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Convention center plan changes could save money

Published on 12/7/2008 by the Daily Gazette written by Jill Bryce

Convention center plan changes could save money

By Jill Bryce, Daily Gazette, December 7, 2008

ALBANY — New plans were displayed Friday for a redesigned Albany Convention Center that officials say will cut the cost of the project from $400 million to $230 million.

The new plan maintains a commitment to build a 266,000-square-foot facility near Broadway but separates the proposed convention center, parking garage and hotel into three elements. The separation reduces the projected cost.

Construction of the convention center, which would have entrances on Hudson Avenue and Liberty Street, could begin on the shovel-ready site next year, according to Gavin Donohue, chairman of the Albany Convention Center Authority.

“If we build it, they will come, and market studies shows this,” said Donohue.

The plan expands the footprint of the project and moves the parking garage and hotel, which would be built behind facades at 320 to 344 Broadway, areas that weren’t part of the original plan.

Redesigning the convention center will save between $30 million and $40 million, Donohue said. Having a private company build the hotel will trim $136 million off the original proposal and redesigning the proposed 1,100 space parking garage will save another $11 million.

Several hotel companies have expressed an interest in building the hotel on Broadway, according to Donohue, though he would not identify those companies.

Donohue said Gov. David Paterson has decided to dip into the $75 million previously appropriated to the Empire State Development Corp. for the project and release to the authority $10 million to pay for pre-construction costs and land acquisition over the next year.

More state funds will be necessary, according to Duncan Stewart, executive director of the authority, though it’s not clear how much.

Donohue said he met several times with Paterson during the past few weeks to move the project forward. It has been at a standstill for months.

“We listened to the governor about the private component. We went back to partners and said, ‘How do we redesign this?’ ”

He said the governor’s staff is “very engaged in the project,” which officials say will bring hundreds of jobs to Albany and the Capital Region.

Donohue said it’s a time to invest and the two years the Albany Convention Center Authority has put into the project indicate there’s private support.

President-elect Barack Obama’s economic agenda is about restoring sites and infrastructure projects, Donohue said, and this project fits in nicely with that national theme and agenda. At the same time, Paterson wants to get the private sector involved in restoring the economy, as indicated by the release of the $10 million.

Donohue said Friday the public will ultimately benefit by the tax spinoff, which he projected could generate $80 million a year for the Capital Region.

“I think the project is appropriate and timely and it’s a project that will get people back to work,” he said.

State legislation has provided money to build the facility. Donohue said if the money is there, the project should be built in Albany, rather than losing these funds to another part of the state.

“Now it’s time to get into the weeds. It’s good timing. We are shovel-ready, and the capital markets will be more robust,” he said.

Bob Belber, general manager at the Times Union Center, said having private money invested in the garage and hotel will make a tremendous difference on the economic side of the project. The ability to bring in trade shows and conventions will bring economic impacts for the area and 300 to 400 construction jobs, he said.

“This is something that will be here for a long time,” he said.

Belber said many thought the Times Union Center, then called the Knickerbocker Arena, would be a white elephant when it was first built, but it has created millions of dollars in economic benefits for the county.

Dominick Calsolaro, a member of the Albany Common Council who has questioned the public funding, said he’s glad it will be a private-public project, which he advocated.

“We needed private money to come in,” he said. “It shows it’s not just a government project and another government money-eating project.