Home Queens For a convention center in Queens, a second chance to get it right

For a convention center in Queens, a second chance to get it right

by Benjamin Kabak

For transportation and government junkies in New York, Friday evening — always the best time for bad news to drop — was chock full of surprises. A judge put a temporary kibosh on Mayor Bloomberg’s Outer Borough street hail plan while Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the current iteration of his convention center/casino complex had died. We’ll get to the taxi story later; right now, I want to look at the second chances the city and state will have in Queens.

The story, as we know, was one of backroom dealings and fast promises. During his State of the State speech, Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped a bombshell. Genting had agreed to the framework of a deal that, pending a constitutional amendment, would have allowed them to build a massive convention center and casino complex in the Ozone Park area. The Javits Center would have been knocked down for a denser, mixed use development, and the plan would have brought table gambling and larger trade shows to New York City.

Transportation was vaguely a part of the plan as well. Genting had promised upgrades, but details were scarce. Transit advocates had hoped to see an ambitious plan to reactivate the LIRR’s dormant Rockaway Beach Branch line while whispers surrounding a super express A train had everyone worrying. Now, it seems, we’ll get a reprieve and a do-over as the plan has collapsed.

During a radio interview on WOR on Friday with former Gov. David Paterson, Cuomo dropped the news. “The conversations haven’t really worked out,” he said. Genting, which pledged to compete for any future project, issued a similar statement. “Uncertainties and difficulties regarding the constitutional amendment, competitive landscape, tax rate and infrastructure support made any decision difficult,” the casino giant said in a statement.

With the Genting proposal in its current form dead, Cuomo will press forward with a proper competition. “They,” he said of the casino industry, “all want to come to New York, and they all have all sorts of exciting ideas — ideas that we didn’t even think of. They want to be here. They’re excited.” According to The Wall Street Journal, interested parties include MGM Resorts, Caesars and Las Vegas Sands as well as Genting.

Despite the fact that industry giants are skeptical of plans to build oversized convention centers anywhere, let alone miles away from the city’s main attractions, Cuomo seems intent to move forward with some sort of competition. This gives transportation advocates to have a louder say, and they need to have a louder say. Any plan to build an attraction center in an area underserved by transit cannot simply rely on vague promises of future improvements. Whichever company wins the competition must make concrete promises to improve rail access to the area.

So what should those improvements be? The Rockaway Beach Branch activation deserves a serious look from everyone involved. It can provide a high-speed link to the convention center and a faster ride for people from parts of Queens who are far from the job centers of Manhattan. Improvements in service along the A line should also be a requirement, and a cohesive effort to streamline bus service in that area of Queens should be on the table as well. The company that wins should also be required to finance these improvements and subsidize some of the operating costs that will result from higher demand. If the area is as lucrative as Cuomo promises it to be, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Perhaps I’m aiming too high here. Perhaps a private developer won’t be so keen on entering the area with these requirements. Still, a convention center and a casino in Ozone Park would be truly disruptive to the area and would present an opportunity to improve transit in an neighborhood that needs these improvements. We can’t let that chance slip away. Who knows when it will come around again?

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Ramiro June 4, 2012 - 1:01 am

I hope that the reactivation of the Rockaway Line gets serious consideration in any future plans to expand the casino complex at Aquaduct.

Also, not to nitpick, but I think you mean former Gov. David Paterson.

Marc Shepherd June 4, 2012 - 10:04 am

The Rockaway re-activation is a good project, regardless of what happens at Aqueduct; but the Aqueduct casino/convention center would be an excellent catalyst — probably the only way it is likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

I still have doubts about whether a casino/convention center at Aqueduct would be economically viable. Any sane operator would have to worry about the state’s ability to deliver on transit improvements, given the region’s track record of lengthy construction delays and proposed-but-not-built projects.

Bolwerk June 4, 2012 - 11:03 am

At least in the near-term it would have a monopoly on gambling receipts in NYC. I don’t see why a casino should fail, but then NYS did manage to make the OTB bookie operation lose money. The convention center makes less sense to me, but it might be viable. It doesn’t seem very desirable to me personally even if it is viable, but it might be viable, especially since it’s poised to capture the European market.

Marc Shepherd June 4, 2012 - 2:23 pm

Casinos usually do not fail. But Cuomo has broader ambitions than merely giving people an outlet to lose money at slot machines and blackjack tables. If it accomplished only that, it would be a public policy failure, even though the casino operator might still make money.

Bolwerk June 4, 2012 - 2:35 pm

It’s a public policy failure by any stringent standard. It makes a foreign conglomerate rich while creating a few meh jobs for New Yorkers.

Alon Levy June 4, 2012 - 4:37 pm

It’s intended to create one job for one New Yorker, beginning January 20th 2017.

Bolwerk June 4, 2012 - 5:58 pm

Bleh. Even Bob Dole ran on things less trite than that.

Alon Levy June 4, 2012 - 11:08 pm

Cuomo is way more popular, and has his gay marriage success under his belt.

Of course he’d be better than Romney, but bleh.

Bolwerk June 5, 2012 - 12:19 am

I’m not sure he’s even unusually likely to run. Of fifty governors, a few are always media darlings for one reason or another. And Democrats don’t usually have the advantage of being rewarded for being nitwits, so he has a delicate line to walk until 2016.

Alon Levy June 6, 2012 - 6:50 pm

He’s a media darling because he’s been an Obama darling since before his election. He seemed like a charismatic person and they likely wanted him as part of the bench for 2016.

Bolwerk June 7, 2012 - 11:22 pm

I think he’d do less damage in DC than he would here. Just the fact that he’s not a southerner or midwesterner calls the possibility into suspicion, however. 😐

Justin Samuels June 4, 2012 - 6:05 pm

New York State got a big chunk of tax revenue off it, and it developed an otherwise unused area. It even started talks of reactivating the Rockaway Beach Boulevard, which was about to become an urban trail like the high line.

smartone June 4, 2012 - 1:27 am

This isn’t about a Convention Center in Queens – this is about the 7 subway extension going to now valuable land — The ultimate bait and switch has been played on New Yorkers.

For years the Javis was perfectly fine convention center just inaccessible – well NYC finally fixes the problem and suddenly the real estate powers see undeveloped waterfront manhattan property with a subway stop a block away… it is amazing how transparent this has all been and yet NOONE HAS SAID ANYTHING!

John-2 June 4, 2012 - 1:54 am

If that is the case, Cuomo still needs a dance partner in Queens for the elimination of Javits to be viable. Judging from Friday’s announcement, it’s not that he’s giving up on Ozone Park; it’s that he’s giving up on working a deal directly with Genting on Ozone Park, and wants to try and pull a few other companies into the mix to create a competitive bidding option that would force Genting or one of the other companies to up the ante (and this was never just about a new Convention Center near JFK; it’s about a Convention Center and a gambling facility, which would be the main draw to get people out to Southeast Queens for conventions in the first place — the option to reactivate the Rockaway Branch would be the state recognizing that while people might come to New York for a convention and or some wagering, they would also want a fast, direct connection into the main part of Manhattan).

Justin Samuels June 4, 2012 - 5:43 pm

This is actually good for the city, the state, and even the MTA. Having a variety of companies bid for projects in the area, and having different business interests there are much more likely to be able to finance the reactivation for the Rockaway Beach Boulevard. NY shouldn’t put all of its eggs in one basket, so having everything in that area be built by Genting would have been stupid. Glad Cuomo realized this, and that other resort companies are very interested in this area. A big win for NY.

AG June 5, 2012 - 12:49 am

NO – the Applied Sciences competition the city ran to build engineering campuses is a big win for NY. This is the opposite. It will NOT create many decent jobs…. and it will suck money from the people who can least afford it. Rich ppl will still go to Macau – Singapore – Monaco. They won’t be going to Ozone Park. Pensioners and the like will. Some will call it “freedom”… I call it fleecing the ignorant.

Sharon June 5, 2012 - 10:45 pm

There are many people in this city that are not capable of getting high skilled high paying jobs that now toil working low end retail jobs. This casino will need all kinds of trades and dealers who make more per hour then the median NYC non college educated job. The casino is good for the city. It’s real easy to jump on a free bus to any of the area casinos and dump your paycheck. Why not have them do it here for the cities bennefit

Jeff June 6, 2012 - 9:40 am

Yeah, people who want to gamble would still be gambling with or without a casino in NYC. Right now they are going to Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun/Atlantic City and the like. A casino in the city would make them actually spend their money in the city instead of elsewhere.

AG June 6, 2012 - 4:31 pm

Sharon – go anywhere in the US and see where casinos are and you will find depressed communities. Have you been to the outskirts of Atlantic City? Do you realize Las Vegas has the worst economy and housing market of any of the major cities (unless you count Detroit)? Native American tribes put them there because they have nothing else to put there. The citizens of areas with casinos get poorer – which does NOT make up for the revenue collected in taxes. The only real winner is the owner of the casino…. even organized crime will tell you that.

Alon Levy June 6, 2012 - 6:52 pm


AG June 6, 2012 - 10:39 pm

Alon – good try – but I said the US… Monaco is about as unique as you can get. It’s like comparing Qatar and Las Vegas just because they are dessert. Or like comparing the Hamptons to Coney Island because they have beaches. Aqueduct and NYC are not at all like Monaco. Interesting tidbit for those who are for casinos – Monaco does NOT allow its own citizens to gamble in the casinos. What does that tell you?

Bolwerk June 7, 2012 - 11:25 pm

I think your argument is a little fallacious. Just because places in the U.S. that have a lot of casinos do suck doesn’t mean they have to. I agree casinos are a bad way to boost the economy, but they aren’t a terrible thing to have in small doses – if only because they at least permit an outlet for something that will more or less happen anyway, at least in a major city.

AG June 10, 2012 - 1:13 am

bolwerk – “fallacious”?? show me one statement that you can prove to be so!! Don’t give me opinion. Go check economic studies… and go check the laws of Monaco. You then go on to say “casinos are a bad way to boost the economy”… well you can’t have it both ways. Some so-called “development” is just not worth it.

Justin Samuels June 4, 2012 - 5:44 pm

And yes, and the developer is now preparing to build on top of Hudson Yards. Well, the MTA does well of leasing the air rights. Its good to see this formerly vacant area be developed and attract investment.

Bolwerk June 4, 2012 - 1:57 am

The whole Genting thing stinks of politicians on their knees for corporate cronies. Gambling just ain’t that big a deal. It’s easy to set up and regulate. The economic capital (=equipment, infrastructure) is readily available. If they want gambling and a convention center, they could easily make dozens of little franchises sold as state contracts that get put out to bid to any number of local businesses with business plans of their own (games: slots, racing, craps, poker; ancillary stuff: catering, security, different hotels). Presumably someone other than Schiavo can fix up the Rockaway Line. Giving away a generation or two of revenue to a foreign conglomerate is a complete waste of money, and ties future generations’ hands for no discernible reason.

Anyway, other news from Friday: say goodbye to the turboliners from Pataki’s abortive “high-speed rail” scheme.

Al D June 4, 2012 - 9:21 am

We already have high speed rail. It’s called the NYS Thruway and it will soon have a new gateway over the Hudson.

nyland8 June 4, 2012 - 2:42 am

The shortest distance to getting casinos built out there is to cede the entire Aquaduct Raceway area back to the Canarsie Indian tribe. They can use the track for rodeos, wild west shows, Pony Express rides and conestoga wagon races . Paint murals reenacting the sale of Manhattan for trinkets and beads. Build a convention center that looks like a wigwam.

Stop me before I … ZZZZ … zzzz

jim June 4, 2012 - 10:17 am

If there’s to be a competition and therefore not necessarily a deal with Genting, then the location is not necessarily Aqueduct. Couldn’t Genting veto another company building there?

If the Casino/Convention Center is to be by a racetrack, Belmont is presumably available and already accessible by LIRR. If there’s no need for the racetrack, then near Citi Field and the Tennis Center might be possible. That’s accessible both by LIRR and the Flushing Line. What about Coney Island?

The game here is to get a new peripheral convention center built using other peoples’ money, so that the Javits center can be torn down the and site redeveloped. Aqueduct is not the only possible peripheral site.

lawhawk June 4, 2012 - 11:59 am

The Willets Point site is being pushed for redevelopment via Sterling Partners (the Wilpons) and Related Companies (who did the TWC among others). I don’t think there’s room there for a convention center unless they dump the mixed retail/residential component in favor of convention/retail. That would totally piss off the locals, even more than they’re already annoyed by the process.

There aren’t that many other sites around NYC metro that are amenable to a large footprint convention site.

wrongway jumper June 4, 2012 - 2:06 pm

Near citifield has the advantage of being in LaGuadia Aiport’s back yard. Improved access to Flushing could make this a real destination.

Extending the Airtrain up to LaGuadia with a stop at citifield would give great access to two airports. If ESA is ever finished, the Port Washington Line could provide frequent fast service to both the east side and Penn Station. The highway access (including for commercial vehicle) is great as well.

There is plenty of retail in the city already. The city needs something that will generate money not just compete with other area’s of the city as to where people will spend it.

Bolwerk June 4, 2012 - 2:36 pm

LaGuardia sees a fraction of the flights that JFK does. Why is that an advantage?

SEAN June 4, 2012 - 3:17 pm

Perhaps, but Delta Airlines is creating a split hub between JFK & LGA. This could creat incredible marketing opertunities for them & who ever gets development rights.

Now where to build in Queens, that’s the big question. The where could end up laying the groundwork for what actually gets built & what transit service is constructed or added.

Bolwerk June 4, 2012 - 4:25 pm

Besides capital-L Libertarian principle (\o \o \o Ron Paul \o \o \o Ayn Rand \o \o \o) the only desirable thing about gambling in NYC that I see is that it keeps the gambling from going out of state to Atlantic City and Mohegan Sun.

Justin Samuels June 4, 2012 - 5:52 pm

There’s no point in extending the Airtrain to LaGuardia, because who takes the train from LaGuardia to JFK. It would cost too much money and have too little ridership. The Port Authority may, however, build an Airtrain to Willets Point, where people can catch either the 7 train or the LIRR.

Bolwerk June 4, 2012 - 6:02 pm

No one does it now because there is no reason to. There currently is no way to get from/to LGA to/from JFK reliably to make a connection. It makes a lot of sense if it allows you to make flight transfers between the two airports.

It even makes some sense as a matter of scale: no matter what airport you land in, you could use hotels, rental facilities, and existing connections to other services; and the PA can use current facilities to maintain rolling stock.

wrongway jumper June 4, 2012 - 10:36 pm

The citifield/tennis center parking lots could even serve as additional parking for LaGuadia and even kennedy in the off season (best for thanks giving, xmas holiday travel periods).

I beleive that an early version of the airtrain had it going from kennedy to LaGuadia before taking the 59th street bridge into Manhattan.

Alon Levy June 6, 2012 - 7:13 pm

LGA has more O&D domestic passengers than JFK does. (Not sure what the effect of international flights is – I think, but am not sure, that my dataset treats passengers flying connecting from a domestic to an international flight as O&D passengers on the domestic segment, which would boost JFK’s numbers.)

Regardless, a people mover from Jamaica to LGA is a bad idea. LGA was placed where it is to provide optimal road connections rather than to be near transit – otherwise, LaGuardia would’ve extended the Nostrand Avenue Line to Floyd Bennett Field instead. If you want to serve it, you need to have a more direct route, such as a branch off the Port Washington Line or a shuttle subway under Junction.

High Stakes Development: An RIP to the plan for… | Text or Call : 917-557-6066 June 4, 2012 - 11:01 am

[…] An RIP to the plan for a convention center/casino complex in Ozone Park, Queens, now that the state&… So what are the chances of a convention center and casino actually coming to the spot? The state will move forward with a competition, and apparently a bunch of Vegas casinos, including MGM Resorts, Caesars, and Las Vegas Sands, are in the running. [SAS; previously] […]

Larry Littlefield June 4, 2012 - 3:32 pm

Convention centers are overbuilt all over the U.S. How would a convention center in Queens compete? On price?

Forget it. Fix up the Javits, and keep the mafia out. If they can’t fit, let them go to Vegas.

Spendmore Wastemore June 4, 2012 - 5:28 pm

And why exactly do we need a convention center in Queens?

If I am scheduling a convention of anything above the most low-buck, utilitarian nature I’m going to put it somewhere the attendees may actually want to go (such as a place with a beach) OR someplace which is a short trip for the attendees and the center itself is remarkable. Chicago is centrally located and practical, Florida wins all winter, Atlanta has a better airport. Any of these beat Manhattan for most conventions and all beat Queens.

Unless somehow Queens can be cheaper than Georgia I can’t see any reason to put a convention with a clientele from around the US in that spot.

Gambling, now there’s a bold, original idea.
A better land use would be something which is actually fun or productive. I’d rather see a mini steel mill there than a low grade gambling operation. Even a skate park bringing in zero revenue would be a higher use than a spot for burnouts to drink and bet.

smartone June 4, 2012 - 5:59 pm

this is my point — the mcguffin is the Queens convention center.. they will put up a cheaply made convention center ..
the convention center will be too far from anywhere in NYC that tourist actually LIKE to go…. – it will be a complete failure and a boondoggle.

the real prize is premium manhattan real estate on the waterfront with a new subway stop.
developers are licking their chops to get that javis center land…

Justin Samuels June 4, 2012 - 6:02 pm

A steel mill in NYC? NYC doesn’t do manufacturing. For starters, anywhere in NYC the real estate costs too much. Taxes are also too high for most manufacturers. And there would be plenty of neighborhood opposition from anything industrial. Steel can be and is made in ANY TOWN USA.

As for Gambling, well, NYC people love to gamble. They go to Jersey, CT, or when they want to FLY, las Vegas. So a casino in Queens keeps that money in the city and in the state . Since a lot of tourists fly into JFK Airport, the current casino (which is doing very well, btw) is pretty convenient, particularly when they build hotels out there. The area is pretty close to the beach (The Rockaways).

NYC is the business capital of the nation, it will always have a certain amount of conventions, even in the winter. Wall Street is here, media, film, and advertising are here, and most major companies have a NYC office, even if not headquartered here.

AG June 5, 2012 - 1:07 am

I agree with everything you said except “NYC doesn’t do manufacturing”…. Actually NYC was the manufacturing/industrial capital of the US for a good while. It’s true nowadays that it’s become too expensive – and ppl don’t want pollution – but there is still manufacturing. Look at the renaissance of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There is no longer ship building going on… but a lot of creative and hi/clean tech manufacturing.

Everything else you said is correct though.

AG June 5, 2012 - 12:58 am

Actually – the Javits is one of the most successful booking rates of any convention center in the country…. and as the convention industry has argued – it’s dumb to just tear it down. In some respects…NYC competes for many international conventions… even more than national ones.

I agree though – it’s better to have a giant skate park than a dumb casino. A casino is a “hidden tax” just like the lottery. Fool’s gold.

Sharon June 5, 2012 - 10:48 pm

A hidden tax paid by the willing.

The queens casino has many benefits such as easy access to the airport. Many people will still visit manhattan . We need to collect taxes for. The javits site.

The added bonus is the casino will help improve mass transit. I currently live in sheepshead bay Brooklyn. To go 20 miles to JFK , there is no bus, I must take an expensive cab . This casino may create a demand for such a bus service

AG June 6, 2012 - 10:45 pm

Would you want a casino in Sheepshead Bay? Study the economic impact of casinos. Bus service to JFK from your neighborhood is not worth it for the sake of a casino.

Andrew June 6, 2012 - 11:30 pm

She wants a casino near JFK, because she thinks that it will be so popular among her neighbors that a bus line will pop up to take her straight there.

Bolwerk June 7, 2012 - 11:28 pm

Of course. Car-centric acolytes of “middle class” Americana love buses. That’s why buses are cash cows. Duh.

Andrew June 4, 2012 - 9:12 pm

So what should those improvements be?

Might I suggest that you’re attacking the issue from the wrong end?

This should be the opening question: What problem are we trying to solve? Is there a problem with capacity, or with running time, or with frequency, or with comfort, or with convenience, or with something else? And who has this problem – hypothetical conventioneers, or airport travelers, or everyday commuters, or all of the above?

Once we’ve suggested a problem, we can start to look at potential solutions, and we can evaluate those solutions with respect to the problem that we’re trying to solve.

Reactivation of the Rockaway Beach line might be a worthwhile solution or it might not be a worthwhile solution. I don’t know, since I don’t know what problem it’s supposed to solve.

wrongway jumper June 4, 2012 - 10:29 pm

Why is the Sunnyside Yards not under consideration as a place to relocate the convention center? The are close to Manhattan and ripe for developement by using platforms.

AG June 6, 2012 - 4:20 pm

wrongway – yes sunnyside – like LIC would make very good choices… but the Cuomo is seemingly obsessed with have the “biggest” convention center (which is foolish because most lose money) – and he also seems obsessed with casino gambling (another waste).

Sharon June 5, 2012 - 10:39 pm

The convention center will be a money looser or not a big winner for any operator. The question is will the casino part make up the difference. Getting them to pay for the rail improvement on top of that probably would make the project not affordable for the operator. You are forcing the to pay for two big dollar projects they would not build on thier own. If this was 15 years ago with no Indian casinos in ct and no empire city etc they would have found someone willing.

I was always a proponent of putting casino gaming on governors island with the operators paying a huge cost towards a subway through governors island onto staten island . You could charge $7-10 a ride to leave the island on weekends to help pay for the line.mthis would be a win win for the environment allowing to take off hundreds of express bus off the road

For a convention center in Queens, a second chance to get it right « Public Authorities June 14, 2012 - 5:21 pm

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