Robert Boyle, the chairman of the operating corporation that runs the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, was the last of the true believers, holding tenaciously to the idea that 42nd Street deserved a hotel at its western end. When, during the inconspicuous week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Governor George Pataki unceremoniously replaced Mr. Boyle with someone else, the dream of connecting drab conventioneers to the glamour of Theater Row apparently disappeared forever.
In the short run, Mr. Boyle’s departure has brought into keener focus a competition between two prominent New York developers, Steven Witkoff and Joseph Moinian, to lure the hotel—and at least some of the $150 million in state funds set aside for it—to properties they control on the east side of 11th Avenue in the 30’s, across the street from the Javits Center. In the long run, it has opened up a free-for-all on the overall design of the convention center’s expansion, including consideration of a plan by the developer Douglas Durst.
The expansion as now envisioned is a relic of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Olympic dreams, designed to ooze northward while a football stadium that could double as a convention auditorium would be attached by a tunnel to the south. But the Javits Center, which now stretches from 34th to 39th streets between 11th Avenue and the West Side Highway, would only be able to grow one block northward without hitting a city bus garage at 40th Street. The M.T.A. isn’t keen on moving, so conventioneers would have to walk another block to reach the hotel, originally conceived for a plot between 41st and 42nd streets owned by Ground Zero re-macher Larry Silverstein.
Mr. Silverstein never showed much interest in building a hotel, however. Mr. Witkoff, by contrast, has.
The former real-estate attorney, who owns the Woolworth Building and a number of other properties, showed up himself shortly before the holidays to meet with members of the local community board—an activity many other developers leave to consultants. There, on the sixth floor of the B.M.W. building on West 57th Street, he presented schematic designs for the hotel, which would occupy not just his parcel between 36th and 37th streets but also a concrete plaza to the south controlled by the state agency that is in charge of the Javits expansion.
“It looked a little like the U.N. building, a big north-south slab,” said Anna Levin, co-chair of Community Board 4’s land-use committee for Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen. “There is a bridge over 36th Street, and the hotel entrance would be under the bridge.”
The resemblance to the United Nations tower didn’t go over well, according to Ms. Levin, but the idea of putting the hotel somewhere along 11th Avenue instead of on 42nd Street did. That location would bring the center of gravity closer to 34th Street, which many community residents believe will serve as the axis along which westward development will occur, spurred by a major renovation of the Farley Post Office into a train station. Charles Gargano, the Governor’s top economic aide and chairman of the New York Convention Center Development Corporation, which is now in charge of the expansion, also appears to favor a hotel on 11th Avenue.
Mr. Witkoff didn’t respond to a request for comment. His company’s Web site prides itself on seeing “value where others have perceived insurmountable obstacles”—which may explain why, in an era when hotels like the Plaza are being turned into condominiums, Mr. Witkoff believes that a hotel is still a worthwhile endeavor. It remains to be seen what sort of operating and ownership arrangement would be worked out between his company and the state.
Mr. Moinian, who is developing a number of apartment towers on West 42nd Street, hasn’t been as public about his interest in using the property as a hotel. A spokeswoman said in an e-mail: “This must be complete speculation, as there are no plans as of yet for the property.” The parcel, however, was mentioned as one of two “preferred” locations for the hotel in a memo that surfaced at a hearing on the convention center before a State Assembly committee; the other location was Mr. Witkoff’s property.
It was at that hearing, which was called by Assembly member Richard Brodsky, chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, that Mr. Boyle made a last stand for the 42nd Street design, arguing that the location would attract non-convention guests as well. He also criticized the recent proposal to put in a marshalling yard for exhibitor deliveries.
Mr. Boyle had been in charge of coming up with the first scheme for the expansion, which was in place in December 2004, when the state legislature voted to approve $1.4 billion toward the project.
Mr. Boyle, who was on vacation and unavailable for comment, had been a longtime foot soldier for Governor Pataki, for a spell serving as executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Shortly after the Dec. 14 hearing, he was replaced by Joseph Spinnato, the president of the Hotel Association of New York City. Mr. Brodsky, who is running for State Attorney General, called the move “interference” by the Governor in the workings of what was supposed to be an independent agency running the convention center. A Pataki aide dismissed the charge, saying that Mr. Boyle had been replaced because his term was up and he had become a registered lobbyist in the meantime.
Mr. Brodsky said the state had done precious little in the past year to move the convention-center expansion along, but he said the present juncture was an opportunity to revisit the site plan entirely. After all, the Jets football team and the Olympics for which the stadium would have been built have since gone elsewhere.
“Speed was desirable; now intelligence is,” Mr. Brodsky said. “If we could have a shovel in the ground by January, I might not say that—but we have the rare opportunity to give the plan some thought, and we should do that.”
At the hearing, Mr. Gargano defended the pace of the planning process, saying that the development corporation had taken important preliminary steps over the past year. Before he took over from Mr. Boyle’s agency, there was just “a sketchy concept that showed no evidence of architectural detail,” he said. State officials have generally stuck to that sketchy concept, however, because of the time it took to draw up. Over the past year, Mr. Gargano’s agency invested even more time. That time was spent on steps, however—staffing the agency and selecting the architects—that would need to be finished no matter how or where the expansion would go.
Now, under considerable pressure from Mr. Brodsky, Mr. Gargano is taking a look at other designs that were not restricted—unlike the present one—by the hypothetical football stadium. Whether these designs will convince Mr. Gargano to tear up the plans that have been drawn and start from scratch remains to be seen. (The architectural team was supposed to have a proposal ready by the end of this month.)
The Convention Center Operating Corporation—the one that Mr. Boyle left—met recently with representatives of a team advocating a southern expansion. This design, conceived in part by Mr. Durst and architect Meta Brunzema, would extend the Javits Center south to 30th Street and build a platform over the M.T.A.’s western rail yards where the stadium once would have gone. In addition to a Javits Center annex, the platform would be covered by offices, apartments and a park on this four-block section. The idea is to inspire the sort of development that a convention center in itself would never bring.
“They made it clear that [Mr.] Gargano was calling the shots,” an individual familiar with the meeting said. “He thinks it’s clear that any changes now will only delay it further.”
Another plan that Mr. Gargano will be considering is being advocated by Henry Wollman, the director of the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute at Baruch College. That plan, called “The Flip,” would do away with the present Javits Center entirely while building a new one in an east-west orientation, stretching between 30th and 34th streets from the West Side Highway to 10th Avenue. Mr. Gargano’s office confirmed that a meeting with Mr. Wollman was imminent.
That alternative has also received community support because it opens up the public’s access to the Hudson River in a way that the present Javits—a five-block-long barracks of glass and concrete—does not. It would be much costlier, though Mr. Brodsky argues only in the short term.
“As I understand it, it would free up all that property up and down the river that would be sold to a developer for various uses—and in the meantime, while it was being built, it would not interfere with the operations of the convention center at all.”