History Of New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

History Of New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

Feature Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

More commonly known as Javits Center, the Jacob K. Javitzs Convention Center on Eleventh Avenue between 34th Street and 38th Street currently sits in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. Its large facility as a convention center has played an important role in New York City as one of the busiest venues of its kind in the country. Over the years, it has experienced a number of expansions that now has an interior measurement of over three million square feet of space.

Planning Stages

When it was proposed in 1962 to set up a convention center on the west side of Manhattan, this was met with a lengthy controversial debate. Talks of replacing the New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle were a hot topic as the building was only six years old at the time. In addition to eyeballing this location, there was also a convention center planned between 38th and 42nd Streets as part of the city’s development for the West Side waterfront. There was also the New York Central railyard situated between the Tenth and Eleventh Avenues and the along the west between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

Designed by architect James Ingo Freed of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the frame of the convention center began in 1980 and finished in 1986. It was named Jacob Javits, honoring New York’s United States Senator. The Republican represented New York from 1957 until 1981 and was noted for his work ethic and unbounded energy. He described himself as a “Lincolnian” as he fought for the rights of the average American. It was he who played a key role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. What also made Javits special was despite his political affiliation, he opted to side with the people instead of his own party. This was evident when he drafted the War Powers Resolution in 1973.

Because of his influence and set of values, when New York City erected the community center that became one of the busiest convention centers ever built, it was named after the man who did so much for his fellow New Yorkers, as well as the rest of the American people.

Moving Forward

This replacement of the New York Coliseum immediately became the city’s major convention facility that would cater to so many locals and visitors. The vision of the convention center was to build a promenade with retail outlets and restaurants facing the shore of the Hudson River. The idea was to keep this open throughout the year instead of restricting the operating hours like most other convention centers were doing at the time.

According to the New York Convention Center Development Corporation, the estimated annual revenue in city and state tax collection would be approximately eighty-two million dollars. Overall, it was banking on earning over eight hundred million dollars per year. However, there was a report that discovered the neighboring structures would be at a loss due to the lack of public transit. It was also zoned as an industrial neighborhood, not commercial or residential.

When the New York State Legislature approved a plan to spend $375 million toward the construction of a convention center near Penn Central’s yard, it was March 1979. In April, I.M. Pei and Partners was appointed to design and build the New York Convention and Exhibition Center. This was the name chosen for the facility at the time.

As soon as the project was announced, buying property in the Hell’s Kitchen area became more expensive. What used to be a buyer’s real estate market at the time suddenly favored the sellers as interested parties banked on what now became profitable investments.

When the designs of the new convention center were revealed in December 1979 marked the beginning of the end for squatters at the proposed site. By March 1980, they were removed from the site so the current structures there could be demolished, then cleared out of the way, so the new structure could be built. On June 18, 1980, the city held a groundbreaking ceremony before the crewmen assigned got to work.

Scheduling Issues

When the construction of the convention center began in 1982, there were supply issues that caused a few complications. Going into March 1983, the officials pointed out that the overrun cost of nearly seventeen million dollars was now facing the center’s development. Going into April, it was approaching the fifty million dollar mark. With these costs factoring in, there was an inquiry about how soon could the new convention center see a return on this costly investment.

When Jerry Lowery was hired to find conventions for the New York Convention Center, he was able to pencil in exactly 171 conventions that wanted their events held between 1984 and 1986. However, as fate would have it, the mid-1984 bookings had to be postponed as the center’s ability to open up for business wasn’t going to happen until at least mid-1986.

Because of the delays, this proved to be a disaster for the city as all but thirty of those conventions that were booked were no longer able to hold their functions inside what was supposed to be a finished building. Faced with potential lawsuits, there was an order for the workers to speed up construction.

It was also during this time Governor Mario Cuomo wanted the convention center renamed so that would better identify with New York instead of something so generic. After Jacob Javits died on March 3, 1986, it was officially decided to rename it Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center.

Open for Business

On April 3, 1986, the now-named Javits Center, the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center was finally open for business that began with a five-minute ribbon-cutting ceremony. The first exhibitions that were held at the new facility were the International Fur Fair and an Art Expo that displayed the works of younger artists who showed promise.

A week after it was opened, the Javits Center had a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony that had Governor Cuomo, then-mayor Ed Koch, and the widow of Jacob K. Javits, Marian in attendance. Since then, it has hosted a series of events that include the annual New York International Auto Show, Anime NYC, and New York Comic Con. It was also at this location Hilary Clinton’s November 2016 bid to become the United States president was used as a watching venue.

Before Javits Center, the New York International Auto show held its Manhattan-based shows in the New York Coliseum since it first opened in 1956. The annual auto show itself has been holding annual exhibits since 1900, making it the first of its kind in North America. After the Javits Center opened, the auto show moved to its facility in 1987. The annual shows have been held there ever since.

Comic Con

New York Comic Con

Photo: Brian Kachejian © 2018

The first New York Comic Con was held in the Javits Center in 2006. Arranged by Reed Elsevier and his Reed Exhibitions division, ReedPop, the first year it was held met with issues that can be blamed on the company’s lack of experience when it comes to holding conventions. In many ways, this also partly served as a catalyst that would be factored into the center’s first expansion project.

Comical Complications

The main hall at the time could only hold ten thousand people at a time. When the convention began on Friday, February 24, 2006, Reed was unprepared to properly handle the number of people who went to Javits just to take part of this event. At first, there were only 4,500 tickets that were previously sold when the first day of this three-day convention began. As the day progressed, tickets continued to be sold that were not counted by the people who were in charge at the time.

This lack of organization resulted in the main exhibition hall of the center reaching capacity Saturday morning. Because of this, fire marshals had to come in and lock the place until people left. The major guests that were supposed to go to the convention, Kevin Smith and Frank Miller, couldn’t even enter the main hall. It wasn’t until the afternoon the lockdown at Javits Center ended.

Now with better crowd control in place, the convention center was wrapped by people who had to wait as long as two hours just to enter the building. There were many that were actually turned away. Because of this, ticket sales for Sunday were suspended. Upon realizing how many fans were willing to attend his Comic Con, Reed promised to have future conventions of its kind better organized so it could properly handle a crowd he knew needed more space in order to enjoy what clearly was a very popular event.

When Reeds booked the 2007 Comic Con at Javits Center, this time it was double the floor space than what was booked in 2006. The event was moved to the upper level of the center. The show on Friday was open only to the industry and the press until 4 P.M. before opening up to the public. This was the same practice that was used in the first year. However, this time there was better planning when it came to ticket sales. This still didn’t stop the lineup from forming outside that had people waiting for two hours in below-freezing temperatures just to get in.

This caused a problem in Artists Alley, which was just off the main convention floor. Because of this, it moved to the main floor for 2008’s show. Making the facility even more crowded than the American Anime Awards that was hosted by New York Comic Con on February 24, 2007, at the New Yorker Hotel. For comic book fans, the opportunity to hit Reed’s Comic Con as well as the awards ceremony was a perfect way to spend the weekend.

In order to avoid scheduling issues, Reed moved his conventions to April 2008. Additional space was also booked. In 2006, there were 33,000 attendees. In 2007 it was 49,000. On both occasions, not enough room was booked to accommodate the surging interest of fans who wanted to take part in what was clearly a very popular event. This time, it occupied most of the main level of Javits Center. This was also the year Stan Lee was awarded at Times Square Virgin Megastore with the inaugural New York Comics Legend Award, an event that took place just before Comic Con. It was also the year Reed added Kids Comic Con to the program. There were 64,000 people who went to the convention that weekend.

The rising popularity of what was now New York Comic Conplayed a key role in why Javits Center sought to expand its ability to accommodate the number of people looking to book the facility to host their conventions. When Reed expanded his convention to cover four days instead of three in 2011, this was also the year he began an eSport tournament called Intel Extreme Masters Global Challenge – New York. This tournament has held events such as StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike.

Year after year, Comic Con continues to hold its events at Javits Center. Each year saw a steady increase of attendees that reached as high as 260,000 people during the weekend of October 3, 2019. When COVID-19 hit, 2020 marked the only year there was no Comic Con as it was canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, it returned to the center but with a reduced crowd allowance that was limited to 150,000 people.

New York Comic Con

Photo: Brian Kachejian 2018

Anime Expo

From 2007 until 2011, the New York Anime Festival held its convention each year at the Javits Center. This was also a Reed Exhibition convention that would later run New York Comic Con. The first event held at the facility was December 7, 2007, for three days. Going into 2010, the festival was held with the New York Comic Con. In 2012, the festival was absorbed into NYCC.

The popularity of Comic Con was so immense that NYCC began to implement a fan verification profile in 2016. This was a necessary step in order to put an end to the schemes of ticket scalpers who preyed on fans wanting to enter Javits Center just to take part in the convention. The tickets sold out fast as soon as they were made available. Upon nearing 2016, it was realized scalpers were buying up the tickets, only to sell them at a much higher price to fans who missed out on buying them at what should have been the proper price.

In 2018, NYCC began a partnership with Anime Expo for a show called Anime Fest @ NYCC X Anime Expo. Held at Javits Center, this was intended to become an annual event. It was successful in 2018 and 2019 but the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic resulted in what became New York Comic Con X MCM Comic Con Metaverse. Instead of attending the convention center in person, this was held as a virtual reality event. It did return to Javits Center in 2021 with the stipulation anyone at least twelve years old required proof of vaccination. Children under that age needed to prove they tested negative for the coronavirus.

First Expansion

The first expansion of the Jacob Javits Center began on October 16, 2006, with a groundbreaking ceremony that had a projected cost of $1.7 billion. Scheduled for completion by 2010, this development would add an extra forty-five percent to the center’s size. Richard Rogers was the architect hired to head the design team while Leslie E. Robertson Associates were the appointed structural engineers.

Once again, the facility met with construction issues as the Bloomberg administration placed physical constraints that wound up spiking the cost of the project to five billion dollars. In order to deal with the constraints, there was an alternative plan that was introduced by architect Meta Brunzema and environmental planner Daniel Gutman in 2007.

The Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association looked into expanding Javits Center to the south and over the Western Rail Yard where the defeated West Side Stadium was located. Included in this plan was a rooftop park, as well as a combination of office and residential towers at the corners of the new exhibition hall. There was also the proposal to convert Pier 76 for public use. This resulted in the mayor choosing to rezone Western Rail Yard’s site from industrial to commercial and residential as part of the Hudson Yards.

In April 2008, a $465 million budget was laid out for the renovation of Javits Center. Issued by Governor David Paterson, this project began in 2010 and was led by the FXFOWLE Epstein design team. The interior redesign focused on a series of upgrades that would make the convention center more comfortable and better organized. There were also new and improved mechanical systems that improved the facility’s air quality level, ambiance, and energy consumption level.

Throughout, Javits Center was given a modernized look that met with the environmental and structural concerns that were on the table at the time. However, when the renovation was completed in November 2013, it was discovered going into 2014 that the new roof was still experiencing leaking issues since the expansion.

In the meantime, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans in January 2012 to construct a new convention center at the old Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens while the Javits Center was undergoing redevelopment. The idea was to install a combination of commercial space and residential apartments that shared the same pattern as Battery Park City. However, when disagreements came about over spacing issues, more focus was poured into Javits Center’s renovations. This included a fifteen-million-dollar telephone system that included an improved Wi-Fi network.

Right after the center’s first expansion was completed, New York City Subway 7 and the 34th Street-Hudson Yards station became part of the 7 Subway Extension project that went into what became the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project. Also included in the redevelopment were the High Line and Hudson Park and Boulevard.

Second Expansion

The second Javits Center expansion began after Governor Cuomo announced in January 2016 that it would expand to 3.3 million square feet with an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. It was designed to replace the semi-permanent structure located at the center’s north end. Javits North would see the 1.2 million square feet of space converted into a glass building with additional meeting rooms, new exhibition halls and space, and outdoor space.

Leading the project team were Lend Lease Group and Turner Construction Company. The intention behind the expansion was to make Javits Center more competitive as an ideal choice to do business as a convention center. At the time, there were no hotels near Javits, which often played a deciding factor when convention planners were shopping for the perfect place to hold their functions.

In March 2017, a groundbreaking ceremony was held with the intent the latest expansion project would be finished in four years. All was going well until March 2020 and COVID-19 happened. As soon as the pandemic swept across New York City, the Javits Center was converted into a temporary shelter that was ready to treat up to 2,910 COVID-19 patients. As a field hospital, it wasn’t as heavily used as anticipated. Less than 1,100 COVID-19 patients required treatment at the facility. When FEMA closed Javits as a field hospital in May 2020, the few dozen patients that were there were transferred to city hospitals.

Going into 2021, the Javits Center became a COVID-19 mass vaccination site. For three straight days in March 2021, the facility witnessed up to fourteen thousand people receive vaccinations per day. That was more needles administered in a single location than any other facility of its kind in the United States.

Because of COVID-19, Javits Center experienced yet another development setback as the pandemic caused several conventions that were scheduled between 2020 and 2021 to be canceled. Since the facility was being used as a field hospital, then a vaccine site at the time, the two hundred million dollars in profit it expected from the previously booked events were lost. Interestingly enough, the pandemic only caused a two-month construction delay as the center was still able to complete its expansion project on May 11, 2021. It was also the first time it was a project that had the expenses remain within budget instead of going over.

Running the Show

In 1995, it was revealed the work that went into the convention center was given to people who had connections with the mafia and union officers. For up to $350.00 per day, including Sundays, the members of Local 807 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters would carry out their tasks as they were assigned. This was more than $250.00 than the workers who were not part of this organization. It was also revealed Robert Rabbitt Sr. and his son, Michael, attempted to engineer a deal that would have the mafia leaders control all of the center’s business concerns.

The New York Convention Center Corporation runs Javits Center as a New York State public benefit corporation. Since 2021, the expansion of the facility saw 1.2 million square feet added, resulting in a total square footage of 3.3 million as the convention center continues to serve New Yorkers and visitors with an intensely busy schedule. In addition to the expansions, upgrades continue to evolve Javits Center in order to keep up with the improvements brought about by the latest technology. Although COVID-19 posed issues that still lurk in the shadows with variants, Javits Center continues to stay busy as one of the favorite spots to hold an event.

Resources:

https://javitscenter.com/

https://www.nytimes.com/1995/05/04/nyregion/panel-says-mob-s-friends-got-teamster-jobs-at-javits-center.html

https://architectuul.com/architecture/jacob-k-javits-convention-center#:~:text=The%20revolutionary%20space%20frame%20structure,square%20feet%20(62%2C700%20m2).

 

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