Aqueduct, Willets Point Face Challenges
Governor Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State Address January 4 among other things highlighted his vision to build the nation’s largest convention center at the Aqueduct racetrack racino—a project already on the way to becoming a done deal. According to a source, on Tuesday, January 3, the Cuomo administration quietly signed a letter of agreement for the project with the racino operator, Genting New York, in which the Malaysia-based casino operator pledged to invest $4 billion to build the 3.8 millionsquare foot facility.
A month earlier, after four and a half years of lawsuits and controversy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke ground on the initial phase of $50 million in critical infrastructure work at Willets Point, including construction of a sanitary sewer main and reconstruction of a storm sewer and outfall that will allow for the creation of what is hoped to be a vibrant, new, mixed-use neighborhood. The work also represents a major first step in the environmental remediation of the long-contaminated site. A convention center is also planned for Willets Point.
The Willets Point Development Plan is touted as a historic redevelopment effort that will transform an area previous generations have sought to change and improve. The Plan will clean up the environment and help improve the quality of nearby waterways. It will link this district in one of the most vibrant parts of Queens to basic infrastructure and establish a major new mixed-income neighborhood and commercial destination that will create jobs and recapture billions in spending now lost to the suburbs. It is also linked to nearby Citi Field, which opened in April 2009 and has a business center, auditorium and several suites of meeting rooms that can be used separately or combined. The build-out of this phase, adjacent to Citi Field, is expected to create 1,800 permanent jobs and 4,600 construction related jobs. Developer proposals are currently being reviewed and a developer is expected to be selected early this year, with construction beginning in late 2013. Responses to the proposal have also included a concept plan for the entire 62-acre district which will create about 18,000 construction jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs. Advocates of Willets Point note that the area is served by subway and Long Island Rail Road train lines, has access to several major highways and may possibly be accessed by ferry routes. LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy Airports are conveniently located.
From a logistics viewpoint we note that the Aqueduct racino and convention center site is served only by the A train and the Van Wyck Expressway. Conventioneers coming from JFK will find the A train a convenient link to the site, but travelers coming from the opposite direction will find themselves on a very long train ride. Furthermore, the Van Wyck carries close to its maximum vehicular traffic capacity every day. Additional traffic generated by exhibitors to what Cuomo hopes to be the world’s largest convention center would, by all the estimations we have heard, overburden the Van Wyck far beyond its capacity.
Both sites have costs and benefits worth further analysis. We should not forget that the 7 train is being expanded to go to the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Much money is being invested In all of the above options. We hope all three will survive and thrive, but we urge some balance in the function for each facility. No question we can use all three convention centers, but let us proceed cautiously. Especially since we are using taxpayer dollars.