The New York State Convention Center Development Corporation recently released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a designer/builder for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s planned expansion of the Javits Center on Manhattan’s west side. So now there are some specifics on the $1 billion boondoggle, but no real indication of where the public dollars are actually going to come from, beyond that “a State appropriation of $1 billion, bond issuance proceeds, cash on hand, and other sources as required.” It’s nice to have “cash on hand.”
The project would include a new 480,000-square-foot marshaling facility, with 27 loading docks — because what Manhattan most needs are fleets of 18-wheelers hauling stuff on city streets — roof terrace for outdoor events, and 92,000 square feet of new prime exhibit space, together with added meeting room and ballroom space. That amounts to just an 11 percent increase in exhibit space — what a deal for a billion bucks in public dollars!
Gov. Cuomo proclaimed last January that the Javits was the “busiest convention center in the United States,” with more than 2 million visitors annually. The Javits’ annual report shows attendance of 2,056,500 in 2014. But that year Chicago’s McCormick Place saw total attendance of 2.34 million. So “busiest” might be open to some question. And those Javits attendance figures include big public shows like the New York International Auto Show that sees a million attendees itself, almost entirely from the New York metro area.
The real issue with the Javits is dismal attendance at conventions and trade shows, the events that draw out-of-town visitors and fill hotel rooms. In 2000, the Javits drew 1.25 million convention and trade show attendees. For 2014, the total was just 629,500. And those attendees produced just 478,000 hotel room nights — a tiny fraction of the 31.6 million room nights filled in the city in 2014. That may be why the Cuomo administration has yet to produce any kind of market analysis or feasibility study for the expansion: It likely won’t produce any real increase in the Javits’ convention business.