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NYC Convention Center May Need Public Improvements, Genting Says

New York state taxpayers might end up paying for infrastructure and transportation improvements to support a proposed privately financed convention center and casino in Queens, a representative of the developer said.

Christian Goode, senior vice president of Genting Americas, a division of Kuala Lumpur-based Genting Bhd., said his company’s development of a $4 billion, 3.8 million square-foot convention center and casino near John F. Kennedy International Airport would be “one more reason” to invest in improved roads and mass transit to serve the area. Goode didn’t say how much the improvements might cost.

“How the finances work out, it’s too early to tell,” Goode said today during a breakfast forum sponsored by Crain’s New York magazine.

Genting, which operates Asia’s second-biggest gaming company by market value, would finance some of the cost of express rail service to shorten what is now about a one-hour subway ride linking Manhattan with the site adjacent to Aqueduct racetrack, Goode said.

The proposal also calls for demolishing the Jacob Javits Convention Center and using its far west Manhattan site for housing and office buildings. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has made the Queens convention center a cornerstone of his economic-development plan, has said taxpayer funds won’t be needed.

“There is no cost to the state,” Cuomo said during a Jan. 9 interview on WGDJ-AM in Albany, after proposing it in his State of the State address. “It’s a private-sector company that says it can create tens of thousands of jobs.”

Legislation Needed

The governor has said legislation will be needed to allow Genting to expand the number of electronic slot-machines at its so-called racino at Aqueduct. Cuomo also is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would allow Las Vegas-style casino gambling in the third-most populous state, though he has said Genting’s expansion plans aren’t hinging on it.

For Genting to invest as much as $3 billion in the project, it would need government assurances that would protect it from competitors and allow the company to repay as much as $1 billion in bank debt, Goode said.

The convention center would be built during a period of decline in the trade-show industry, said Steven Malanga, an author and research fellow of the Manhattan Institute, a non-profit policy group that favors lower taxes and reduced government spending. Convention-center attendance in New York dwindled to about 700,000 last year, about half of what it was in the late 1990s, Malanga said.

‘Historic Decline’

“That’s because of a historic decline in the industry itself, not because of a lack of space in our facility,” Malanga said, noting that New York City drew a record number of visitors last year without having a convention center of the size Cuomo proposed.

Cuomo’s plan won support from Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, which for decades has conducted research on land use and transportation policies.

Yaro’s group has called for the project to include a complementary smaller facility for trade shows and conferences on Manhattan’s west side in what is now the James Farley Post Office building, a Corinthian-columned landmark built in 1912 and designed by McKim, Mead & White. Plans have been in the works for several years to use the building as a rail passenger terminal named for former U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan.

“It has the potential to unleash the economic potential of Manhattan’s west side,” Yaro said. “In this case they’re proposing to pay for it, and I think that’s a pretty good deal with the taxpayers.”

Of the potential infrastructure costs, Yaro said there are “much-needed improvements in Queens that would serve Aqueduct and residents of Queens and provide access to the airport. They shouldn’t be paid for by Genting.”

The project could remain economically viable without such work, Yaro said, “but they would benefit from these improvements.”

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