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July 8, 2007


Published in the Times Union

Center Now a $300M Project
Albany convention facility will cost $100 million more than originally predicted, which mayor and authority director say is an unsurprising development

By TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writer
First published: Monday, June 25, 2007

ALBANY -- An Albany convention center will cost $100 million more than originally expected, said George Leveille, director of the Albany Convention Center Authority.

Costs have risen at least 45 percent since the original $200 million estimate, he said.

"In my opinion, this is a $300 million project," he said. "There has been an unusually high increase in construction costs since 2002. There is nothing we can do about that. That's the reality."

Plans for the center, to be built on Hudson Avenue between Liberty and South Pearl streets, call for two hotels. One would be a full-service hotel with 250 to 300 rooms, the other a limited-service hotel with 100 to 150 rooms.

The center would include a ballroom of 10,000 square feet next to a 25,000-square-foot room that could be reconfigured for gatherings of different sizes. One proposal calls for a pedestrian bridge to connect to the county-owned Times Union Center, enabling some exhibitors to use that additional space.

Albany leaders are counting on the center to draw 182,000 visitors a year.

Mayor Jerry Jennings said the cost increases should not be a surprise. He pointed to an estimated doubling of the cost of expanding New York City's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, to $4 billion.

"You have to have a first-class facility. I'll have to have discussions with the governor. He understands the importance of the center," he said. "We're on course for it to happen, and I don't think anyone should be alarmed by the price."

Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said either more money will have to be obtained or the plans will have to be scaled back.

"It's a problem, and we have to wrestle with it," said McEneny, who also sits on the authority board. "Primarily because of the Iraqi war, construction costs on projects all over the state of New York have skyrocketed."

The project has $75 million in hand from the state, and another $150 million is anticipated through a percentage of the hotel tax. The convention authority also will be able to secure bonds using some $270 million in state aid the city of Albany is to receive in lieu of property tax payments.

The convention authority meets at 8:30 a.m. Friday in the first floor of the Albany County office building.

The original $200 million estimate for the project predates the forming of the convention authority, Leveille said. Duluth, Ga.-based Strategic Advisory Group conducted the original study in 2001 when Jennings was building support for the project.

"Whatever was done before we were created is not our responsibility," Leveille said.

The authority is about to seek requests for proposals for a design team and a construction manager for the project, with those contracts likely to be awarded next month. Once that is done, he said, specific plans, cost estimates and a financing plan will be developed.

He expects a detailed cost breakdown will be put together this September. The aim is for construction to begin next year, with completion of the center in 2010.

Next week, the authority's board will vote on which alternative they believe would draw the most visitors.

After a community workshop in April, the authority said the most popular option was one that would connect the convention center to the Times Union Center. That would require a pedestrian bridge not in the original cost estimate, and the earlier plan did not include removing a parking garage.

"You have to build the right product for the market," Leveille said. "If you build the wrong product, it's probably not going to work."

Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2007, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.


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