MANHATTAN — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an ambitious plan to raze the Javits Center to make room for a multibillion-dollar “21st century neighborhood” on Manhattan’s West Side, as part of a far-reaching State of the State address delivered Wednesday in Albany.
Cuomo proposed replacing the 1986 I.M. Pei-designed complex with a massive new 3.8 million square foot convention center at the Aqueduct Race Track in Queens — built using $4 billion in private funds.
“Let’s build the largest convention center in the nation. Period,” said the governor, who panned the current 842,000 square-foot hall, which is sandwiched between the Hudson River and other properties, as “not competitive” because of its size.
“We’re not getting the shows here,” he said.
The Javits Center recently underwent an expansion — the addition of a modern, column-free hall called Javits Center North that was completed in 2010. It is also in the midst of a major renovation involving the replacement of the roof, skylights and entranceways, which are set to be completed in 2013.
The complex — which is operated and maintained by the state-controlled New York Convention Center Operating Corporation and built on state-owned land — is also near the terminus of the 7 train extension, which is nearing completion as well.
In place of the Javits, Cuomo proposed building a new mixed-use neighborhood in the model of Battery Park City, with residential units, hotels and parks. He believes the state could attract $2 billion in private money to develop the 18-acre site, which he noted is larger than both the World Trade Center property and the U.N.
“[It] has great potential for the West Side of Manhattan,” said the governor. “When you put Javits, Moynihan [Station] and Hudson Yards together, you’re talking about a comprehensive revitalization of the West Side of Manhattan.”
Plans are already in the works to build a new neighborhood on the far West Side, anchored by the Hudson Yards development, a group of skyscrapers envisioned to be built on top of the West Side Yards.
Speaking at a press conference following the speech, Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed the plan, saying the new development "just complements" everything else happening on the West Side.
“I think all of us agree that we need a bigger convention center,” he said.
In addition to the convention center plan, the Governor introduced a range of policy proposals building on his legislative success in 2011, including the creation of a new pension tier for new state employees and an expected push to legalize gambling in the state.
“It’s time we confronted reality,” said the governor, who noted that the state already has more gaming machines than Atlantic City and could generate up to $1 billion dollars by taxing dollars that are already being spent.
Unexpected Wednesday was a pledge by the governor to eliminate fingerprinting for families applying for food stamps, arguing that it creates a stigma that prevents caregivers from applying for benefits they need. Thirty percent of New Yorkers eligible for federal food stamps are not enrolled.
“Don’t make a child go to bed hungry because your governments wants to come up with a fraud program," the governor said.
The requirement has been criticized by many city officials, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, but the proposal puts the governor on a collision course with the mayor, who has repeatedly defended fingerprinting as necessary to prevent fraud.
It was clear his position hadn't changed following the speech.
“What fingerprinting does is it acts as a preventer, a prophylactic measure to keep people from trying to game the system,” Bloomberg said, arguing that, since fingerprinting was introduced, the number of potential fraud cases has dropped from 38,000 to 1,900 a year.
He also contested the idea that there is a stigma against fingerprinting, noting that the city has a higher food stamp participation rate than anywhere else in the state.
Quin, meanwhile, praised the announcement as “an enormous victory for New Yorkers in need.”
"The Governor’s announcement today will eliminate a senseless barrier that, for too long, has prevented tens of thousands of qualified New Yorkers from receiving the assistance they need to feed themselves and their families,” she said in a joint statement with City Council General Welfare Committee Chair Annabel Palma.
For the second year in a row, Cuomo’s agenda-setting speech was also accompanies by dozens of PowerPoint slides, which provided a dose of comic relief.
Those who watched the speech last year might remember an animation of battleships with cut-out heads of "Commanders" Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and with Cuomo wearing a Captain’s hat.
"And here are the special interest groups," the governor said, smiling, as animated missiles flew in and struck the ships.
This year, the cut-out heads were back as the governor celebrated last month’s middle class tax cut, with Silver and Skelos pictured as school kids dressed in uniforms to illustrate just how long ago it was when taxes were so low.
The plan, which introduced a new tax tier for the highest income New Yorkers, was criticized as a back-track for Cuomo, who had promised not to raise taxes on any group.
But that wasn’t the only pat on the back in a speech that oftentimes sounded like a victory lap.
“Thinking back on what we accomplished makes me tired,” said Cuomo after reading through a list of legislative successes, including the historic passage of gay marriage and a property tax cap.
“There’s no way we are going back, we’re going forward,” the governor vowed. “They ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Before the speech, Shelly also announced that he would be spearheading a push to increase the minimum wage in the state from $7.25 an hour, which amounts to an income as little as $15,000 a year.
“We should be leading the pack, not lagging behind it,” he said.