Convention Center Plan at Aqueduct Progresses

Genting Group has signed a letter of intent to develop the $4 billion project

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Rendering of development plans for Aqueduct racino in Queens

    A multinational development and casino company has signed a letter of intent to build the nation's largest convention center at Aqueduct racetrack in New York City.

    The non-binding letter, released by the governor's office, also revealed the name for the 3.8 million-square-foot facility — the New York International Convention and Exhibition Center. It said more than 10,000 jobs, mostly in construction, would be created.

    The letter was signed by the Genting Group a day before Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the $4 billion project as a highlight of his State of the State address last week. It followed months of negotiations.

    Legislative and community leaders, any potential competing companies and the local franchise control board that must approve major projects at Aqueduct weren't included.

    The Cuomo administration said Monday the letter of intent shows the proposal has substance, although significant negotiations continue and further approvals are needed. The administration said competitive bidding wasn't required.

    The administration said Genting already has the authority to begin its proposed convention center project with 3,000 hotel rooms under the competitive bid it won over a year ago to build its video slot "racino" at the track.

    Genting is providing the financing for the project on state land where it operates under a 30-year lease. A later phase of the development would require the acquisition of about 20 acres of government-owned land.

    State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said that if a state contract is needed, his office will have to review it.

    "Our bias is always the open and competitive process is more likely to produce a better result," DiNapoli said.

    Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has opposed expansions of gambling in Manhattan in the past, said the letter of intent is only "preliminary." He said from what he knows of the proposal, he has no objections. He said lawmakers are expected to be briefed this week by the Cuomo administration.

    The speaker dropped his opposition to gaming in Manhattan, where he worried someone could gamble away their weekly salary at lunchtime. Silver was also supportive of a proposed subway line to the facility.

    He said that although no other company apparently was invited to propose a convention center, he's never known of any company willing to invest $4 billion for a center in Queens.

    "There should be a very open and transparent process," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Nassau County Republican. Of the Genting process so far, he said: "It always can be better." But he said his members look forward to the briefings.

    Malaysia-based Genting spent more than $774,000 on New York lobbying in the first 10 months of 2011, or 10 times its total for 2010.

    Its letter also notes plans to expand casino gambling at Genting's current video slot machine operation at Aqueduct.

    But building a casino at Aqueduct or, as Silver has supported, in the Catskills, will require an amendment to the state constitution, which Cuomo also proposed in his State of the State address. Currently, only Indian-run casinos are allowed and that's under a federal gambling law.

    The Aqueduct proposal aimed at creating jobs and tax revenue for the state comes as convention center business and gambling are slumping, as seen in the economic decline of Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

    "Casino gambling is not just economically regressive, it is sociologically destructive to the community," said Mary O'Keefe, a Union College economist working with the Institute for American Values that opposes gambling.