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Queens Chronicle

In boro, loss of center raises many questions

Some call for convention space at Aqueduct, others focus on Willets Pt.

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Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:18 am, Thu Jun 14, 2012.

Just five months after Gov. Cuomo made the construction of the country’s largest convention center in South Ozone Park a centerpiece of his State of the State address, he admitted that negotiations between his office and the company that was expected to run the facility, Genting International, have fallen through —leaving Queens residents wondering what the ever-changing political winds will, or will not, blow their way.

“The governor dropped a bombshell in January, when he announced the convention center, and there’s been a lack of information since out of the governor’s office,” said Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton. “Then this Friday he dropped another bombshell.”

That “bombshell” was Cuomo’s statement on former Gov. Paterson’s radio show that Genting, which runs the Resorts World New York Casino at Aqueduct, was no longer slated to definitely operate a proposed 3.8-million-square-foot convention center, which was expected to contain as many as 3,000 hotel rooms, at the site.

“We had those conversations going on for a few weeks,” Cuomo told Paterson. “Those conversations haven’t worked out.”

The governor said in January that Genting was supposed to foot the entire bill for the nearly $4 billion convention center, and the first construction phase, which would have included about 1,000 hotel rooms, was expected to be completed as early as this October. Cuomo had said he wanted the Queens facility to replace the Javits Center in Manhattan, which a number of legislators have said is too small to attract major shows.

However, according to other published reports, Genting opted not to ink a deal with Cuomo because the state did not agree to give the Malaysian-based company an exclusive gaming license in the city if New York legalizes casino gambling.

Genting said it still plans to compete in the bid process for a convention center, but so have a number of Las Vegas-based companies —which some officials have said could mean the facility may be moved to somewhere like Willets Point, or out of Queens entirely.

“Resorts World welcomes the governor’s approach as the uncertainties and difficulties regarding the constitutional amendments, tax rate and infrastructure support made any decision difficult for both parties,” Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Genting, said in a prepared statement. “… We have several great ideas to develop our site into one of the world’s premier destinations for gaming and conventions, and we now look forward to working with Gov. Cuomo and participating in any competition for a convention center/casino project that the governor designs.”

The Cuomo administration has said it is discussing plans for a potential convention center with other companies. Caesars Entertainment Corporation, based in Las Vegas, confirmed that its representatives have met with the governor’s office, and the New York Post reported that MGM and Sands, both of Las Vegas, are also interested.

“New York is an exciting market for countless industries, including those in business and entertainment,” Jan Jones, executive vice president of communications and government relations for Caesars Entertainment Corporation, said in an emailed statement. “As the state has begun the legalization process for casinos, Caesars Entertainment has met with the Cuomo administration, and is interested in the possibility of a casino and convention center in New York, should the state proceed with legalizing gaming.”

If a company besides Genting did land the contract to build the center, it would likely not be erected in South Ozone Park because Genting owns much of the area on which the center would have been built.

“I was shocked and surprised by what the governor said,” said Margaret Finnerty, president of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association. “We had never gotten an opportunity to really hear about the plan, and all of a sudden they say it’s off the table. I have a lot of questions. What are they going to do with this land now?”

When the governor first proposed to build the convention center in South Ozone Park, residents raised a number of concerns about the traffic congestion and possible safety issues such a facility could bring to an area that some have said is already overburdened by traffic from what could be as many as 10 million annual visitors to the racino. However, a number of residents recently said they would have wanted to fully vet plans for a center before saying whether or not they would support it.

“It’s not so much that I definitely wanted it, but I wanted to know the options for the community,” Finnerty said.

Braton said she had “no issue conceptually” with Genting’s plans to develop exhibition space.

“There may be issues with the scope of the type of convention space the governor talked about, but would some type of convention space make sense there?” Braton said. “I would think so.”

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) agreed, saying he would like to see a convention center erected at Aqueduct.

“As of today, I’m still optimistic we’ll maximize our potential at Resorts World in terms of jobs and revenue,” Addabbo said. “We’re way too early in the process to get worried about the future of Resorts World and a convention center.”

Addabbo stressed that should a center come to South Queens, mass transportation and road infrastructure need to improve.

“I’d love a convention center, with the revenue and jobs, but not until we resolve transportation, infrastructure and public safety issues — but I was convinced we could do that,” Addabbo said.

Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said while he would support a convention center at Aqueduct, he would like to once again focus on bringing such a facility to Willets Point —an idea that has been long thrown around by the Bloomberg administration.

“Every cloud has a silver lining,” Friedman said. “We’re sorry to see the Genting project is not going forward as hoped, but now’s really the time to look at Willets Point again.

“We have the benefit of the two airports; we have the transportation infrastructure,” Friedman continued. “We already have the highway infrastucture because of Citi Field and the U.S. Open —there’s no doubt we could handle the increased traffic.”

Addabbo disagrees, saying he would rather see a center located at Aqueduct instead of Willets Point.

“Willets Point is years behind what Resorts World has already built,” he said. “We can break ground on a convention center at Resorts World tomorrow. It’s better than any other site I can think of.”

Borough President Helen Marshall said she wants a center at Aqueduct or Willets Point.

“The borough president wants to see the building, so we see the jobs,” said Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Marshall. “We’re not precluding either site. We need a convention center, and if someone can build it and provide the economic activity, construction and permanent jobs — that’s what we’re looking for. That could be at either location.”

Still, others said a center could be built outside of the borough, particularly after a number of large trade show operators had expressed concerns about holding events in Queens.

Jerry Kremer, president of Empire Government Strategies and a former assemblyman, said Cuomo’s proposal to build the center outside of Manhattan “seemed to have much more opposition than support.”

“Without a better mass transportation system and hotels, the business community seemed cool to the idea,” Kremer said.

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