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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Pushing NY’s Luck

Governor Cuomo wants the nation’s largest convention center to be built near Aqueduct Racetrack, and announced last week during his ‘State of the State’ address that the Genting Organization, a Malaysian-based company, would provide the financing.

The pronouncement was inexplicably taken seriously in Albany even though the proposal is better-suited as source material for Really!?! With Seth [Meyers] & Amy [Poehler]. The segment used to air on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update sketch. The Aqueduct location is so terrible that even conventioneers unfamiliar with New York City would quickly realize they’d been scammed. Situated in South Ozone Park, Queens, the thoroughbred racing facility‘s adjoining acreage is endowed with a New Jersey Meadowlands-like charm. Indeed, East Rutherford, NJ, the official address of the godforsaken Meadowlands, also houses Xanadu, another epic, government-encouraged land use blunder.

Moreover, unless someone needs to catch a plane out of nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport, or feels like taking their chances on the city subway’s A train, Aqueduct is otherwise far removed from any locale a tourist needs, or wants, to visit. That logistical vibe won’t abate even if hotels, restaurants and Las Vegas-like gambling facilities are constructed near Genting’s Resorts World Casino, which opened next to Aqueduct Racetrack in October 2011 and is home to hundreds of video lottery terminals.

“Today.... I propose that we build the largest convention center in the nation. 3.8 million square feet —larger than McCormick Place in Chicago, which is currently the largest in the United States. This will bring to New York the largest events, driving demand for hotel rooms and restaurant meals and creating tax revenues and jobs, jobs, jobs,” Governor Cuomo stated. “We are pursuing a joint venture with the Genting Organization, a gaming development company, to complete this vision at the Aqueduct Racetrack venue. It is a $4 billion private investment that will generate tens of thousands of jobs and economic activity that will ripple throughout the state. In addition to the new convention space, up to 3,000 hotel rooms will be developed. We will make New York the #1 convention site in the nation.“

Genting also stands to benefit from the governor’s call for a constitutional amendment allowing for more gambling enterprises beyond the ones already operating on Indian Nation-owned sites in the state, such as Turning Stone Resort in Verona, NY, near Utica. Yup, let‘s empty the pockets of those conventioneers after trapping them in South Ozone Park. I guess it will be easier to sleep at night knowing the endeavor created jobs and filled governmental coffers with taxes extracted from Aqueduct-area hotels, restaurants, casinos, and their employees.

Look, I attend about three conventions a year in various U.S. cities. The best convention centers have one thing in common: close proximity to places people want to go, ideally within walking distance from the hotels housing the convention attendees.

New York City’s tourism business is booming these days in Manhattan. Savvy convention planners understand that booking an event in mid-town Manhattan makes sense. No one has to get in a car, and everybody is minutes away from world-renowned museums, theatres, and performing arts facilities. The Aqueduct venue offers none of these amenities, and never will.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: