New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dreamed last year that he would generate massive revenues from a new convention center in Queens. One year later, that dream has deflated, but Cuomo remains upbeat.
In last January’s State of the State address, Cuomo described his plan to build a new convention center near John F. Kennedy International Airport. The proposal, which included tearing down the 26-year-old Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, was to rely on the partnership between the public sector and Malaysian Genting Group, a private company that operates a casino which would have been the proposed convention center’s neighbor.
It turns out, however, that there was no pot of Malaysian gambling gold at the end of a rainbow in Queens. Superstorm Sandy may have caused a rainbow or two in the area, but the only thing at the end of it was a major mess to clean up.
The governor’s dream of getting a very big, if mostly useless, something for nothing was dead months before the superstorm. A spokesman for Genting told The Wall Street Journal last January that the company’s funding plans were not predicated on a constitutional amendment legalizing table gambling in New York. My skepticism on that point was borne out soon after; by mid-2012, it was already clear that the Genting Group had no intention of building a $4 billion convention center just because it really bought into the “I Love New York” campaign. Crain’s New York Business reported in June that Genting blamed the breakdown in talks on several issues including - unsurprisingly - the uncertain passage of the gambling amendment.
At around the same time, it became obvious that the business community was not going to just stand by and watch the governor tear down the Javits complex. The trade-show industry stepped in to advocate the expansion of Javits to include new satellite buildings connected to the old facility soon after the original Genting plan fell through.
Now the other shoe has finally dropped. Cuomo still loves gambling, but is willing to move it upstate for the time being.
In his 2013 State of the State address last week, Cuomo called for three casinos, all upstate, should an amendment allowing them pass in November. (The bill for the amendment would eventually allow up to seven full-scale casinos in New York.)
The governor is still looking to get something for nothing, only less of it. Gambling is the first resort of every politician who wants to raise money without raising taxes. It is supposed to magically revitalize communities. Most often, as in this case, it is sold as a boon to schools (who can be against the little children?) and to property tax payers (in New York, they need all the help they can get). Cuomo’s plan calls for a 90-10 split between education and property tax relief, respectively. But as each state turns more and more to gambling revenue, the golden goose has been whittled down to a starling with shiny feathers.
The governor wants New Yorkers to vote yes on a constitutional amendment to legalize a few casinos on non-Indian land upstate. I suspect, this time, he’ll get what he wants. But while a few casinos upstate probably won’t do the state much good, they’ll do much less harm than his earlier scheme to build a $4 billion white elephant in the far reaches of Queens, and thoughtlessly tearing down Manhattan’s largest convention venue to do it.
Maybe the Javits should stay and maybe it should go, but the discussion should be centered on whether New York City needs a convention center at all, not whether it needs one in Jamaica. We all know the answer to that.