Could Queens get two convention centers?


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com |

Possession is nine-tenths of the law — a lesson Governor Andrew Cuomo has apparently learned the hard way.

According to published reports, when the governor proposed a plan for the largest convention center in the country next to Resorts World in South Ozone Park, he was under the impression the land belonged to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The property, however, is reportedly owned by New York City and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who may be hesitant to sell due to his plans for a convention center of his own in Willets Point.

The Willets Point convention center is part of a redevelopment of the entire area, which will include retail and entertainment amenities, a hotel, mixed-income housing, public open space and community uses.

The $4 billion project in South Ozone Park, dubbed the New York International Convention and Exhibition Center (NICE), would be financed by Resorts World and encompass 3.8 million-square-feet, including 3,000 hotel rooms.

Repeated attempts to contact Cuomo’s office went unreturned. The mayor’s office declined to comment pending further information.

Bettina Damiani, the project director of Good Jobs New York, a watchdog on the city’s economic development subsidy program, is disappointed the city and state have been unable to collaborate to promote the most productive project.

“Why is the Cuomo administration pushing for a convention center at Aqueduct when the Bloomberg administration has already put so much effort into one at Willets Point?” Damiani asked. “One hand not talking to the other is disappointing.”

Despite the recent rush to construct convention centers, Damiani believes the facilities may not be the best venture for New York.

“History shows convention centers are not a good investment,” she said. “A report by the Brookings Institution showed that attendance to convention centers has been declining across the country since the late 1990s.”

Other Queens leaders believe the borough could benefit from both facilities, with neither diminishing the other.

“The governor’s proposal is exciting, but I don’t think it prevents the one in Willets Point,” said Claire Shulman, president and CEO of the Flushing, Willets Point, Corona Local Development Corporation, which is advocating for the Willets Point project. “The one in Willets Point is a bit more modest of a convention center, which would deal with LaGuardia Airport business. Queens can use both.”

Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, echoed Shulman in promoting the distinct benefits each center would offer.

“The Ozone Park convention center is great for the borough,” Friedman said. “It is transformative, and in many ways, will help establish the borough as a tourist destination. It is a huge opportunity to rebuild south Queens area, specifically downtown Jamaica and the Rockaways. For years, Queens has suffered from tourists coming into our airports, taking cabs into Manhattan and not spending any money in the borough, and I think this will change that. The one in Willets Point is a completely different type of convention center. It is for smaller trade shows and exhibitions. The thoughts of convention centers in South Ozone Park and Willets Point are not mutually exclusive – they can support each other.”