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NEW YORK CITY-Construction executives heard familiar tunes from two top local economic officials Tuesday morning at the New York Building Congress industry breakfast. The featured speakers–Maris Lago, president and CEO at the Empire State Development Corp. and Robert Lieber, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development–both stressed that scope, size and timelines of major public-private projects are subject to economic realities, while down cycles are prime times to invest in infrastructure.

At the breakfast event, NYBC president Richard Anderson extolled industry members to urge state senators to act on the Ravitch commission recommendations that would eliminate threats of steep fare hikes by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and enable continued capital improvements. Further, Anderson urged the Bloomberg administration to not cut $227 million from the city’s own capital budget which he worries will result in the loss of thousands of jobs and a deterioration of much of the city’s infrastructural backbone.

Concern over the city’s financial outlook led to the mayor’s decision to stretch four years of city-funded capital program commitments into five years, effectively reducing the portion of the capital commitment program by 20% annually in FY 2009-2012, and more recently, added to a proposed additional reduction of the capital budget by 30%.

Acknowledging the city’s budget distress, Anderson stresses that positive capital investment creates jobs and costs less than the city’s own development programs. “I can’t think of any job development that would cost so little per job,” Anderson tells Globest.com

He says “economizing to the tune of $227 million is not a lot of money,” adding that the Building Congress will be working with the administration on new revenue raising measures. “The point we’re trying to make is that they have a choice.”

Among other topics Tuesday was what to do with approximately $4.46 billion of federal stimulus money set to make its way into New York state budget coffers. Lago said a good portion of that is set for bridges, roads and other infrastructural projects. But she said “this money isn’t just going to enhance current infrastructure. These funds are going to lead active construction projects.”

Singing the praises of ESDC’s authorization of $463 million for the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center expansion and renovation, Lago called it a mega expansion. She added that the renovation, expected to be under-way until 2013, would create 9,000 direct and indirect construction jobs. Further, the project will allow the convention center to remain open while the work is in progress.

Lago also said $100 million in new construction was underway at the old Port Authority piers for the first phase of a new park at the Brooklyn end of the Brooklyn Bridge. She said phase one of the new project might be complete by the end of the year.

For the city’s part, Lieber told the group his hat goes off to real estate developers in New York City because they take enormous risks with the projects they undertake, although the payback can be tremendous as well. Then, he attempted to soothe worries, saying that it’s common to start a project in one economic cycle and deliver in another. But in a case like the Hudson Yards redevelopment on the Far West Side, Lieber said in order for that project to see fruition, mass transit to the area was necessary so employees of relocated firms can get to work.

Describing the massive burrowing machine clearing the tunnel under the ground of the west side, Lieber told the group “the $3 billion, city-funded 7 line extension is on budget and underway now, it’s not scheduled to be done until 2013,” adding real estate reality that “you wouldn’t expect to see any development go there until then.”

Lieber said that last week, the city announced over a billion dollars in transportation projects that are going to be moving forward in all five boroughs that he said will create around 32,000 jobs. He added that “we can’t lose sight of the city’s future.”

Later, when New York Times reporter Charles Bagli–who moderated the discussion with Anderson–asked Lago if the original scope, size and current time frame–2011 for completing the first phase–of the Atlantic Yards were indeed realistic, given the times and climate, Lago acknowledged the financials are challenging. She said her agency was focused on meeting a December 31 deadline for tax-exempt bonds at the downtown Brooklyn project. Of another high profile proposal–the transformation of the Farley Post Office into the grand Moynihan Station project across from Penn Station, Lago said ESDC hadn’t determined whether the existing structure could be considered “shovel ready,” a necessity for stimulus funding.

Stressing financial prudence in the city’s budget, Lieber told the group that when they “saw the storm clouds gathering on the horizon,” city officials began to set the stage for new jobs going forward. He also said the city had to do all it could to protect the gains in population and continue to create a safe, clean environment where people could live and work.

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