Saturday, April 02, 2005

New Javits Center Proposals

New Proposals Afoot for Javits Expansion

Hotel and tourism executives have wanted a bigger convention hall to attract even bigger trade shows ever since the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center opened its doors in 1986.

Last year, they got a plan nicknamed Javits Lite, a smaller-than-desired proposed expansion that was linked to the rezoning of the West Side for large-scale buildings and a controversial plan to build a stadium over the West Side railyards. Some convention proponents worried that the expanded Javits would still be undersized the day it opened.

But with the stadium proposal now dead and state officials moving forward with plans to build a new $930 million train station east of the railyards in honor of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, some developers, tourism officials, urban planners and architects are now quietly circulating three alternative plans for a larger expansion of the convention center and ideas for what could be built over the railyards.

It remains to be seen whether any of the proposals will be embraced by Gov. George E. Pataki or Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, but they have gained support among civic groups, developers like Douglas Durst and Jeffrey S. Katz and the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association, which opposed the stadium.

"There is a terrific opportunity here, a chance to reconceive what should happen on the West Side now that the railyards are available and the Moynihan train station is moving ahead," said Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, a private planning organization. "It's a chance to build on the work the city has already done and to bring together groups that have been divided over the past few years by the stadium and the rezoning."

The most radical plan, known as the "flip," involves building one of the nation's largest convention centers over the two railyards, stretching from 12th Avenue to 10th Avenue, from 30th Street to 34th Street. Developed by the Newman Real Estate Institute at Baruch College, this plan puts the center over a 26-acre "hole in the ground" that has long discouraged development.

Unlike the current Javits Center, which forms a five-block wall between the city and the Hudson River, Newman's convention hall would be perpendicular to the waterfront and part of an east-west corridor that extends from Herald Square to Madison Square Garden, the new train station and the river.
Proponents say this proposal would spur commercial development along 30th and 34th Streets. And once the convention hall is built, the state could knock down the old Javits Center, which sits on 22 acres along 11th Avenue, from 34th Street to 39th Street, and sell the waterfront property for an estimated $3 billion to residential developers.
"This alternative makes a new convention center, rather than a new stadium, the centerpiece of development on the Far West Side," said Henry Wollman, director of the Newman Institute "It would provide a 21st-century convention facility combined with extensive retail and commercial development that will be an integral part of the urban fabric. The east-west axis organically links the Far West Side to Midtown."

Although the proposal has won admiring reviews from Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, the Municipal Art Society and others, many people worry that its $7 billion price tag is prohibitive; its future is dim unless there is major political support.
Some state officials and tourism executives say that a switch to the Newman proposal would further delay, and perhaps scuttle, the long-sought expansion of the Javits, which was approved last December by the State Assembly. The Javits Development Corporation is in the process of selecting an architect for the $1.4 billion project (the so-called Javits Lite plan), which would extend the convention hall from 39th Street to 41st Street, expanding the exhibition space, in the first phase, from 760,000 square feet to 1.1 million.

"There's nothing wrong with the idea; the problem is the money," Charles A. Gargano, chairman of the Javits Development Corporation, said of the Newman proposal. "We want to move forward as quickly as possible with the northern expansion."
Amanda M. Burden, chairwoman of the City Planning Commission, said her office had worked up several different site plans for the West Side, although she was not ready to unveil them. Speaking generally, she said she was considering an expansion of the Javits over the railyard on the west side of 11th Avenue in combination with a mix of office space, housing and cultural space that would provide a catalyst for development. But she said any plan must provide the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with money for the railyards, while remaining consistent with the city's rezoning and financial plan for the West Side.

Tourism executives favor pushing forward with the current expansion plan, but they also want still more exhibition space for the Javits, which they say currently ranks as the 18th largest convention center in the country. They say that a bigger hall would allow the city to compete for conventions that now go to Chicago, Las Vegas or Orlando because the Javits is too small.
"We like any idea that affords us more space for the Javits," said Cristyne L. Nicholas, president of NYC & Company, the city's convention and visitors bureau. "We should be looking at the railyards as a natural extension of the Javits. Even after we get the expansion of the north, the Javits still won't be the size we need."
But Robert Boyle, who runs the Javits Center, said that the Javits had to avoid getting too large, given that every large and medium-sized city in the country has been expanding its space even as the number and size of trade shows has declined. The Javits could end up with more than it needs, Mr. Boyle said.
Under the second proposal quietly circulating, the developer Douglas Durst has been working with the architects Meta Brunzema and Fox & Fowle on a proposal that would extend the Javits south - rather than north - but only over the railyard on the west side of 11th Avenue. Mr. Durst argued that there is still time to consider alternatives because there is a budget but no architectural plan for the expansion of the Javits.
His proposal would allow the Javits to expand to 1.3 million square feet, the same size as the two-phase expansion to the north. It calls for four towers - a hotel, two office buildings and an apartment house - to be built at the four corners of the convention center, a 10-acre park atop the center, and a tree-lined promenade along 39th Street, linking the neighborhood to the river and the ferry terminal.
Mr. Durst is also interested in buying the 13-acre railyard on the east side of 11th Avenue when the M.T.A. puts it up for auction.

"You need to think about the east and west railyards as a single opportunity," said Anna Levin, co-chairwoman of Community Board 4's land use committee. "The potential in either the Durst plan or the Newman plan is clearly worth considering."
The Municipal Art Society agrees with Ms. Levin, although its own proposal calls for expanding the existing Javits Center to the west, over the West Side Highway. Any expansion to the north, Mr. Barwick said, would extend the barrier between the city and the water and the new ferry terminal at 39th Street.
Mr. Barwick also favors establishing a three-block corridor along 32nd Street from the west end of the central post office on Ninth Avenue, which would be transformed into the Moynihan rail station, to the waterfront, with a parklike strip lined by commercial towers. Developers will be attracted to the area, he said, with or without the proposed $2 billion extension of the No. 7 subway line from Times Square to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, because of its proximity to the city's busiest transportation hub.

"Expanding to the south, onto the yards, would produce as big a convention center as we need," said Mr. Katz, a developer who owns three development parcels on the West Side. "It should be studied before the option disappears."