By Bill Parry
Queens is finally getting a convention center.
Fleet Financial Group purchased the DiBlasi Ford Dealership in Corona for $17 million last month and is planning to build a 106,000-square-foot complex that will include a 25-story hotel, residential apartments and 97,000 square feet in retail space a restaurant and an underground parking garage with space for 300 cars
“We’ve been talking about it for over two years,” Fleet president Richard Xia said. “There are already so many components in place that we’ll be ready to break ground on the project as early as June.”
The convention center will stand across the Grand Central Parkway from Citi Field, at 112-21 Northern Blvd.
“This fills a great need for Queens,” Xia said. “People fly in to Queens and leave for conventions at Javits or at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, now they won’t have to leave the borough.”
Rob MacKay, director of marketing and tourism at the Queens Economic Development Corp., believes the location is perfect for a convention center.
“It makes more sense than the one that was planned at Aqueduct because JFK is an international airport, LaGuardia is for domestic flights and conventions are mainly domestic affairs,” MacKay said.
He added that area hotels would benefit in the long term with more guests and in the short term with the actual construction.
“The workers that will build it will stay in local hotels and that will be a boon,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans for a $4 billion casino and convention center at Aqueduct collapsed in 2012.
Citi Field and the $3 billion Willets Point project will be present and future draws for hotel customers , but MacKay said, “Don’t forget that Flushing is a hotbed of Asian economic activity. Hotels like the Sheraton cater to the Chinese nouveau riche.”
Xia has his eyes on an annual event that brings nearly a million visitors to the area each year.
“The US Open is huge and you have these corporate sponsors who have no place large enough to suit their clients,” he said. “It’s going to be great for the area.”
And easily reached, according to MacKay.
“The venue is well-situated for motorists, it’s right near a few major bridges and highways, easy to get to from Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut,” he said. “There’s also the branding aspect. A convention center — from the planning stage right now through construction through the events — puts Queens in the spotlight and that’s priceless.”
MacKay did identify one drawback to the convention center’s location, though, saying, “The only downside is when Flushing Bay is at low tide, it smells really bad. Other than that, it’s a great location.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.