Governor, Racino Operator Outline Convention Ctr. Plan
With cautious optimism, local lawmakers and community leaders applauded plans for the development of the nation’s largest convention center at Aqueduct Racetrack/Resorts World New York casino in South Ozone Park, which was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address in Albany last Wednesday, Jan. 4.
As outlined by the governor, the $4 billion proposal would create a 3.8 million sq. ft. facility that replaces the Jacob Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side as the city’s destination for car shows, comic book conventions and other events which attract thousands of tourists from around the world.
The governor noted that the project would be funded by Resorts World New York’s parent company, Genting Americas, as a “joint venture” and would generate “tens of thousands of jobs and economic activity that will ripple throughout 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 stated. “In addition to the new convention space, up to 3,000 hotel rooms will be developed. We will make New York the #1 convention site in the nation.”
Cuomo also announced his support of an amendment to the state constitution that would permit table games at Resorts World New York and other casinos across the Empire State. Under the state constitution, the proposed amendment must be passed by the Assembly and State Senate in two separate sessions, then must be approved by voters in a ballot referendum in order to be ratified.
“Genting Americas is extremely excited about this opportunity to partner with Governor Cuomo to build the largest convention center in the country,” said Christian Goode, senior vice president of Genting Americas, in a Jan. 4 statement. “It’s a great time to invest and grow in New York, and we are thrilled to be able to play a role in creating jobs and increasing tourism.”
A ‘NICE’ place to visit
The day after Cuomo’s speech, Genting Americas sent to the Times Newsweekly a fact sheet regarding the development project and computer renderings of what the convention center—dubbed as the “New York International Convention and Exposition Center” (NICE)—would look like upon completion.
According to the fact sheet, Resorts World would finance the project “through a combination of debt and equity.” NICE would be developed in two phases—the first includes the construction of a 2.6 million sq. ft. convention space that will be completed “at the earliest” by November 2014. A1,000-room hotel would also be erected and opened by the following year.
Genting noted that the convention area would be built “on land which is currently leased to Resorts World New York,” though it did not specify where.
The Times Newsweekly sent an email to Genting and Resorts World representatives seeking more information about the location of the convention center within the Aqueduct grounds, but as of press time, no response was provided.
Resorts World noted that more than 10,000 construction jobs and over 10,000 permanent jobs would be created as a result of the convention center project. As it did with the Resorts World New York casino, the management indicated that it would focus on hiring locally, especially “minorities and women.”
In a letter sent on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Cuomo stated that “the second phase would require additional land beyond the 67 acres currently under lease to Genting. The Port Authority controls an adjoining 22 acres which Genting is considering for an additional 2,000 hotel rooms and approximately a half million more square feet of convention and meeting space.”
The New York Racing Association (NYRA) previously claimed to own Aqueduct’s 67 acres but ceded that claim to the state as part of an agreement to continue its thoroughbred racing license. The racing outfit receives a portion of all revenue generated by gaming machines at the Resorts World racino to support its operation and boost purses.
Since NICE would replace the Javits Center as the city’s convention destination, Cuomo noted in his address that the state—through another private partnership—would redevelop the Javits Center site into “a mixed use facility” based on the Battery Park City model. More than $2 billion in private funds would be required to create the new neighborhood on the 18-acre West Side property.
In his letter to Silver and Skelos, Cuomo stated that “in each of the VLT racinos across the state, the state has, through legislation, negotiated a revenue sharing agreement and such an agreement would need to be negotiated here. Importantly, the new agreement would be binding only upon the new VLT (video lottery terminal) revenue which would be granted to the Aqueduct facility; while the terms and conditions of our original agreement remain in place. Hence, there is only the possibility of additional revenue for the state as our current revenue stream would be untouched.”
The last bullet point on the convention center fact sheet indicated that Genting and the state “would work alongside the MTA to help fund and introduce uninterrupted subway service between Midtown Manhattan and” the convention center. No specifics were provided as to how.
Cuomo stated in his Jan. 10 letter to legislative leaders that “transportation to the site is an issue that needs to be addressed and we have been discussing the feasibility of MTA service from Manhattan to Aqueduct, with Genting paying the cost of such service.”
Overall, elected officials and community leaders in Queens were welcoming of the convention center proposal at Aqueduct as a coming boon to the local economy that would put more residents back to work. At the same time, they cautioned the planners to work with the community so that surrounding communities are not burdened with major quality-oflife problems resulting from the center’s opening.
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall noted that she has long advocated for the creation of a convention center in Queens—namely at Willets Point, where a development plan is still pending—and expressed her pleasure in Cuomo’s announcement.
“This forward-looking proposal, in addition to creating tens of thousands of jobs, would generate thousands of hotel rooms and put national and international events close to Kennedy Airport, mass transit and complement the Aqueduct racino complex, which already has become the highest-earning racino in the State of New York,” Marshall said. “Although we do not know the details and we need to speak to local elected and community leaders, there is excitement in the air, and we look forward to working with Governor Cuomo.”
Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, called the convention center proposal at Aqueduct/Resorts World “a huge victory for the borough of Queens.”
“The proposal to build the largest convention center in the nation at Aqueduct is an ambitious plan that must be undertaken responsibly and appropriately with real community involvement and interaction,” added Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder. “In addition, it will create new infrastructure opportunities and funding potential for much needed transportation upgrades such as increased express bus service, ferry service and rehabilitating the Rockaway Railroad Line. This would increase access to the site and provide southern Queens and Rockaway residents with faster commute times.”
The A train, which services Aqueduct/ Resorts World, runs along the former Rockaway Beach branch of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR); parts of the defunct line—which runs through Rego Park, Forest Hills, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and Ozone Park—were abandoned after LIRR service was discontinued. There has been a debate recently over whether to revitalize the line for public transportation or convert it into a linear park similar to the High Line in Manhattan.
Rep. Bob Turner sent a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to include members of Community Board 10 and local stakeholders in the planning process.
“It would be in the best interest of the project to have those who know the area provide feedback as to what approach would be most beneficial to this massive undertaking,” Turner said in a statement. “Seeing as they (Board 10) will be responsible for a lot of the issues that arise due to the project, they should be involved in the planning stages.”
State Sen. Joseph Addabbo noted that while he is “enthusiastic about the idea of a convention center” at Aqueduct, he insisted that the state and Genting “should proceed forward in a cautious manner.”
“I am an advocate for community input on this project and feel most people would want to see plans or drawings for the proposal,” Addabbo said. “Given our current economic situation, I would certainly work toward creating the thousands of jobs and revenue to the city and state the convention center brings.”
The idea of a convention center at the Aqueduct/Resorts World site was something many people in the community had anticipated, but Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton noted that the proposal announced by the governor last Wednesday was of a scale which “none of us” expected.
Still, “Board 10 will approach this proposal by the governor with an open mind and we’ll work as this moves forward to ensure that our community is fully informed, has input and that their viewpoints are heard,” she added. Braton expects that Genting/Resorts World representatives will present a plan to the board at an upcoming meeting.
The Times Newsweekly also contacted the NYRA seeking comment about how the convention center plan may impact its operations. According to a NYRA spokesperson in an e-mail sent on Monday, Jan. 9, the organization declined to comment since it had not seen any plans for the project as of yet.