer gets approved and the two blocks adjacent to the Javits are sold, then the trade show community, as we have known it, will have no future expansion possibilities and, in fact, will shrink because of the logistical challenges of servicing existing shows,” O’Connell said.

Stem-to-Stern Inspection

While the Spitzer’s proposal was being debated in the Legislature and the news media, the management of Javits Center was jumping feet first into the mandate to fix up the building.

Javits Center was given an in-depth inspection this Winter that will determine the list of items to be fixed, remodeled or replaced. Crews will have an idea in the Spring of how extensive the to-do list will be, although it’s promised to result in a welcome sprucing up of the busy Manhattan venue.

“This is a very, very extensive analysis of the full building,” Barbara Lampen, president of the New York Convention Center Development Corp., told Trade Show Executive.

The most likely projects include overhauling restrooms, laying new carpeting and fixing up the finishing. Lampen told TSE the heating and ventilation systems would be checked out as well along with all of the floor drops. The exterior glass will also be inspected for possible replacement.

A major component of the renovation will be an extensive repair job, if not outright replacement, of the notorious leaking roof. Leaks, however, raise the potential of hidden water damage. “All of our results so far indicate that those issues aren’t emerging, but we are still in the early stages of the process,” Lampen said.

Reach Barbara Lampen at (212) 803-3110 or blampen@empire.state.ny.us; John O’Connell at (781) 380-7550 or john.oconnell@freemanco.com; Ken McAvoy at (203) 840-5681 or kmcavoy@reedexpo.com

 

Timeline of the Javits Center expansion:

1979 New York Convention Center Operating Corporation (NYCCOC) formed

1984: Javits Center President Thomas Galvin says building will require expansion.

1986 Javits Center, designed by I.M. Pei, completed after two years delay.

1989: Nearly 3 million people visit Javits Center compared to pre-construction projections of 1.7 million.

1990: NYCCOC Chairman Sol Chaikin says Javits needs to be expanded by one third.

2004: Expansion proposed to increase exhibit and meeting space to 1.3 million square feet.

2005: State Legislature approves $1.7 billion expansion to 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space; Richard Rogers Partners selected as architect.

2006: Expansion plan unveiled; Ground broken; RFP for convention hotel issued. Trade show industry protests plan for truck marshalling.

2007: State cites alarming projected cost increases to $3.1 billion as reason to reconsider scope of project; New governor Eliot Spitzer considers larger expansion that would top $4 billion. Friends of Javits formed by trade show industry to provide input to design process.

2008: State shelves expansion in favor of scaled-back $800 million plan to renovate existing center with modest increase in exhibit space. Proposal sent to the New York State Legislature.

2012: Projected start date for renovations