In 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, a group of retired policemen came together to organize one of the largest international exposition’s the world had ever seen. The end goal: to lift the city out of a crushing economic depression. The 1939 New York World's Fair which took place in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens was the second largest American world's fair of all time, bringing millions of people from all over the world to the borough. In 1964, another World Fair was held, attracting millions more visitors to Queens. Today, the Unisphere still stands as a symbol of the entrepreneurial spirit of Queens and a reminder that strong leadership and innovative thinking is exactly what the doctor ordered in times of great economic distress.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed plan to bring a new Convention and Exhibition Center to Queens pays homage to the legacy of the World Fair and promises to put Queens on the map as home to the largest Convention Center in the nation. Once again finding ourselves facing tough economic times reminiscent of the Great Depression era, Governor Cuomo’s plan to bring a 3.8-million-square-foot exhibition hall and hotel to be located at the Aqueduct racetrack will generate desperately needed revenue for the City and State. This plan will act as a catalyst for economic growth by creating jobs and getting our workforce back to work.
JFK airport, the international gateway to New York, as well as LaGuardia airport, is minutes away by taxi, making the site of the Convention Center a perfect location for business travelers and convention goers. For the naysayers that remain unconvinced that Queens is the ideal space for a Convention Center, Queens already attracts millions of tourists each year to its neighborhoods. One only has to look at Citi Field Park and the Mets franchise, which already attract New Yorkers and tourists from around the world to partake in America’s favorite past time. The U.S. Open, the Queens Museum of Art and the New York Hall of Science attract millions more visitors throughout the year, many coming by mass transit and LIRR service.
The Jacob K. Javits Center, completed in 1986, is only 675,000 square feet and has been called outdated and obsolete. The proposed Convention Center in Queens would provide almost six times more space and provide thousands of hotel rooms for convention goers and people coming for specific exhibitions. New York City has always been an epicenter of tourism and it deserves a premiere exhibition facility.
Further, the building of the complex won’t cost New York taxpayers a dime. The new convention center would be built on state-owned land, but paid for by private investment by a company already operating property at the site. Almost all of the financial risk will lay with the private company, not the State. Revenues generated by the State and City can be reinvested into critical infrastructure improvements that can grow the economy even further, including transportation initiatives. The Queens Chamber of Commerce has strongly endorsed the plan, pointing to a Conference, Exhibition & Hotel Feasibility study they had previously conducted in 2005 on the benefits of building such a convention center in Queens.
As the former Superintendent of Banks and Secretary of the Banking Board for New York State and the former Chairman of the New York City Council’s Finance Committee, I believe that public-private partnerships can greatly benefit our communities and bring with it much needed improvements in infrastructure development. If done right, this project will not only provide desperately needed jobs for our residents but it will also provide the opportunity to critically examine and improve the transportation infrastructure in Queens. In 1939 a special subway line, the IND World's Fair Railroad, was built specifically to make the World Fair more accessible to visitors and what is currently the Mets – Willets Point station was rebuilt just to handle increased traffic. A LIRR line was also created. It was these types of public work projects that put people back to work.
A proud New Yorker and Queens' resident, I believe it is time for New York to have the largest and most state of the art convention center in the nation. It is time to get New Yorkers back to work and to invest in our communities. I ardently support Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious agenda to make job creation a top priority this year.
It is time to build a Convention Center in Queens and create our very own “Field of Dreams.”
As the old adage goes “Build it and they will come.”