|By Chris Churchill, Albany Times Union,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 20, 2009--ALBANY -- The Albany Convention Center Authority today will unveil a proposed design for the massive hall planned for downtown Albany, attempting to build momentum for the project as it tries to buy land and secure financing.
The renderings show a largely brick and glass structure that faces Hudson Avenue and a plaza created by the building's gentle curve. The rear of the building would be hard up against the highway arterial leading to Empire State Plaza.
The authority also has determined the convention center's cost: $220 million.
"That isn't going to change," Gavin Donohue, the authority's chairman, said of the price tag. "If anything, it's going to go down."
The convention center would be built in a largely barren corner of downtown, near where Broadway meets Hudson Avenue. As it is now, the neighborhood near the Times Union Center is little more than surface parking lots crossed by lonely streets.
The convention center would replace both with a 300,000-square-foot building that would include an exhibition hall, two ballrooms and other meeting space. Supporters say the project, first proposed about a decade ago, would boost downtown vitality by attracting gatherings that now bypass the region.
"This isn't a city thing," Donohue said. "This is a way to bring more investment to upstate New York."
A year ago, many had given the convention center up for dead, as ballooning costs brought its estimated price tag to more than $400 million -- a sum that seemed infeasible. The authority, though, responded by slashing the size of the project, turning associated hotel and parking garage development over to private developers.
Officials then estimated the cost at $225 million to $240 million, but falling construction prices during the down economy have reduced it further -- to $220 million.
The authority, though, still needs to overcome skepticism: A September poll from the Siena Research Institute found that 52 percent of Albany residents opposed the center, while 38 percent supported it. (The survey only polled Democrats.)
The authority hopes depictions of the building -- being unveiled today during an 8:30 a.m. presentation in the Albany County Office Building -- will help sway opinion. The authority in August held an open house displaying four proposed exteriors.
"This design will be very appealing to the public, because it's consistent with a lot of the input we got from them," Donohue said.
The renderings are the work of HNTB, an Kansas City architecture firm that has designed convention centers across the country and is involved in the ongoing expansion of the Saratoga Springs City Center.
In Albany, the firm has decided to place loading docks for the convention center under the South Mall arterial, helping to shade trucks from public view. And it would create a plaza that would serve as an entrance to the building and include a drop-off road for cars.
Chris Ross, an HNTB architect, said the design turns its back to highway noise and traffic while trying to incorporate the neighborhood's existing buildings.
"It's a unique part of the city, and it's an oddly shaped site," said Ross, who will participate in this morning's presentation. "It's not like it's a suburban site where you can do whatever you want."
The center would be built to allow for an expansion of the exhibition hall, if someday needed.
But for now, the authority is concentrating on acquiring land where the center would be built. It made its first purchases last summer, including about nine parcels then owned by the county.
The center's construction would be funded primarily by the issuance of bonds. Under current plans, the loaned money would be repaid by revenue generated by the center, an Albany County hotel occupancy tax, and an annual subsidy from state government.
The state budget deficit would seemingly decrease the state's willingness to fund the project, but authority officials, hoping to begin construction next year, describe the convention center as a way to provide an economic boost for the region.
They say it will create 300 construction jobs and employ as many as 800 people when the center is operational.
Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or email@example.com.
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