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New convention center moves forward

ALBANY -- Given the green light.  Governor Cuomo's office has approved the plan for a new convention center in downtown Albany.  It's not as grandiose as the original proposal, but it's news to the ears of Albany leaders.  The 82,000 convention center's construction will cost over $66 million with construction set to begin in June.  Albany mayor Jerry Jennings has pictured it on his economic wish-list.

"It creates permanent jobs and construction jobs so people should take a step back, look at it in its entirety," the mayor said.  "It's going to benefit all of us."

The benefits will go to the tune of more than 150 jobs and 100 construction jobs.  The Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber has been a supporter as well, and hopes the effects are similar to other downtown destinations.

"Most years the county has made a small amount of profits from the Times Union Center," said chamber president Mark Eagan.  "The Times Union center was never built to be a money generator.  It was meant to bring people in to downtown.  It was also meant to help support businesses within that area."

Speaking in the shadow of state government, mayor-elect Kathy Sheehan says a physical link to the space by way of the Empire State Plaza would be an added incentive to booking events.  "We have groups that come here and lobby the state we have groups that come here and can't meet here because we don't have enough meeting space and hotel space."

Eagan echoed a similar sentiment.  "Why will most people hold a meeting or a convention in Albany?  The biggest draw we have -- it's the center of state government.  Particularly for an association business, part of their annual agenda is meeting with legislators.  You can't get much closer to the Capitol."

The state expects $160 million generated in investment from the center, with $2.1 in annual revenue.

"We can probably get one entity to manage this whole thing so we don't have the state the county -- one, make it more cost effective, more attractive to hold the conventions we should be holding," Jennings said.

Saratoga Springs has its own convention space, which the chamber here says looks to as a partner with Broadway's businesses and restaurants.  "They're going to tell you that when there's an event at city center, their business goes up," Eagan said.

Not everyone though is convinced there's enough space or it'll generate enough money.

"Look at Albany we've had a foot and a half of snow in the last three days," said Dominick Calsolaro on the Albany Common Council.  "Who's going to come to Albany in December or January for a convention?"

Calsolaro says the spot isn't sweet for a traveler's palate.  "What's around there?  People are still going to have to walk down State Street if they want to find a place to eat or walk uptown towards Lark Street and up Washington Avenue.

But what's right near by may make this the right location.

The plan also calls for the rennovation of the DeWitt Clinton Hotel, and a 250-space parking garage.