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Queens Chronicle

Convention center headed to Queens

Developer seeks to build ‘largest conference building in eastern area’

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:57 am, Thu Jan 16, 2014.

The latest push to turn Queens into the city’s hotspot is a convention center, hotel and residential complex.

Fleet Financial Group recently purchased the property at 112-21 Northern Blvd. — the location of DiBlasi Ford — and has announced that it will begin construction on the 1.67-acre site in June.

“We have two airports here and businesses need to hold conferences with people traveling from outside the city, but when they land here, they go all the way to Manhattan to have these meetings,” Richard Xia, the president of Fleet Financial Group said. “I see a great opportunity to keep those people here. If they land here anyway, why not have their conferences here?”

According to the developer’s website, the project, when completed, will be 106,000 square feet, the “biggest convention center in the Eastern area,” though the Javits Center has 760,00 square feet of exhibition space. Xia said “the largest conference center,” not convention center, is more accurate.

“Manhattan has the Javits Center and it’s time for Queens to have its own convention center,” he said.

The site sits across the way from Citi Field near the Grand Central, a stone-throw’s away from the $3 billion mammoth development planned for Willets Point.

“I think the two will work well together,” Xia said. “The convention center will address more business people’s needs and the project at Willets Point will be more shopping.”

According to Xia, the Federal Aviation Administration already approved the 25-story plans and he will not need to apply for a variance as the project is as of right.

Donovan Finn, a member of the Jackson Heights Alliance and city planning professor at SUNY Stony Brook, said he worries that too many developments in such a small radius may backfire.

“I worry about it becoming a white elephant,” he said. “We have a lot of similar developments being built in an untested area. There’s also a lot of congestion on the roads. Combining that with the lack of close transportation options makes it seem like it’s not well thought out.”

Finn made it clear, though, that not all projects are bad.

“I’m not against development,” he said. “I’m for smart development.”

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) is hoping the convention center will be a good neighbor to her district.

“In the spirit of economic development, it is my hope that the new developers will be a good neighbor and bring a wealth of job opportunities to the local community,” Ferreras said. “I look forward to working with the developers to ensure that any potential zoning, environmental and traffic mitigation concerns are addressed as the development process continues to unfold.”

Community Board 3 District Manager Giovanna Reid would not return repeated calls for comment, but Ferreras’ office reports not having received any constituent complaints on the project.

“We want to make the building modern and beautiful, even from the sky,” Xia added. “If we can make something look good, people are going to want to stay.”

There is no set completion date for the project.

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