Javits Center Expansion: It May Just Be Renovations

After floating a number of multibillion-dollar plans to expand the Javits Convention Center, the state’s economic development agency is considering a drastically scaled-down version that would renovate the existing building without creating any more exhibit space, according to individuals briefed on the plan.

Patrick Foye, the downstate chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, is still weeks or months away from a decision on which plan to pursue, according to these individuals, but the so-called repair-the-roof option was presented to trade-show organizers two weeks ago.

The repair option would cost between $700 million and $800 million, according to Ken McAvoy, senior vice president for Reed Exhibitions The Americas, who attended a meeting with other exhibitors and Mr. Foye on Nov. 14. That compares to $3.1 billion that the ESDC estimates that the original expansion plan, approved under the Pataki administration, would now cost, and to $5 billion for a deluxe version that the ESDC also considered. About $1.8 billion is available to fund any alterations.

Merely renovating the giant, five-block-long I.M. Pei structure would please nobody: not the hotel operators who hoped to attract white-collar conventions; nor trade-show organizers, who wanted more space to rent to their exhibitors; nor the labor unions, who were looking forward to the hundreds of construction jobs that the expansion would necessitate.

But the repair option may be the only one that the state and the city can afford.

“Part of the problem is that given the horrendous economics, I think that everybody agrees that there is not enough money to do anything but patch the roof,” said State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s committee on authorities and corporations. “I think the problem is that what we are looking at would cost two or three times the available money for a mediocre facility.”

Mr. Brodsky, who blamed the situation on the Pataki administration, said that he had not taken a position on which option to pursue. He has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 14, at which Mr. Foye is expected to testify.

ESDC spokesman A.J. Carter would not comment except to say, “ESDC is assessing, in detail, a range of Javits Center options as we address the needs and desires of the various stakeholders and our mandate to spend tax dollars prudently.”

The expansion of the convention center, located along 11th Avenue between 34th and 39th streets, has been years in the making. Last year, the ESDC approved a $1.7 billion plan, using state and city contributions, a $1.50-a-room hotel surcharge and expected proceeds from selling off a Javits-owned block to the south, between 33rd and 34th streets.

But when Governor Eliot Spitzer took office, his appointee, Mr. Foye, undertook a top-to-bottom review of the project, and determined that previous cost estimates were unrealistically low. The Pataki plan, after inflation and engineering details were accounted for, came in around $3 billion. At the same time, exhibitors were complaining that the extra exhibit space proposed—about 300,000 new square feet on top of the approximately 750,000 square feet now there—was too meager to justify the cost, which prompted the project’s architects, Richard Rogers, FxFowle, and A. Epstein and Sons, to come up with a scheme that would add even more.

The shift toward diminished expectations apparently came after a September meeting with hotel operators, when Mr. Foye trotted out three versions ranging in price from $3.1 billion to $5 billion. Individuals briefed on the meeting said that the hoteliers were unwilling to contemplate a higher surcharge on hotel rooms.

Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, said that the broader business community would likely accept a more modest version of the expansion than originally heralded under the Pataki administration.

“For a decade, the business community was convinced that the most important thing you could do was to build a convention center in terms of generating economic development,” she said. “But that decade was the 1990’s. I think that perspective has changed as a lot of the city’s other economic drivers have flourished. Certainly, at this point, having a decent, attractive, usable convention center is more compelling than trying to figure out how to find $4 billion or $5 billion to build a state-of-the-art facility.”

Joseph Spinnato, president of the New York City Hotel Association, said in an e-mail, “We will not be making any comments re: the expansion of the Javits Center while talks are continuing between the Hotel Association, the city and the state.”

Javits Center Expansion: It May Just Be Renovations