New York, NY – The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center faces the prospect of a modest and final expansion as the State of New York moves toward a plan to renovate the building with a small amount of new exhibit space and at the same time, sell two blocks of adjacent land that could have been used for a much larger expansion.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer 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.
“The reality is that the sale of this land would basically eliminate any chance of future expansion of this important tourism hub,” State Sen. John Flanagan said in announcing a February 28 hearing on the Javits tumult before the Senate Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions.
The Legislature must approve Spitzer’s plans to sell the two lots located on the north side of Javits Center and earmark the proceeds of projects other than expansion of the convention center.
Whether Spitzer’s proposal is the final say on the Javits expansion depended in large part on the Legislature blessing the controversial land sale. At the same time, the management of Javits Center jumped 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.
Rising Costs Scuttle Major Expansion
Javits Center last year was poised for a major expansion. Plans changed this Winter when Spitzer backed away at the last minute and shelved the expansion as being too expensive. The newer plan, submitted through the Empire State Development Corp., calls for a small expansion of exhibit space, likely about 40,000 gross square feet, another 60,000 square feet of meeting space plus a top-to-bottom renovation.
The move left the trade show industry wondering exactly how Javits would be improved and if the improvements would be suitable to support major trade shows in the coming years. Friends of Javits, an organization of representatives of the industry who had been making their views known to city and state officials, told TSE that the plans appeared to be up in the air.
Some of the uncertainty comes from the fact that the Spitzer plan hinges on the Legislature’s approval that would effectively cancel the second phase of the original expansion and also authorize the sale of the two lots that were to be used for the project.
Although no official details of the revised expansion plan were given as of mid-February, local media reports pegged it at 40,000 gross square feet of dedicated exhibit space and 60,000 square feet of meeting space. The building currently offers 760,000 net square feet of exhibit space, placing it at #16 on the TSE list of the top convention centers in the U.S.
Major NYC Trade Shows Endangered?
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 a 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 expand Javits the right way.”
John O’Connell, executive vice president and COO of Freeman and another member of Friends of Javits, called the plan “toxic for New York and its trade show customers.”
“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.
Ambitious Earlier Plan
The expansion plan unveiled in 2006 was not originally pegged at $5 billion. That estimate was made during a review of the project when Spitzer assumed the governor’s mansion from Gov. George Pataki. Phase I had carried a $1.68 billion price tag and would have increased Javits Center’s exhibit space by 45%, or 340,000 gross square feet, to 1.1 million gross square feet. The second phase called for another 500,000 gross square feet for exhibits; however a funding plan had not been developed. The project also included a new 65,000 square foot ballroom, meeting rooms and a 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.
City vs. State in Size Debate
The issue has spilled largely out of the realm of what is best for the Javits Center and its customers and into a larger political dual between state and city government that involves budgets and the proposed sale of valuable land adjacent to the Manhattan convention hall.
Spitzer’s camp contends that the larger expansion plan had to be shelved due to rising costs that inflated the price tag to around $3 billion, if not $5 billion. In addition, the city’s hotel industry grew nervous and balked at a proposal to raise the room tax by a hefty $1.50 per night to help finance Phase I of the project.
Spitzer now has since proposed selling off two state-owned lots next to Javits Center that would have been used for the larger expansion, a move that would make any expansion down the road virtually impossible.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration has since chided Spitzer for selling the land, supposedly for the short-term purpose of using the proceeds to bolster the state’s general fund. City Hall also warned the state that without a significant expansion of Javits, the Big Apple’s ability to host major trade shows could be in jeopardy.
Timeline of the Javits Center Expansion:
1979: New York Convention Center Operating Corporation (NYCCOC) formed; authorized plans for the New York Exposition & Convention Center at a cost of $364 million and offering 700,000 square feet of exhibit space 1980: Groundbreaking ceremony held
1983: Amended plans brought cost to $399 million due to higher design, building and financing costs.
1984: Thomas Galvin, Javits Center president, says the plans for the center were too modest and recommended an additional 750,000 square feet of exhibit space for a total of 1.45million square feet. The Cuomo administration rejected the idea as premature. The center was riddled with controversy and red ink.
1986: Javits Center, designed by I.M. Pei, was completed after two-year 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: Proposed expansion 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.