Governor Spitzer’s plan for the Javits Center is drawing fire from a whole bunch of angry advocacy groups and officials, and that could spell a whole bunch of trouble for Hudson River Park, Governors Island, and a downstate affordable housing plan. (I wrote about other troubles in Hudson River Park in this week’s print edition.)
The dissent about the Javits plan, and its relationship to the parks and housing program, is not so much about the expensive renovation and modest expansion at the convention center. Rather, the plan to sell two parcels on either end of the facility is raising hackles—so much so that a users group plans to meet today in Albany to lobby against it.
Facing a $4.4 billion budget gap and a desire to increase government programs, Mr. Spitzer wants to sell the two parcels for about $900 million, tying the sale to the capital funding of initiatives such as readying Governors Island for development.
Selling the land would preclude a later horizontal expansion on the site, and also move a truck marshalling yard inside the convention center. With the two acts taken together, now criticism seems to be coming from all sides.
Advocates of the parks don’t like the idea of their funding being tied to an uncertain land sale; Council Speaker Christine Quinn doesn’t want to block further expansion; Mayor Bloomberg thinks it’s bad policy to sell the northern parcel to plug a budget gap; and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried has also raised concerns with selling the marshalling yard (a truck parking lot of sorts).
The facility users group Friends of Javits is up in arms, and plans today to meet in Albany with Empire State Development Corp. chairman Patrick Foye, as well as legislators.
“If businessmen were doing what the state is doing, they would lock them up for being crazy,” said a blunt Ken McAvoy, senior vice president at Reed Expositions.
That the Friends of Javits are so upset about the plan is a bit ironic given that the Spitzer administration reexamined the already approved Pataki plan for Javits in part at the behest of the group’s complaints that the plan was unworkable.
Members of the group also expressed support for Mr. Foye’s plan to just renovate, and perhaps slightly expand, the convention center, though the new plan does two things that have incensed the group, said Mr. McAvoy. Selling the land would both block a workable expansion a few years down the road, and move the truck marshalling yard into the lower level of the building, significantly raising costs for putting on shows.
“Our expense to our exhibitors is going to go up 30 to 40 percent, making Javits too expensive,” he said of the proposal.
The plan would require approval from the Public Authorities Control Board, according to ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston, meaning both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno would have to sign off on the proposal. Mr. Silver’s office said it is examining the proposal, while a spokesman for Mr. Bruno said the office has questions over the proposal, “most of all, whether or not that’s the appropriate funding mechanism to address our housing needs.”
Governor Spitzer has defended his plan, saying that the extremely high cost of building a desirable convention center does not make economic sense on the site, and a sale will bring in much-needed money for the state.
“When they told me it would cost $5 billion to build, I cannot possibly rationalize that expenditure in the context of the competing demands the state is facing, and therefore I can tell you we’re moving on, we’re done, that chapter is closed,” he said last week.
Update 10:30 a.m.
The state disagrees with the Friends of Javits that the marshalling yard will increase costs, said ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston in an e-mail, as, among other reasons, the conventioneers will be unloading closer to the exhibit space in the new plan.