Gov. Andrew Cuomo's new plan to sell the Jacob Javits Center and build the largest convention center in the country at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens is an urban upheaval on a scale that evokes the legacy of Robert Moses, the parks commissioner who shaped the city in wide swaths in the middle of the last century. The sale would create 18 acres on the West Side of Manhattan for master planning, with Battery Park City's mixed-use example cited as a template for development.
If history is any indication, it will be a long process. In Battery Park City's case, 92 acres of new land was created using landfill from the excavation of the original World Trade Center site in the 1960s, along with other projects. The Battery Park City Authority was founded in 1968, but it would be decades before the first residents moved in, and construction on the final buildings, developed by Milstein Properties, finished only last year.
The Javits site is smaller than Battery Park City, but there will undoubtedly be competing visions for its future. A local group, the Hell's Kitchen Neighborhood Association, has an older plan that seeks to promote open space and mixed-use housing (see above image). But the bulk of the planning will likely be a give and take between the desires of a larger private developer and locals.
Battery Park City has been an economic boon for the city, bringing in around $200 million a year on top of regular taxes, thanks to its developers' ground leases with the city -- the city owns the land, developers pay a lease on the land and build on it, and the developers collect rent or sell condos in the buildings. The city also earns income from maintenance fees. The funds go to the Battery Park Authority's budget, as well as toward affordable housing and other expenses. The Javits site also has high financial expectations -- Cuomo expects the site to attract $2 billion in private investment.
Ultimately, the Javits site would be one of the last areas claimed by the steady march of westward development. To the immediate south is the Related Companies' Hudson Yards, which signed anchor tenant Coach last year, although no other leases have been announced. The creation of the new neighborhood was an outgrowth of New York's failed bid to host the 2012 Olympics, which would have resulted in the construction of a massive stadium.
Farther south, West Chelsea has seen a residential boom, aided by the conversion of the High Line into an elevated park, which has redefined the neighborhood as a residential area. In the north are a spate of new, expensive residential towers: Two Trees' Mercedes House, Silverstein Properties' Silver Towers and Related's MiMa. It remains to be seen if the Javits site is marked by similarly high-end housing, or if affordable units are set aside.
In Queens, the new convention center, tentatively titled the New York International Convention and Exhibition Center, or NICE, will be privately built by Genting, the Malaysian casino operator that opened the city's first slot machines at the site last year. The developer said the first phase of the development could open as early as 2014, although financing and the state's acceptance of casino gambling remain very uncertain.
The convention center will test the limits of transit-oriented development. Far from Manhattan's density, the center may struggle to become a draw in its own right, or it may even overwhelm the local subway and highway. In his speech, Cuomo focused on the center's size of 3.8 million square feet, which would make it the largest such building in the country. But some critics say that declines in the trade show industry may led to weak demand for convention centers, and the massive size may remain unfilled.
The futures of the Javits Center and Aqueduct convention center are filled with potential: the creation of a resurgent, diverse neighborhood on one hand, and the building of an international destination on the other. But the road to realization remains fraught with peril. Delays have plagued the likes of the Moynihan Station redevelopment, an effort to recapture Pennsylvania Station's glory days in the adjacent McKim, Mead & White-designed James A. Farley Post Office Building, and the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, development plots that have stood in stasis on the Lower East Side for decades.
While Cuomo may not see the end of these projects during his administration, he has taken a bold action to reshape the city. But in the coming years, the vision will be tested.