Site of things to come? The block along State and Eagle
streets, one of the possible sites for a new convention
center in downtown Albany. Photo by: Alicia Solsman
Legislature passes amended version of convention-center bill
number of bills found their way out of the New York State
Legislature last week in the annual flurry of activity preceding
lawmakers’ departure. Included among the last-minute legislation
is a bill that would create the Albany Convention Center Authority—bringing
the city one step closer to becoming the new home for a multimillion-dollar
After nearly two months in the Senate, the bill that left
the state Legislature is significantly different than the
one that was first introduced [“Betting on the Big Project,”
Newsfront, June 10]. Initially, plans for the $225 million
project called for a portion of the funding to come from a
3-percent hike in the county tax on hotel- and motel-room
occupancy. But in the amended bill, which is currently awaiting
approval by Gov. George E. Pataki, this source of funding
has been removed. The 85,000-square-foot facility and neighboring
400-room hotel will instead rely upon their own revenue.
Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who initiated studies concerning
Albany’s potential as a convention destination in 2000, acknowledged
that the room occupancy tax was one of the more contentious
aspects of the original bill. Making the project more self-reliant,
he explained, was a key to winning approval.
financing for the convention center won’t rest on the taxpayers
of Albany,” said Jennings. “The hotel’s revenue will pay for
The initial arrangement of the authority was also amended
in the bill. The legislation originally called for seven Albany
county residents appointed by state and local officials, but
that has been expanded to nine members, and the residency
restriction has been removed. The new bill also grants the
governor two additional appointees to the authority. A chairperson
for the group must be elected from among the governor’s appointees.
According to Jennings, a concession to greater state influence
on the project was necessary for the bill’s passage, as the
authority will rely upon funds borrowed from the state to
get the project off the ground. Once Pataki approves the bills—which
is generally expected, given that he was instrumental in pushing
the bills through the Senate—the members of the authority
can then be appointed.
One of the first decisions awaiting the new authority will
involve the location of the complex. Potential sites for the
convention center and hotel include two overlapping areas
of downtown Albany east of the Pepsi Arena and bounded by
Pearl Street, Broadway and Interstate 787. A site farther
uptown, the block bounded by State and Eagle streets and across
from the Capitol, was also proposed. Jennings indicated that
all the sites are already being considered for additional
projects, so those not chosen for the convention center will
also be developed.
According to Elizabeth Griffin, executive director of the
Historic Albany Foundation, construction on any of the sites
would require that the state give some attention to Albany’s
Lining the perimeter of the upper site are the skeletal remains
of the Wellington Hotel and Annex, as well as an abandoned
Elks Lodge. While the façade of the Wellington provides one
of downtown’s more recognizable landmarks, the building’s
innards have been ravaged by years of vacancy.
not a lot of historic material left in those buildings,” said
According to Griffin, the most valuable part of each building—historically
speaking— doesn’t extend very far beyond the street, so while
any alterations to the exterior would have to come before
the Historic Resources Commission, developing the interior
of the block wouldn’t be a problem from a preservation standpoint.
Yet the main draw for moving the convention center farther
downtown may be financial, according to Joe Galu, chief of
staff for Assemblyman John J. McEneny (D-Albany), the bill’s
initial sponsor in the Legislature.
down buildings is expensive,” said Galu. “The whole back thing
there behind the Wellington—that’s a wreck.”
While the lower sites offer the advantage of being relatively
undeveloped, Griffin indicated that a mid-18th century building
located within the boundaries of both lower sites should warrant
some attention from planners. The building on Hudson Avenue
dates back to the same time period as Albany’s famous Quackenbush
House, and Griffin said that it could easily be incorporated
into the surrounding project.
building is small enough so that it could be worked into any
plans,” said Griffin, who added that a convention center on
one of the lower sites could serve as a “curtain to the ugly
[Interstate 787] ramps.”
Neither site has come out a clear favorite among officials,
though. According to Jennings, all three sites share an equal
chance at becoming the new home for a convention center.
[the lower site] offers the advantage of being cheaper, but
once you’re downtown, you’re away from the Knickerbocker Arena
and the Empire State Plaza,” said Galu.