CONVENTION CENTER LAND BUYS CONTINUE

Purchase of one-third acre by authority is third such acquisition

CHRIS CHURCHILL BUSINESS WRITER
Section: Business,  Page: C1

Date: Thursday, February 25, 2010

ALBANY -- The agency planning for the construction of a large convention center in downtown Albany on Wednesday agreed to purchase land on the proposed site -- its third such acquisition.


The dire financial situation faced by state government would seem a hindrance to plans for the structure. But the Albany Convention Center Authority is pushing ahead with the project, slowly acquiring the land it needs.


On Wednesday, the authority's board agreed to pay $550,000 for about a third of an acre. The land is owned by Capitalize Albany Corp., which is affiliated with the city of Albany and was formerly known as Albany Local Development Corp.


"We're one step closer to seeing this project become a reality," said Gavin Donohue, chair of the authority board.


The 300,000-square-foot center -- which would include an exhibition hall, two ballrooms and other meeting space -- is planned for a barren area of downtown near where Broadway meets Hudson Avenue. The neighborhood, which is near Times Union Center, is now composed almost entirely of surface level parking lots.


Proponents say the center would boost downtown and allow Albany to attract conventions that bypass both the city and the region. They call the project an economic development tool and say it will employ 800 workers when open.


But critics question the project's cost, particularly in the face of a state budget deficit that's threatening to close state parks and cut social services.


Albany Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro, a longtime critic of the project, on Wednesday restated his belief that convention center money could be better spent on smaller projects downtown and in other city neighborhoods.


"I don't think we need it," Calsolaro said of the center. He added, though, that he doesn't object to the authority land purchases, because consolidating the ownership of small parcels could ease future private development.


The convention center has an estimated cost of about $220 million, not including interest.


Duncan Stewart, executive director of the authority, on Wednesday said construction would be financed primarily by the authority's ability to borrow money by issuing bonds. That means, Stewart said, that "this is a project that could go forward without additional state money."


But the plan to repay the borrowed money does depend, in part, on an annual subsidy from state government, he said.


The purchase agreed to Wednesday gives the center ownership of about 1.5 acres of land, with about 3.5 additional acres needed for the footprint of the building.


Stewart said the parcel from Capitalize Albany is particularly important because it's adjacent to the area planned as the entrance to the center's main exhibition hall.


Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or cchurchill@timesunion.com.