|By Chris Churchill, Albany Times Union,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 12, 2009--ALBANY -- A poll released Friday by Siena Research Institute found strong opposition among registered Democrats to the convention center planned for Albany's downtown.
Fifty-two percent of the more than 800 residents polled said they oppose the $225 million project, while 38 percent said they support it. The results are the first survey of public opinion on the project. Ten percent were undecided.
The poll queried Albany registered Democrats who are likely to vote in Tuesday's mayoral primary. Democrats hold an 11-to-one registration advantage over Republicans in the city.
Siena found opposition to the center across all gender, age, racial and religious groups, with one exception: Half of voters between the ages of 18 to 34 said they support the project.
The center is touted as a way to rejuvenate downtown Albany by attracting conventions that now bypass the city. The convention center would have entrances on both Hudson Avenue and Liberty Street, at the south end of downtown, an area now dominated by surface-level parking lots.
The poll did not ask respondents why they oppose the project. Critics say the potential benefits of the center do not justify its costs to taxpayers.
"These poll numbers confirm that this project is untenable and that it is not supported by the public in Albany," said Albany County Legislator Christopher Higgins, a longtime critic of the center. "It's time to kiss this white elephant goodbye."
The Albany Convention Center Authority in recent months has been buying land in downtown Albany, as it aims to break ground on the project sometime next year. Construction would take two years.
Exactly how the convention center would be funded is still unresolved, but the authority anticipates using what's left of an original $75 million set aside by former Gov. George Pataki in combination with tax-free bonds that the Legislature enabled the authority to issue.
Gavin Donohue, the authority's chairman, on Friday said the convention center is a unique economic development opportunity, noting that it would include private spin-off development, including at least one hotel.
But he conceded the poll numbers released Friday show that the authority still needs to convince skeptics of the project's benefits.
"We have our work cut out for us," Donohue said. "But the people who built the Pepsi (now the Times Union Center) had their work cut out for them too, and now everybody loves the arena."
Steven Greenberg, spokesman for Siena Research Institute, said the strong support for the convention center among young voters is likely tied to economic anxiety rather than direct support for the project.
"I think it's really a reflection on the economy and the need for jobs," Greenberg said, noting that younger voters surveyed in the poll ranked economic development among their top concerns.
"I think young people are concerned about jobs and their future in the city," Greenberg said, "and therefore they see the convention center as something important."
Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Jordan Carleo-Evangelist contributed to this story.
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