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July 8, 2007


Published in the Times Union

Paying for new convention center
$100 million increase in price tag for new facility won't hurt Albany's taxpayers, authority officials say

By TIM O'BRIEN, Staff writer
First published: Saturday, June 30, 2007

ALBANY -- Leaders of the Albany Convention Center Authority sought to reassure the public Friday the plan is still viable despite a $100 million increase in the estimated cost.

The authority's board approved a master plan for the project, which chairman George Leveille now estimates could cost $300 million. Plans call for two hotels, one full-service hotel with 250 rooms and a 150-room hotel offering more limited amenities.

The convention center would include a 60,000 square foot exhibit hall, a 25,000 square foot multipurpose room and a 22,350 square foot ballroom. The concept calls for a sky bridge from the hotel to the convention center and to the county-owned Times Union Center for expanded exhibits.
"We're being realistic in talking about what it's going to cost," Leveille said. "It would be a mistake to build a facility that wouldn't meet the market."

The center was originally estimated to cost $185 million. When the state legislation was approved in 2002, the estimate rose to $200 million.

The authority hopes to begin construction next year and to have the project finished in 2010.

Two City Council members raised concerns about the projected cost increases.

Council President Shawn Morris said she still supports the project, but is worried about the price tag. "The taxpayers can't afford the support of the convention center in our present state," she said.

Council member Dominick Calsolaro said the state should pick up the entire tab for the project. "We're up to $300 million. You haven't even put a shovel in the ground yet," he said. "The citizens of Albany should not have to pay any part of this state project."

City taxpayers are not at risk of losing any money, Leveille said. "At this point, it doesn't dig into their pocket at all," he said.

Some $75 million comes from a state grant, while $3 million a year comes from a 3 percent tax on hotel guests, he said.

The city also is receiving additional state aid that can be used to guarantee bonds for the project, but that money was made available specifically for the center. Without it, Leveille said, that aid -- totaling $192 million over 30 years -- would not exist.

The plan approved by the board calls for the removal of the 1,000-space Green-Hudson parking garage.

By removing the garage, authority leaders said they would expand downtown growth along the southern end of the central business district.

"The plan really tries to look at the broader area we're in," Leveille said.
Assemblyman Jack McEneny, a member of the authority's board, said he was pleased because the parking garage is the only structure slated for demolition. What some believe is the city's oldest home at 48 Hudson Avenue would be preserved, though an addition on the back could be removed. No decision has been made about a neighboring house at 50 Hudson Avenue.

"There is almost no demolition. No one is losing a home," McEneny said. "That's very unusual for something of this scale."

The authority also approved its goals for the hiring of women and minorities throughout the project. Leading up to the construction, the goal calls for 8 percent of the work to go to minority-owned businesses, 15 percent to women-owned firms and 22 percent of the workforce to be minorities.

During construction, the goal is for 27 percent of the work to go to minority firms, 12 percent to women-owned businesses and for 30 percent of the workforce to be minorities.

When the center is operational, the goal is for 20 percent of the work to be by minority-owned businesses, 10 percent by firms owned by women and 60 percent of the workforce to be minorities.

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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