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LaGuardia Airport: Rip it up and start again

LaGuardia Airport is finally ready for its close-up.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $4 billion plan to redesign the long derided international airport in Queens.

The plans call for transforming the existing buildings into a unified main terminal with expanded transit access, increasing taxiway space significantly, and passenger amenities.

Construction on the first phase of the terminal will create 8,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs, and will be managed by LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a public private partnership chosen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In late 2012, the agency first issued a Request for Qualifications from private entities interested in working with them to rebuild the main terminal at LaGuardia.

“New York had an aggressive, can-do approach to big infrastructure in the past – and today, we’re moving forward with that attitude once again,” said Governor Cuomo at a July 27 press conference  announcing the plans.

“We are transforming LaGuardia into a globally-renowned, 21st century airport that is worthy of the city and state of New York. It’s the perfect metaphor for what we can achieve with the ambition and optimism and energy that made this the Empire State in the first place, and I want to thank our many partners for joining us to build the airport that New York deserves.”

Construction on the first half will begin once final approval is given from the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That approval is expected in the first part of 2016, while the majority of the first phase of the project is expected to open to passengers in 2019, with full completion planned for around 18 months later.

The second half of the new terminal is expected to be redeveloped by Delta Air Lines, which has indicated strong support for the plan.

An AirTrain option that directly connects LaGuardia to the New York City subway and Long Island Rail Road at Mets-Willets Point Station, that was proposed by Cuomo, is also part of the plan for the new terminal design.

City leaders have long called for changes at the city’s airports, which suffer from a lack of easy transit to and from major transportation centers.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of air travel,” wrote REBNY president Steve Spinola in a February column for Real Estate Weekly. “Our airports are New York’s gateways to the world. They are the very first thing that visitors encounter when they travel here from anywhere else. La Guardia and JFK International are both routinely cited for their poor quality of design and passenger experience, yet they handle a combined 80 million travelers per year, support approximately 350,000 jobs, provide $18 billion in wages, and produce over $50 billion in economic activity.”

Cuomo also announced plans for MCR Development’s proposed TWA Flight Center Hotel at John F. Kennedy Airport.

Built by world-renowned architect Eero Saarinen, the TWA Flight Center opened in 1962, but by 2001 it was unable to support the size of modern aircraft and was closed. The terminal was designated a NYC Landmark in 1994.

The terminal will be completely renovated and reopened to the public as a hotel, with 505 rooms and 40,000 s/f of meeting space. There are also plans to include a museum focused on the history of TWA Airlines, New York as the birthplace of the Jet Age, and the Midcentury Modern design movement.

The project is a public-private partnership between MCR Development, JetBlue, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with Turner Construction as the building contractor.

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