New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to build a convention center in Queens, repair many bridges and highways, legalize non-Indian casino gambling, and earmark $1 billion for jobs in Buffalo.
But just how much can Cuomo accomplish?
“The challenge for the governor is in the numbers. For example, how can he finance infrastructure?” said Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. “The best brains in New York are in the municipal bond market, and we need to find a way to use them to improve our infrastructure.”
Cuomo, in his state of the state address in Albany on Wednesday, said 32% of New York’s bridges are rated deficient and 40% of its roads are rated fair or poor and getting worse. Also, he said 83% of state parks and major dams operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation are in disrepair.
In addition to proceeding with plans to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge between Westchester and Rockland counties about 15 miles north of New York City — for which the state has received fast-track approval from the federal government — Cuomo said he wants to improve or replace more than 100 bridges statewide.
“We have much work to do. We cannot wait,” said the freshman governor, whose state is rated double-A by all three major credit rating agencies.
Another Cuomo initiative is the convention center in Queens, at the site of Aqueduct Racetrack. Genting Malaysia Bhd, which has already invested $800 million in a casino parlor at Aqueduct in the New York City borough, signed a nonbinding letter of intent Tuesday to develop the mixed-use project, which would cost about $4 billion and consume roughly 3,800 square feet.
Genting said in a statement it would work closely with the Empire State Development Corp. and other parties. Cuomo said Wednesday he is also pushing for a constitutional amendment to legalize non-Indian casino gambling.
The Queens complex would replace the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s West Side, thus clearing up space for further development under the Hudson Yards project. Cuomo called the 25-year-old facility “obsolete and not large enough to be a top-tier competitor in today’s marketplace.” Ironically, the Javits Center is just finishing a $500 million renovation.
Cuomo’s proposal triggered skepticism.
“There are so many questions and questionable assumptions involved in this proposal, starting with Queens location as a replacement for the Javits Center,” said Heywood Sanders, a public administration professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“What they seem to be doing is creating a captive market for which there is no track record for such a market,” he said. “Why would someone want to stay between Rockaway Boulevard and Kennedy Airport? There’s nothing there. My uncle took me there many years ago. We watched the planes land.” Sanders added: “Folks will literally be captive there, which is great if you’re Genting.”
Convention centers, he said, offer a convenient marketing strategy. “You don’t have to sell to a vast consumer market one person at a time — instead ... sell to smaller interests on what consumers might be interested in.”
Sanders, who has written white papers about the overbuilding of convention centers and is working on a book about the subject, wonders “why people do such dumb things over and over again.”
Moss acknowledged that convention centers are overbuilt in secondary cities. “There are two convention centers in Des Moines and that’s two too many,” he said.
Still, Moss sees merit in the Queens proposal, given Genting’s massive investment. He also sees the benefits of freeing up the Javits space and replacing that facility.
“They’re building up on the extension of the No. 7 train to the West Side,” he said, citing plans by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to lengthen that subway line.