NEW YORK—New York City's convention centers cannot accommodate all of the events, meetings, and get togethers people want to hold here. The result is great economic loss to the city and the solution is building more convention centers, the City Council decided at a hearing on Thursday.
“New York City as a package is quite a bit more expensive than competing cities,” said Fred Dixon of NYC & Company, the city's official tourism and marketing agency. Convention-goers pump money into the economy, including hotels, food, and shopping, and the city wants to attract as many of them as possible.
Currently, the Jacob Javits Center is the main venue for large-scale events. The demand is spilling over into places like the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, intended as a sports venue but able to accommodate other events; Citi Fields, in Queens; and expanding facilities at Madison Square Garden.
When trying to accommodate events, Dixon says, “We get creative.” What is really needed, however, is a large-scale convention center, he says.
The only location being looked at for such a venture right now is Willets Point in Queens. Some resident business owners in Willets Point have vehemently opposed development in the area, and New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is currently held up in litigation.
Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, vice president of development for NYCEDC, expects to break ground on a convention center in 2013. The plans are still rather vague, though approximately 400,000 square feet have been set aside for the center.
Dixon says bigger would be better—this is still a moderate-sized convention center—but it would still be quite beneficial.
“If you were a betting person, what do you think the chances of there being a convention center in Willets Point?” Councilman David Weprin asked Gabriel. Would you say it's a 90 percent chance, a 10 percent chance?”
“The city has laid very important groundwork to make the realization of a convention center possible,” responded Gabriel. She says that a currently hypothetical center would be a great boon to the area and the city as a whole, but admits there are obstacles to overcome.
“It will take considerable capital and operational subsidies to make viable,” said Gabriel.
Dixon noted that other cities heavily subsidize their convention centers, giving them a great advantage, especially in attracting nonprofit organizations.
“These cities have built their convention centers on the premise that they will operate at a loss. There is an ongoing subsidy that is planned to allow them to offer meeting and convention space for free, or at greatly discounted rates,” said Dixon.
For now, all NYC & Co. can do is help groups find cheap hotel rates. They look for the holes in hotel booking schedules and find the best rates.
Sharing the wealth with Other Boroughs
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras represent Queens. They were happy to hear plans for developing convention space in the “other boroughs” (Koslowitz refused to use the term “outer boroughs”).
With two major airports in Queens, Koslowitz says her borough should see more action and more wealth.
Koslowitz and Ferreras recognized that it will take more than a convention center to keep tourists in Queens, however. The United States Tennis Association is based in Queens, drawing many people to the borough said Koslowitz.
“Unfortunately … as quickly as they come, they leave,” Ferreras pointed out.