by Jonathan Vatner | January 01, 2005

The Javits expansion
In an era when some new and expanded convention centers across America are sitting nearly empty, the Javits expansion invites skepticism. Yet, practically everyone in the city hoteliers, meeting planners, residents and the management of smaller exhibit halls that technically are the center’s competition favors it.
    With good reason. The Javits Center runs at 81 percent occupancy, one of the highest in the nation, yet its meeting space is so minimal that it can’t host meeting-heavy conventions.
    “We lose roughly a million dollars a day by not having an appropriately sized convention center,” says Cristyne L. Nicholas, president and CEO of NYC & Co., the city’s convention and visitors bureau. “We have to turn business away. Groups want to come here but can’t get dates at the Javits Center.”
    The expanded center will feature vast, column-free exhibit halls, a river-view ballroom with a capacity of 6,000, and 22 acres of green space on the roof, five of which will be available for functions. It will be able to accommodate some of the largest conventions in the country.
    However, nothing in New York happens simply, and thus the funding for the expansion stalled last summer in the state Senate, due to limited support from outside of New York City. In December, however, the plan was approved.
    The sticking point in the city’s far West Side plan is the stadium, which will cost the Jets $800 million for the building, while New York City and state would pay $600 million for the base (a platform over the rail yards) and a retractable roof to make the venue usable for conventions.
    The stadium is the main topic at hand in the basement meeting at West 35th Street. “We doubt that the space the stadium would afford is the kind of space that Javits wants,” says Anna Levin, who also is a member of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association, a block association with some serious political savvy. “They need more meeting space. They don’t really need this vast exhibition hall that the stadium would give them.”
    “Our phrase is, ‘Javits yes, stadium no,’” says Joe Restuccia, executive director of the Clinton Housing Development Co. “In the abstract, it’s a beautiful proposal, but it’s fitting a square peg into a round hole.”
    “Or a round peg into a square hole,” Daniel Gutman, a New York City-based environmental consultant, chimes in.
Name that stadium
    The stadium plan has floated around city government for more than a decade, going by as many names as the neighborhood it’s planned for. First it was to be a Yankees stadium, a plan that failed years ago. Then the idea arose for a Jets stadium. With the concept that it would double as convention space, it became the Multi-Use Facility.
    “They called it the MUF,” says Restuccia with some exasperation. “Then they added retail and called it the New York Sports and Convention Center.”
    In its current form, the NYSCC is being bundled with the Javits Center as the Convention Corridor. One begins to understand that the names are no accident; if an idea doesn’t fly in New York City, it simply needs to be renamed and presented as something brand new.
    L. Jay Cross, president of the Jets, says the continued opposition is frustrating, as his architects have done everything in their power to please naysayers. The plans, in their current permutation, call for a mix of restaurants, a community theater and environmentally friendly components such as wind turbines to generate electricity.
    “When we say, ‘It’s not just a stadium, it’s a sports and convention center,’ they say, ‘We don’t believe you,’” says Cross. “They’re already on record in favor of the convention center expansion. Rather than say they’re against the convention center, they say, ‘We don’t accept your definition of what this project is.’”

Is it feasible?
Various city offices and organizations, including the New York Association for Better Choices, have sponsored a war of feasibility studies on the stadium, regarding traffic, pollution, utility to meeting planners and cost to the city. Predictably, the results depend on whom you ask. For example, regarding whether the stadium will generate enough to pay off the city’s $21 million-per-year debt service, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s office cites an Ernst & Young study, sponsored by the Jets, that says the stadium will generate $35.2 million in city tax revenue every year.
    Meanwhile, NYABC funded a study by Chicago-based HVS International that sets the figure at $15.3 million, which would place a $6 million burden on the city every year. And the city’s Independent Budget Office released its own take that, in a best-case scenario, puts municipal profits at $28.4 million.
    The main variable between these studies is the number of conventions the New York Sports and Convention Center will attract. The Ernst & Young study claims the new facility will hold about 38 conventions per year, whereas the Independent Budget Office thinks 20 is optimistic. HVS settled on 15.
    The reason: According to HVS, the three operating stadium/convention centers in the United States in Atlanta, Indianapolis and St. Louis average just 11 conventions per year.
    “Event planners basically told us that they rarely utilize those spaces,” says Paul Sajovec, senior vice president of HVS. They complained about heating and air- conditioning costs, difficulty managing sound and lighting, security problems, and conflicts with football games during move-in and move-out days.
    But other planners, including Jeff D’Entremont, Indianapolis-based show director for the Cleveland-based Powersports Group of Advanstar Communications, disagree. D’Entremont has used the dome in Indianapolis and says it’s a functional space. And though even a midsize trade show would be cramped in a stadium like the one proposed for New York City, it would make good overflow space for large shows.
    In Indianapolis at least, the stadium-cum-convention center seems to work. Although officials plan to demolish the stadium to make room for a convention center expansion, they say they’ll erect a new stadium right next to the old.
    In the Big Apple, demand already has started building. Trade show organizers, meeting planners and NYC & Co. alike say New York defies all probability in terms of how much demand the city can generate.
    “In New York, you don’t have a lot of choices for large venues,” says Ken McAvoy, senior vice president of operations for Reed Exhibitions, based in Norwalk, Conn. He adds, “A lot of people against the stadium really don’t know the convention business.”
    Meeting planners who work in New York City feel a little more mixed on the issue, not because they think the stadium can’t work but because of traffic and security concerns on the city’s already tightly packed streets.
    “I’m absolutely against it,” says Richard Aaron, CMP, CSEP, president of BizBash, a New York City event planners’ resource. “I think the traffic is already horrific coming and going to work.”
    Aaron also opposes the stadium because it would put meeting schedules at the mercy of football games. “I think we should put meetings above any other consideration,” he says.

CityscapeCityscapeThe Copacabana nightclub, a popular postconvention party spot, is one of the few businesses in the area.