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Where, in the city that never sleeps, can you find the freshest of food growing in abundance? That’s right – the Javits Center, where the A-to-Z of food, from Arugula to Zucchini, flourishes on the rooftop above Hell’s Kitchen. And now you can see it for yourself on a guided tour.

Zucchini flowering in the Javits rooftop farm. Photo: Phil O’Brien

You’ve attended a conference there. You’ve walked by. You’ve sat in traffic nearby. You may have even gotten your vaccination at the Javits, New York’s busiest convention hub. But behind the chrome and glass sheen of a typical conference center is a pulsing, city-within-a-city — full of new and hidden amenities that make Javits an innovator in sustainable design, urban farming, and state-of-the-art architectural amenities that are now available for the public to view. 

The new ambassador-led tours, which kicked off this spring, run every Tuesday and Thursday at 10am and 1pm — and at $5, cost less than anything else in Hudson Yards. For less than the price of a latte, visitors can check out the 3.3 million-square foot center that houses the popular annual Comic Con, New York International Auto Show, the National Retail Federation Big Show, Anime NYC convention and the Summer Fancy Food Show (coming up next week!). W42ST tagged along on a recent tour to get the exclusive on the hidden treasures of Javits. 

There is a statue of Jacob Javits at the entrance to the exhibition halls. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Named after Jacob K Javits — famed former Congressman, Senator, and New York state attorney general — the convention center’s mission “is really to generate business both for the city and for the state,” said ambassador Loretta Lurie. “Right now we have about 4,000 full-time and part-time employees through our events,” she added, and they come from all over the world: “You can hear as many as 20 languages spoken almost any time.” 

The original building, a 15-story behemoth known as the Crystal Pavilion, was completed in 1986 and underwent extensive renovation between 2009 and 2014. Innovations include a reworking of the building’s signature black-mirrored glass to prevent bird collisions, as well as extensive sustainability updates (nearly all of the center’s lights are now LED bulbs) and a hydroponic garden harvesting microgreens for its in-house caterer, Cultivated, in its concession area. 

The rooftop farm at the Javits Center. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The newly completed North Building, designed by architectural firm TVS, not only adds 90,000-square feet of exhibition and meeting space but takes the convention center’s commitment to sustainability to new levels. The North Building, which ambassador Elizabeth Morrow noted was completed on time and on budget (!)  is LEED Gold-certified (the original structure, at 36 years old, still makes the Silver certification), and features a 6.75-acre green roof

The roof has several self-sustaining components, including solar panels and rainwater-collecting mossy, low-line rock plants called sedum that help reduce urban heat islands and insulate the Javits Center. The roof also prevents city flooding and debris running into the Hudson River, absorbing as much as 7 million gallons of rainwater a year.

Hydroponics bring microgreens to the Javits Center chefs on the rooftop and even inside the conference center’s eatery. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The crown jewel of the top floor amenity is the center’s one-acre, all-seasons, urban farm, greenhouse, and orchard, operated by Brooklyn Grange. Producing as much as 40,000 pounds of produce a year, the farm harvests seasonal, natively occurring vegetables, flowers, and fruits, including 30 New York state apple trees that look over the Hudson River (which we’d  venture to guess is the only working orchard in Manhattan!). 

The all-season greenhouse houses state-of-the-art hydroponic technology, including self-regulating humidity and temperature vents. “We try to keep it colorful and exciting for the chefs — they come in and let us know what they need,” said greenhouse hydroponics farmer Kelly Pfeiffer.

Javits staff getting ready for this week’s Fancy Food Show. Photo: Phil O’Brien

The team at Javits has taken special care to ensure nearly every innovation at the convention center is self-sustaining and low-to-no-impact on the neighborhood. The building’s transformer can keep Javits powered off of the ConEd grid for six days, a capability which Morrow notes allows Javits to alleviate the city’s bandwidth. “During high-power days, we’re part of a volunteer program with ConEd where they’ll call us and say, ‘We’re at capacity, can you help us?’ And we can take ourselves off the grid completely,” she added.

Javits is also committed to reducing landfill waste, redistributing left over furniture from vendor shows to local schools, houses of worship, and non-profits through their Javits Cares program. “We are one of the busiest convention centers in the United States,” said Morrow. “And when our exhibitors come here, they set up their own booth that could include couches, lamps, carpets, plants, and furniture — and when the event is over, they don’t have another use for it. We work with local organizations to make sure that they have what they need.” 

The tours of the Javits Center are held twice a week. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Reducing food waste and insecurity is also important to the team at Javits. In-house catering works with organizations like Rethink Food NYC and City Harvest to ensure that excess food from shows is properly redistributed across the city. “At last year’s Summer Fancy Food show, we saved 200,000 pounds of food for local organizations,” said Lurie. 

For many West Siders, perhaps the most noticeable gesture of goodwill from Javits comes in the form of reduced traffic — the new North building contains 27 new interior truck loading docks and over 200 parking spots to cut down on emissions, improve local pedestrian safety, and significantly alleviate 11th Avenue congestion. “We try to think about being a good neighbor and pedestrian safety — it makes a big difference,” said Lurie. 

During the tour you can check out a Lego model of the Javits Center (can you spot the Batmobile!?). Photo: Phil O’Brien

It was the latest community-minded move from the convention center, which previously demonstrated New York solidarity by serving as a staging area after the 9/11 attacks, as the first COVID-19 NYC field hospital at the onset of the pandemic, followed by working as  the country’s largest vaccine distribution site

“It really helped to take the pressure off the other hospitals,” said Lurie.  “In January of 2021, they started doing vaccines. They gave out over 600,000 vaccines in six months and it was a very festive environment. And I said, ‘Wow, that’s really cool’ — because where I went, I stood outside in two degree weather, so I’m glad someone had a good time!” laughed Lurie. “Javits really is a city within a city and FEMA knows that they can count on us if they need them in the future.” 

The Javits getting ready to vaccinate New Yorkers during the pandemic. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Javits Senior Vice President and Chief Communications officer Tony Sclafani agrees that whatever lies ahead for the city, Javits will be there to support New Yorkers. “We had a wall with 50,000 thank you cards from New Yorkers who visited the vaccination center,” said Sclafani. “It was a snapshot of New Yorkers at a moment in time.”

If you’d like to book a tour of Javits Center’s six-block campus reservations can be made on their website. Tours take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10am and 1pm. It’s recommended that you book with 48 hours of advance notice. 

One of the tens of thousands of thank you cards from New Yorkers grateful to get their vaccination at the Javits Center. Photo: Renee Lutz Stanley

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