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BIO to Study Plan to Expand NYC's Javits Center, Now Too Small for International Meeting

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The Biotechnology Industry Organization said last week it will study New York's plan to expand its Jacob K. Javits Convention Center as part of the city's bid to host a future BIO international convention.

The organization said it will particularly study how adequately the new plan would address the center's shortcomings as a venue for the world's largest annual life-sciences event.

New York State Gov. David Paterson announced on March 20 that the Javits center will undergo a $463 million expansion that will add to the facility 40,000 square feet of new exhibition space within a total 100,000 square feet of new construction.

The expansion would increase the amount of exhibition space at Javits, which opened in 1986, from the current 675,000 square feet to 715,000 square feet, making it the nation's 18th largest convention center.

"BIO will include [the] Javits expansion plans in its study of several cities for future conventions," Robbi Lycett, BIO's vice president for conventions and conferences, told BioRegion News last week.

Lycett told BRN last week that while the expanded Javits appears to satisfy BIO's requirements in terms of raw square footage, the life-sci organization employs additional criteria in deciding where to hold its annual conventions, which have grown to draw more than 20,000 attendees in recent years.

According to Lycett, BIO needs about 550,000 to 600,000 square feet — and prefers contiguous space — for its exhibit floor; an additional 150,000 square feet for its Business Forum, in which attendees can meet potential partners; and 100,000 square feet for use as a 3,000- to 5,000-seat ballroom, with staging area, for keynote addresses and lunches.

The flow of people through these areas is a key factor in selecting convention venues, she said, and even if those requirements were met, Lycett said the Javits center has two significant drawbacks that would render it unsuitable for a BIO convention. First, it is beyond walking distance from the midtown hotels where life-sci professionals are most likely to stay were they to visit New York City to attend the annual event.

The absence of a top-tier convention venue would continue to hamper ongoing efforts by New York City officials to position the Big Apple as a biotech mecca — drawing on both traditional strengths like its critical mass of research institutes and VC firms, and newer assets like lab space at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and East River Science Park, a campus under construction by Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

It was not at the Javits but at two of those hotels — the New York Hilton & Towers, and the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers — where BIO held its first and only New York international convention, in 1998. Attendance reached a then-record high of 4,715 people.

In recent years, BIO has sought to book 9,000 hotel rooms for attendees, with as many of them as possible in hotels located in the downtown city areas near its convention sites. For instance, last year in San Diego BIO was able to find 5,000 hotel rooms in downtown hotels within walking distance of the San Diego Convention Center, Lycett said. Such rooms are scarce near the Javits center, located on the far-western hip of Manhattan, which would require BIO to run shuttle buses linking the convention venue with the hotels. It had to do so in Boston, where it held the 2007 BIO International Convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The second drawback to the Javits site, transportation costs, would result from the fact that the center is a 20-minute-plus walk from a New York subway. By comparison, Boston's BCEC is a stop on the Silver Line bus rapid transit route of that city's subway system.

Consequently, if BIO held its international conference at the Javits, convention-goers seeking to visit the center would be all but limited to buses or taxis — a factor aggravated by the absence of on-site parking at the center.

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"There are many parking garages throughout the Javits Center vicinity," the convention center's website advises drivers.

Both San Diego and Boston are tentatively set to host additional BIO conventions — in 2014 and 2015, respectively — subject to local approvals for plans to expand their own convention centers.

In New York, plans for the long-planned — and long-delayed — Javits expansion project is much smaller in scope than the $1.7 billion plan advanced by George Pataki, a Paterson predecessor, in 2006. Ground was broken on Oct. 16, 2006, for that expansion — which would have given the Javits center up to 500,000 new square feet of new exhibition space.

However, Pataki's successor Eliot Spitzer scaled down the project after he concluded it would actually have cost closer to $3 billion. Spitzer resigned in disgrace last year, and Paterson, who had been his Lt. Governor, proposed the 50,000 square feet of new exhibition space.

"We have taken the realities of the current economic climate into account and made adjustments so that we can move forward," Paterson said in a statement.

The Javits expansion requires approval from the state Public Authority Control Board before construction can begin on the new exhibition space — as well as a renovation to include a full roof replacement with a vegetated or “green” roof, replacement of the exterior curtain wall to create a translucent façade for the “Crystal Palace,” installation of high-efficiency rooftop mechanical units, and repairs and upgrading of building systems. The construction and renovation project is expected to generate 9,000 jobs.

The state plans to complete the additional exhibition space in 2010, and finish renovating the existing convention center in 2013. The project would be paid for through proceeds from Hotel Unit Fee-Secure Revenue Bonds issued in 2005 by the state's economic development agency, the Empire State Development Corp. The bond issue has been funded through a $1.50 hotel tax imposed for a 40-year period on daily hotel room rentals in New York City's five boroughs.

'Slower Pace'

BIO will hold its annual International Convention this year in Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center May 18-21. Lycett said it is too early to gauge how much the ongoing financial and economic upheaval will dent this year's attendance based on applicants for the April 9 "Early Bird" registration deadline.

Last year, attendance at the San Diego BIO convention dipped 10 percent from the number who visited the 2007 convention in Boston, but was still 34 percent higher than attendance at San Diego's previous life-sci industry convention in 2001 [BRN, June 23, 2008].

Lycett said interest among BIO 2009 attendees to partner one-on-one with professional peers is at pace with last year, during which partnering meetings jumped 20 percent to more than 14,500, despite relatively flat numbers of business forum attendees (6,000), and participating companies (1,503), compared with 2007, according to BIO.

That's likely because C-level executives from life-sci companies, academic institutions, and research centers are expected to attend as in past years, but are less likely this year to bring with them lower-level staffers, she said.

Other future conventions:

• 2010: Chicago, May 3-6.
• 2011: Washington DC, June 26-30
• 2012: Las Vegas, June 25-28.
• 2013: Chicago, April 22-25.

Lycett said BIO still expects its annual conventions to grow over time, though "the pace may be slower over the next two years due to the economy."

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