Long-Delayed Projects To Get A Pataki Push

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The New York Sun

Governor Pataki will use the last six months of his term to push for expanding the Javits Convention Center and turning the Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station, $2.5 billion worth of long-delayed development projects on the West Side of Manhattan.

“We want to begin this year,” the state’s leading development official, Charles Gargano, told The New York Sun.

Delays for both projects have been measured in years rather than months, but both plans are scheduled for final public hearings in the next three weeks.

Although financing is already in place, the projects require approval from the Public Authorities Control Board – which includes representatives of the Governor Pataki, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and the State Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno. The legislative leaders used their positions on the board to block last year’s plans for a West Side stadium.

Spokesmen for both Mr. Silver and Mr. Bruno yesterday expressed support for expanding the convention center, but said the Moynihan Station plan was still being reviewed.

The $1.7 billion expansion of the Javits center would make New York’s convention center the fifth biggest in the country – up from the 19th spot – and has the support of Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, and several business and tourism groups.

But the plan has also encountered its share of critics, including Senator Schumer, who called the plan too small and too expensive.

The current plan will extend the center north along 11th Avenue one block to 40th Street, and will increase exhibit and meeting room space to more than 1.3 million square feet. Much of the additional square footage will be achieved by building another floor on top of the existing structure. The state is also planning to sell an entire city block to the south of the center for private commercial and residential development to generate additional project funds, and move the truck marshalling yards to the center’s northern end. The plan includes a 1,500-room hotel nearby.

The Municipal Art Society, which opposes the Javits expansion, filed a lawsuit last week to halt the plan. The plaintiffs, who include neighborhood groups, claim the state failed to update the environmental impact statement.

Other planning advocates have said the expansion plan, which will largely be upward, will leave the center with an awkward configuration for conventioneers who prefer contiguous space. There are also questions whether the block to the south will generate as much money as the state has predicted.

A spokesman for the Regional Plan Association, Jeremy Soffin, said that none of the project’s flaws are necessarily “fatal”, but he said that the most recent design seems to cost more but accomplish less.

“It is worrisome that the cost is going up and the final product is getting decreasingly effective at solving the original problem,” Mr. Soffin said. “If you think long term, you really need to think about moving Javits altogether. It sits on some of the most valuable real estate in the world.”

Mr. Gargano, the chairman of the state agency shepherding the project through the approval process, said that Javits’ lack of space forces the city to turn away between 50 and 60 shows a year. He said a vertical expansion is “much, much cheaper” than expanding to the north – which would require buying a bus garage from the Metropolitan Transit Authority for an estimated $600 million.

Mr. Gargano said the vertical configuration would work “as long as there are enough escalators and elevators.”

Even if Mr. Pataki is able to win the necessary approvals and begin preparation work on both the Javits Center and Moynihan Station, there is no guarantee the next governor will not block or revise the plans.

The first designs for Moynihan Station, an expansion of Pennsylvania Station into the Farley Post Office across the street, were drawn up in 1992.Plans have been delayed by the September 11th attacks and drawn-out negotiations with the Post Office over site acquisition, among other factors.

The latest designs, rendered by architect David Childs, were released last month. The plan, estimated at about $880 million, is for new train halls for New Jersey Transit and Long Island Railroad, a post office, and a mixed-use development that could include a hotel, big box stores and restaurants. The commercial portion will be developed by two of the city’s most active developers, the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust.

Penn Station is currently the busiest transportation hub in America, with about 550,000 people daily, and the dark, dingy underground labyrinth is calling out for renovation or demolition.

A public hearing over Moynihan Station is scheduled for June 1, according to Mr. Gargano.

The owners of Madison Square Garden have expressed some interest in moving into the back portion of the post office, along 9th Avenue. Mr. Gargano said yesterday that the sports arena could be added to the project after the current plans are approved.

Amtrak has not agreed to move to Moynihan Station from Penn Station, which Mr. Gargano said was a disappointment.

The New York Sun

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