finished reading your article on Albany’s proposed convention
center [“Convention Wisdom,” March 2]. Nicely done. Your article
was honest, up-front, well-written and most importantly, sobering.
It’s unfortunate that it was not on the front page of the
Times Union or the top story on tonight’s news, for
clearly as many people as possible need to hear your thoughtful
analysis. If they did, this project would not go forward,
or it would at least be slowed down.
I was born and raised here (the city of Albany), and am as
eager as any city resident to see Albany, and, in particular,
downtown, prosper. That said, surely there must be less-costly,
less-risky investments toward that goal than this proposed
convention center. There can be no argument that there are
signs of positive life in downtown—lots of new restaurants,
clubs, the Palace, ambitious plans for Park South, etc. But
a casual stroll down State Street is a sobering dose of just
how far things have to go downtown, with nearly every other
building from Eagle to South Pearl being boarded up or crumbling
in disrepair from years of neglect and obsolescence. In my
opinion I don’t see a huge convention center doing anything
to improve that blight.
Can Mayor Jennings really believe that this center
is the panacea for Albany’s woes? That it will “breathe new
life” into downtown with “hundreds of thousands” of annual
visitors? Didn’t we learn our lesson with the Pepsi Arena
(or whatever the next underwriter decides to call it), which,
more than 10 years after it opened, still can’t pay
its own debts? Imagine the magnitude of the failure and the
resultant cost to the taxpayers if this center fails? If even
half the statistics you cite are close to accurate, that failure
is all but a certainty. If, as you say, overall convention
attendance nationwide is down 50 percent since 1999, what
makes these center proponents think they can compete for visitors
and make this venture a success against cities the likes of
New Orleans, Vegas, or Orlando, or even Boston, Providence
or New York?
Think of it this way . . . what’s the temperature here right
now . . . 10 degrees with a windchill of minus 15? If you
were a convention planner planning your industry’s next convention
outing, where would Albany fall on your list of destination
Ten years from now I’d like not to be able to say “I told
you so . . . ” but given the statistics you cite and our very
relevant and recent experience with the Pepsi, I think it’s
plain to see where this is headed. I only hope I live far
enough away that I don’t get stuck with the tax bill.
Thank you again for telling it like it is. Let’s hope more
people start to listen.
To the Editor:
glad to finally see Metroland casting a critical eye
on the proposed convention center project. Since the Green
Party and the Alice Green campaign talked about it half a
year ago, most local media have ignored the issue at large—that
the convention center is a horrible idea, both for the regional
economy and the city as a whole. One of the main sources cited
in the campaign’s paper on the convention center, Dr. Heywood
Sanders, also makes a welcome reappearance. I’d like to highlight
that not only do the economics of the convention center make
no sense, but that such a huge public works project on prime
real estate not being put up for a referendum borders on the
Given the research done by Dr. Sanders and others on the enormous
amount of convention centers built or upgraded over the last
five years (over 50!), and their poor return as economic growth
engines (only three break even or turn a profit), one must
question the wisdom and the rationale for such a center in
Albany. The convention center will lose money, and as it does,
either the businesses around it will see their profits shrink
or it will make little difference on the whole (except perhaps
to property values). The living-wage jobs that seem to be
in the offing will account for barely any of the city’s workforce;
it is not as if thousands of people underemployed across the
city will have a new savior. In fact, with $200 million on
the table as an investment in a sure-fire money loser, it
would be more logical to throw that money into small-scale
job programs, a county-wide living wage in public and private
businesses, health care, etc.—things that would really spark
an improvement in daily life here. If you are more capitalistic
in mindset, perhaps you might say to pump $200 million directly
into the downtown business district in the form of subsidies
or tax breaks to small businesses rather than a gigantic convention
No elected official is demanding a referendum on this issue.
A community-benefits agreement meeting I attended saw two
local officials (Wanda Willingham and Corey Ellis) sadly resigned
to its being built as a fait accompli, instead of openly
questioning why it was being rammed down our throats without
a democratic vote. The convention center authority is made
up of handpicked members of the business community with one
or two community reps sprinkled in to give it some aura of
respectability. The membership is made up of groups that stand
to gain from this project—lawyers, developers, and entertainment
When we examine who is to gain, the purpose of the convention
center becomes clear and highlights the bipartisan support
it has in the Legislature. Jerry Jennings, our Ozymandias,
wants it as an eternal symbol of his glory. Developers (and
their paid elected representatives) would like to see land
values go up in downtown Albany so they can raise rents, move
more upscale clients and businesses in, and generally begin
to gentrify parts of Albany. It is pretty obviously connected
to the general thrust of the Park South “urban renewal” program
and the Midtown plan, and why this money has never been offered
toward rebuilding the infrastructure and job-base of the city
as a whole—the coalition of developers and officials wants
to see land values go up and couldn’t care less about much
beyond the downtown business district (Pearl Street, Broadway,
State Street) and selected, pilot gentrification projects.
Affordable housing and living-wage jobs are simply not on
the agenda because it is not profitable for them.
The convention center is not a done deal. Civic groups in
Manhattan came together to block the Jets Stadium deal and
expansion of the Jacob Javits convention center, and others
are trying to block the Brooklyn Rail Yards project as we
speak. A similar thing could happen in Albany—and it doesn’t
simply have to be around a negative program against the convention
center. The demand could grow from simply stopping the project
to redirecting the money into the communities that need it
most, and having a really grassroots debate about how best
to revitalize Albany.
Chair, Albany County Green Party
State Capital from the outside appears to be full of interesting
attractions and brimming with historic character, but in actuality
if you view Albany from the inside you would find that this
beloved Capital needs some tender love and care. After downtown
workers punch out for the night, Albany is a ghost town. Before
we can even imagine building this massive convention center
and hotel, we need to severely revitalize the city.
First and foremost, Albany needs quality downtown housing.
Current homeowners and landlords need to step up and improve
the exterior and interior conditions of their homes so that
they attract and keep renters and new homeowners in the area.
New housing needs to be made (and when I say new housing I
don’t mean new construction, but instead the renovation and
then the preservation of the many historic vacant buildings
located downtown). Albany doesn’t need luxury apartments,
rather affordable housing for college students, recent graduates,
professionals and employees of downtown businesses.
Secondly, there needs to be a downtown economy that isn’t
limited to bars, restaurants and coffee shops. There needs
to be stores that service the needs of residents and downtown
employees, and stores that are attractive to visitors’ eyes.
Not overpriced gift shops, but clothing shops, shoe stores
and corner mom-and-pop grocery stores.
When these things happen then Albany will look and feel alive
and become the desired destination it deserves to be. Only
then can we even fathom building something as colossal and
expensive as a convention center. In the horrible event that
it is built before Albany is revitalized, it will fail and
be yet another white elephant in the Albany skyline.
article was very interesting. Mayor Jennings should read it.
Do the voters have any say in the matter or is this a done
Why doesn’t the mayor or anyone else mention that we already
have a convention center? Is it so overbooked that we need
a second one?
“Music With No Home” (Newsfront, March 2), the chemical solvent
used in dry cleaning was misidentified as percoethylene. The
correct chemical name is perchloroethylene.
In Readers’ Picks 2006 (March 9), the second-place winner
in the Best Brew Pub category was misidentified as Troy Pub
and Brewery. The establishment is now known as Brown’s Brewing
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