The new convention center at the heart of downtown Albany is nearly complete, and with it a new public-private network of venues expected to boost tax revenue, the business climate and the public prof le of the area.
The Albany Capital Center hosted an invitation-only soft opening March 1, then opened to the public March 3 for ancillary events during the MAAC Basketball Tournament. The final finishing touches are expected to be completed before the first actual convention is held March 22.
The price tag for the project -- everything from the original purchase of the land to planting of the final ornamental greenery -- likely will come in around $78 million, depending on the cost of those last details.
Related: Outlook 2017, The Gazette's annual guide to business and technology in the Capital Region
With the money, most of which comes from a 2007 state grant, the Albany County Convention Center Authority has constructed a highly flexible space incorporating environmentally friendly building practices, new technology and enclosed climate-controlled walkways to the Times Union Center, The Egg, the Empire State Plaza, the Empire State Convention Center and the Renaissance Albany hotel. With the right schedule, visitors could go a full day without needing a coat in winter.
Already for 2017, more than 50 events are scheduled and more than 3,000 hotel room-nights booked for attendees, said Authority Chairman Gavin Donohue.
The Gazette visited the new facility in early February as work was continuing at a fevered pace to get it ready for the soft opening.
"It's just push, push, push," Donohue said at the time. "I think we're getting there. I'm still being told by the professionals that it will."
Depending on configuration, there are four to eight event spaces that can accommodate up to 5,000 people together or as few as 10 individually:
- A plush space fashioned as a board room, measuring 1,000 square feet;
- Two first-floor meeting rooms of 3,400 and 5,100 square feet that can, with retractable walls, be divided into two and three 1,700-square-foot rooms, respectively;
- And the 22,500-square-foot main event room on the second floor, which can be split into 15,000- and 7,000-square-foot areas by a retractable wall.
It's a soaring space, a ballroom illuminated by thousands of LED lights that can be programmed to shine any of 16 million colors or spell out messages and logos. There's a west wall of glass, a 15-by-22-foot freight elevator that can lift 15,000 pounds, and room for three NCAA regulation basketball courts to be set up side-by-side.
Throughout the building are countless other features, some immediately apparent and others hard for the casual visitor to notice:
- A mural at the entrance depicts 400 years of Albany history.
- An underground cistern holds up to 47,175 gallons of rainwater runoff from the roof for later release, so that the water won't further overwhelm sewage treatment facilities during a storm.
- A ramp between the convention center's 140-space garage and the TU Center's 850-space garage allows spillover when one facility has a big event and the other is idle.
- An emergency generator will be powerful enough to light, heat and ventilate the convention center in the event of a power outage, and run the kitchen's refrigerators.
- There is potty parity -- more toilets for women than men, to help reduce the lines that can form outside women's restrooms.
The long road to the ribbon-cutting began in the early 2000s and quickly bogged down with disagreements over the size and location of the facility, as well as its cost and how to pay for it. In its earliest proposed form, the convention center was to be a much larger facility and carry a price tag in the quarter-billion-dollar range.
Donohue, whose full-time job is running the Independent Power Producers of New York trade association, was appointed to the Convention Center Authority in 2006. He admits to experiencing some frustration at times in the years that followed, as the concept of a convention center became a political football and then the Great Recession made funding its construction a more difficult proposition.
He's served under four governors, but could not finalize a plan and start work under the fi rst three.
"Having a governor who laid out a vision of a public-private partnership was what fi nally got the project rolling," Donohue said, referring to Andrew Cuomo.
"Before that, nobody would say what they wanted. ... I can't tell you how many iterations we had."
By this, Donohue does not mean the information is secret -- he just can't remember offhand how many different versions of a convention center were suggested and shot down.
He's glad he stuck with the project, though -- he's proud of the new facility and excited about what it will do for his hometown.
Donohue's post is unpaid. Other than helping create a landmark destination, he jokes that the next biggest perk he's gotten from his 11 years at the Authority was a chance to introduce his young daughter to singer Ariana Grande when she performed at the TU Center.
He's planning to resign as chairman after the last construction contract is completed and the facility is done -- not because of the hours or the pay, but because the role of chairman will have transitioned to running the convention center, rather than building it.
"It's time for somebody to come in with some real skills in operation," Donohue said.