April 24, 2009
By William Ng
A ‘modest’ 40,000-sf exhibit-space addition highlights a new revitalization plan also intended to make repairs.
After suffering a major setback 15 months ago when its ambitious expansion plan was scrapped, New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center may yet again get new exhibit space, as well as major renovations and repairs.
A far smaller effort compared with a multibillion-dollar initiative that was axed by ex New York governor Eliot Spitzer in January 2008, the new $463 million plan would add 40,000 sf of show space to the Javits Center. It also would replace a leaky roof with a green structure and replenish other fixtures, such as the exterior curtain wall system.
The new, column-free exhibition space would be housed in a new wing with independent entry and exit points, and the wing would connect with the existing building via a second-story concourse.
Work on the project could begin immediately upon state approval, and the Javits Center would remain in full operation. Funds from a $1.50-per-night hotel surcharge introduced in 2005 would pay for the project.
Job creation in a down economy is the impetus behind the latest plan. Governor David A. Paterson and other top city and state officials said it would create 9,000 construction and related jobs. But George Fertitta, CEO of NYC & Co., the city’s tourism marketing agency, welcomed the project as good news for business groups, saying “a refreshed and modernized Javits Center will further elevate [the city] as a premier convention and meetings destination.”
At 765,000 sf of total exhibition space, the two-decade-old Javits Center still ranks among the country’s biggest convention buildings, but new and expanding facilities in other destinations are catching up in the “space race,” according to analyst Rob Hunden, president of Chicago-based Hunden Strategic Partners.
New York City’s enduring popularity and large meetings hotels, such as Time Square’s Marriott Marquis, have continued to buoy the Big Apple among top U.S. convention cities.
One prominent Javits user, Ken McAvoy, senior VP of operations for Reed Exhibitions, and a member of a lobbying group of major Javits clients—called Friends of Javits—has said before that Reed might have to relocate some of its trade shows if the Javits Center’s infrastructure didn’t keep up with exhibition needs. He said the latest plan—with its marshalling yard space, refurbishment of key building elements, and modest space expansion— “is a step in the right direction.”
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg echoed that, saying it was important to move forward on a Javits Center revitalization but adding that it must be followed by a long-term plan to meet continuing demand for additional convention space in the Big Apple.
Any long-term plan for the facility should include a convention hotel of 1,500 to 2,000 sleeping rooms, said Hunden. “Since they have not addressed the hotel situation, doing a massive expansion [now] would not be prudent,” he said, referring to the city and state agencies in charge of the facility. “Improving what they already have is their best bet now.”
An anchor hotel was pursued as part of a major package in 2006 to push the Javits Center’s exhibition space over the 1 million sf mark while adding significantly more meeting rooms and ballrooms and revamping its exterior. But from 2006 to 2008, that $1.8 billion proposal was modified continually and scaled down until it was canceled early last year due to inflationary costs.
“New York City needs to have a world-class convention hotel with its own meeting space that enhances what the Javits offers,” said Hunden. “The Javits is one of the largest convention centers in the country, but it is absolutely difficult for groups to get good room blocks in New York City.”
Hunden sees the Javits Center and New York City evolving from a bidder for the country’s biggest conventions to a specialist for the shows that have to be there.
He cited Indianapolis’ expanding Indiana Convention Center—which will have as much space as the Javits Center in two years, plus a multi-hotel complex—as one example of how lower-cost destinations are narrowing the gap infrastructurally.
“While New York City is always going to be more costly, the spread between theJavits and other venues, if not corrected, could force us out,” said Reed’s McAvoy.
Originally published April 20, 2009