Plans for convention center in Corona scaled back to a conference hotel

By Bill Parry

When the Fleet Financial Group purchased the DiBlasi Ford Dealership in Corona for $17 million in December 2013, it announced it would build the borough’s first convention center. The $200 million project called for a 106,000-square-foot-complex that would “rival the Javits Center” and include a 25-story hotel, residential apartments and plenty of retail space.

Queens, a borough of 2.2 million, does not have a convention center.

Fleet Financial Group has modified its plans considerably. Instead of the LaGuardia Convention Center, the company will build The Eastern Emerald Hotel at 112-21 Northern Blvd. across the Grand Central Parkway from Citi Field.

““The reason we scaled down is because we are trying to take more consideration about the existing traffic conditions in the area,” Fleet Financial Group President Richard Xia said. “It’s no longer a convention center, but a conference hotel that will still take advantage of the proximity to LaGuardia Airport and all the highways in the area.”

Xia could not go into any great detail on the specifics of The Eastern Emerald Hotel because “the project is still in its early design phase” and he did not have a timeline. “Right now we’re doing an environmental cleanup, contaminated soil remediation, and then we’ll go forward with the land use process.”

A conference hotel would serve the Asian business community in Flushing, but 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 all these corporate sponsors who have no place large enough to suit their clients,” he said.

Xia is also counting on other business from the $3 billion mega-mall and housing complex that is planned for Willets Point.

“It’s a very viable spot for a conference hotel because there is so much going on around that area,” Rob MacKay of the Queens Economic Development Corporation said. “But I’ll admit I’m disappointed that it won’t be a convention center because there’s tremendous potential there to offer a modern facility so close to the airports. It could’ve been so much better than the Javits Center and it could’ve competed with convention centers around the Northeast if the price was right.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.