Albany Convention Center
|Albany Convention Center|
Artist rendition viewed from the current location of Liberty Street
|Address||Hudson Avenue and Broadway|
|Location||Albany, New York|
|Owner||Albany Convention Center Authority|
|Opened||To be determined|
|Construction cost||$220 million (projected)|
|• Total space||300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) (projected)|
|• Exhibit hall floor||1|
The Albany Convention Center (ACC) is a proposed convention center to be located in downtown Albany, New York. The complex was initially proposed by Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings in 1994, though no real action was taken until 2002; the project has been controversial from the beginning. In 2004 the Albany Convention Center Authority (ACCA) was established by the New York Legislature to develop plans for the site. Supported by Governor George Pataki, the project was awarded a $75 million grant in 2005. Initial cost estimates for the project started at around $150 million, but these soon rose to almost $400 million before dropping again to $220 million after turning hotel and parking garage development over to private firms. The finished complex is expected to have around 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) of convention space.
The main incentive for the ACC is the lack of significant convention space in Albany—New York's capital—and the potential for significant use by state-wide organizations. The project is also controversial, being seen as a poor use of tax-payer money, especially during an economic recession.
The plan originated with Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings and various supporters in 1994, though progress was not actually made until 2002 when the mayor put out a "request for expressions of interest", with which the mayor requested possible locations for the convention center as well as preliminary designs and cost estimates. The complex was initially expected to cost between $140 and $160 million. The incentive for such a plan was based mainly on the lack of significant convention space in Albany and potential profits that could be generated from such a center in the state capital. Early plans suggested a 400-room hotel and up to 130,000 square feet (12,000 m2) of convention space, large enough to accommodate 5,000 to 7,000 people.
Plans expanded quickly and by early 2003, estimates had reached $185 million with 250,000 square feet (23,000 m2) and parking for up to 1,500 cars. By this time a Jennings-appointed convention center task force had yet to decide on a site. The top two locations were west of the Pepsi Arena between State and Beaver Streets and east of the Pepsi bounded by Broadway, Beaver Street, and Greene Street.
In June 2004, with the support of Governor George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the New York Legislature established the Albany Convention Center Authority (ACCA), the public body entrusted with developing the convention center. The outcome was not that preferred by Jennings: his initial plan sought a development authority with greater power and the ability to finance up to $500 million with state backing. As created by the Legislature, the Authority was a group made of members to be appointed by a number of different state officials, with a finance limit of $185 million.
In 2005, Albany County's three-percent hotel tax was increased to five percent and a year later it was upped to six percent. The additional tax was expected to raise $3 million annually in an effort to pay off the ACCA's $8.5 million estimated annual cost.[Note 1] Many local hotel owners and managers opposed the increased tax since the proceeds were funding a future competitor.
In early 2008, after a study by an architectural firm, the estimated cost was increased to almost $400 million. Jennings, the original proposer of the ACC, responded to this estimate by indicating the plan might no longer be viable. Members of the Authority, however, disagreed. At this time the plans were revised to include a 244,000-square-foot (22,700 m2) convention center, a 400-room Sheraton Hotel and a raised parking garage with capacity for 1,100 cars. The project's major setback was lack of funding from the state, which was dealing with a $4.4 billion budget deficit. Many locals opposed the plan as wasteful spending; in contrast, a February 2008 Times Union editorial indicated its support saying, "This is a state project, not a city project and one entirely deserving of a commitment even larger than the $205 million that's been approved already."
With the state only approving about $200 million (including a $75 million grant from Governor Pataki), the ACCA made it clear in April 2008 that state tax money should pay for the difference ($190 million) in funding the project. In response, the new Paterson administration contracted with PricewaterhouseCoopers to review the viability of the project. By this point the project had spent only $2 million of the $75 million allotted by former Governor Pataki. The funding could only be spent on master planning. While waiting for approval from the State, the project was given permission to begin archaeological digs around the preferred site between Broadway, Hudson Avenue and the South Mall Arterial. Various relics from Albany's Dutch past were uncovered and catalogued for inclusion in future museum displays.
While ACCA board member (and Albany Assemblyman) Jack McEneny stated his belief that the ACC would eventually pay for itself through its revenue, the Empire Center for New York State Policy described it as "a white elephant from the start. Here at a time where our borrowing is already excessive and our state budget is already overcommitted, you're talking about bailing out a project that was unnecessary to begin with." By this time, a preliminary location had been selected by the ACCA, several[clarification needed] downtown blocks near Broadway and Hudson Avenue, an area McEneny described as "the last ugly section of downtown". A study sponsored by the ACCA projected that the ACC would bring in 50 to 85 events annually, each lasting one to four days; 100,000 to 185,000 more annual visitors are expected to the city as a result.
|31 Jul 2009||0.5||$469,673||Greyhound Lines, Inc.|||
|28 Aug 2009||0.39||$435,000||Albany County|||
|24 Feb 2010||0.33||$550,000||Capitalize Albany Corp.|||
|20 Aug 2010||3.0||$5,900,000||City Square Associates|||
In late 2008, $10 million (part of the original $75 million promised by Governor Pataki) was released by Governor Paterson to begin the acquisition of the land necessary for the project. The first piece of land, a 0.5-acre (0.20 ha) parking lot, was bought in July 2009 from Greyhound Lines, Inc. at a cost of $469,673. In August 2009, the Albany County Legislature approved the sale of nine vacant county-owned lots—totaling 0.39 acres (0.16 ha)—to the ACCA at a cost of $453,000. In February 2010, the ACCA bought about 0.5 acres (0.20 ha) of land, which brought its total to about 1.5 acres (0.61 ha). In August 2010 it purchased about 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land at a cost of $5.9 million. After this sale, the ACCA had acquired about 75% of the land necessary for the project.
In November 2009, the ACCA revealed its design, developed by HNTB. A formal price was also released: $220 million. The ACCA was able to drop from its earlier $400 million estimate by turning hotel and parking garage development over to private developers. This brought the cost estimate down to between $225 million and $240 million. After considering the cost of goods and commodities during the economic recession, the estimate dropped again to $220 million.
The ACC will be located along Broadway between the South Mall Arterial and Hudson Avenue. The current site consists mostly of surface-level parking lots. The design will consist mainly of a brick and glass structure. The meeting area would comprise an exhibition hall, two ballrooms and other various meeting spaces totaling about 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2).
In early 2008, it was announced that the site would include a 400-room Sheraton Hotel, to be run by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., of White Plains; a 300,000-square-foot (28,000 m2) convention center, to be operated by SMG Management—the company that operates the Times Union Center—and an 1,100-car parking garage. A bridge will also connect the convention center to the Times Union Center. The back of the center will be pushed up against the South Mall Arterial, with loading docks on that side. A plaza will be built near the center of the complex, facing Broadway. The design will allow for future expansion of the convention space, if needed.
Within the site boundary is the Van Ostrande-Radliff House, one of the oldest houses in the Capital District, which is also believed to be the oldest building in the city of Albany. The house was built by Johannes van Ostrande around 1728 and is a rare example of Dutch architecture from its time. Owner Brian Parker came into agreement with the ACCA that the building would be saved, possibly making use of it as a visitor's center.
The Albany Convention Center has seen significant opposition from its inception. Opposing viewpoints offer a range of alternative plans. Some state that Albany doesn't need a convention center at all, some suggest the ACCA consider expanding current convention facilities and others have proposed moving the project to other areas of the city, such as the University Heights neighborhood, the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering campus, or the Harriman State Office Campus. It has also been suggested that since the ACCA has already accumulated some funds (though not enough to complete the current plans), it should instead invest the capital in buying up vacant buildings and renovating them as a stimulus for the downtown economy. Opponents question the cost of the project, especially during such difficult fiscal times.
Even considering the economic crisis, the Albany area has seen a general shortage of construction workers. The $4.2 billion GlobalFoundries chip plant that was begun in nearby Malta in 2008 already strained the labor market and some worry that building the ACC will just exacerbate the problem.
- Until construction on the project actually starts, the revenues are split up with $1 million going toward administrative costs for the Albany Convention Center Authority and $2 million going directly toward the debt that Albany County owes for the Times Union Center (which the county owns).
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