Dominick Calsolaro

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A united front can help center

Published on 12/6/2007 by the Times Union written by DOMINICK CALSOLARO

Is there anyone out there who can shed some light on the cost of the Albany convention center and what the full picture is going to look like?

I attended the November meeting of the Albany Convention Center Authority (as I have attended many of the authority meetings over the past two years) and came away as confused as ever over what the convention center/hotel project is going to entail.

If you went to earlier authority meetings, you would have heard highly paid consultants tell us that we needed one 400-room convention center hotel, and then, a couple of months later, another highly paid consultant tell us two hotels were better than one. Now even more highly paid consultants are telling us to go back to square one and that we only need one hotel.

What gives?

In earlier meetings, we were told that a parking garage was going to be torn down and a new one built. Now we are told that not only should we not demolish the garage, but that we should add another floor to it. Huh?

We were told in previous meetings that the community was going to be involved in the decision-making process on how our money (after all it is taxpayers' money that is funding the project) was going to be spent.

But as reported by the Times Union's Tim O'Brien ("Convention Center to have Rhode Island state of mind") last week, authority Chairman George Leveille is quoted as saying at the November meeting, "It wouldn't be realistic in having the entire community involved" when discussing the selection of the hotel management firm and convention center operating firm.

Yet, these firms will be the entities members of the community have to deal directly with when looking for employment opportunities at the convention center and hotel.

To further complicate matters, after two years of meetings, there is still no cost estimate available for public review. So we still don't know what this project is going to cost and where the additional funding is going to come from.

The Empire State Development Corp., which has committed $75 million to the project, has yet to allow any drawdowns of funds from its grant. I think the ESDC wants to see a cost estimate of the project before releasing funds.

One piece of definite news from the authority meeting was that the operators of the convention center (SMG) and the hotel (Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.) have been chosen.

We were told how Starwood Hotels considers Albany a great place for a new 400-room Sheraton Hotel.

They should demonstrate their faith in Albany and finance the full cost of building the hotel without any public funds and release the city of Albany from the requirement that our state aid be used as a guarantee for the hotel revenue bonds.

The formation of a true public (convention center)/private (hotel) partnership will go a long way in proving to the convention center/trade show industry that Albany is a city worthy of hosting conventions and trade shows. Dominick Calsolaro represents the 1st Ward on the Albany Common Council.