The never-ending saga that is the Javits Center expansion planning process has taken another turn, as state officials now want to extend the convention center northward two blocks to West 40th Street.
At a state board meeting today with an unusual amount of open disagreement, Empire State Development Corporation officials unveiled a set of preliminary plans for an expansion and major renovation of the 22-year-old facility at an estimated cost of $1.8 billion, $200 million more than is currently budgeted for an earlier plan.
Now almost a year since the Spitzer administration decided, after a year of planning, to scrap a large expansion plan and instead do a renovation and small expansion, ESDC officials told the board of the Convention Center Development Corporation that they were nearing approval for the first of two phases for the project.
The convention center is one of the largest projects in the state financed almost entirely by the public sector. Expansion plans have been in the works since the 1990s, and while the state has previously obtained both funding and approvals, the project has been repeatedly stalled due to a constant debate over how to best proceed.
For the first phase planned by the ESDC, the state would spend $500 million to renovate the Javits Center’s exterior, replacing the leaky black glass with clear glass, along with some interior renovations. There did not seem to be much disagreement among the stakeholders on this phase. The state official in charge of the expansion project, Barbara Lampen, said the first phase could be ready for approval by January.
The $1.3 billion second phase, over which there seemed to be discord among the stakeholders, called for the two-block expansion of the facility to create 90,000 square feet of exposition space and 70,000 square feet of meeting space, built over a garage for 120 truck parking spaces (the lack of which were a contentious issue in past iterations). The second phase would also make major interior renovations, installing skylights in exhibition halls, for instance. (Until this month, officials had planned to expand the convention center just one block north to 39th Street, selling off the block between 39th and 40th streets. Ms. Lampen now says the two-block expansion is a better value.)
The overall concept presented to the board sparked resistance from Dale Hemmerdinger, a board member and the chairman of the M.T.A. After scribbling notes throughout a presentation by project architect Bruce Fowle, Mr. Hemmerdinger criticized the plan for five straight minutes, mostly questioning the economic benefit of an array of design frills such as a green roof, skylights and plants inside the building. Such criticism is rare in public board meetings, which tend to be choreographed and leave disagreements to private conversation.
“I don’t think we or anybody has really thought about the cost of these things,” Mr. Hemmerdinger said. “As a board member, I have trouble with it.
“Well, now we’re proposing flowers inside, plants that are going to grow up, we got trellises that are going to grow. Who’s going to take care of them? Where’s the money in the budget? I think there’s an enormous amount of work that needs to be done with this plan."