By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
Ignore the airports at your peril. That’s the warning from real estate developer Joe Sitt, who was this week named chairman of a new advocacy group tasked with getting improvements off the ground at New York’s three main area airports.
“Every sector in our city benefits or suffers to the degree that we are able to handle [traffic] properly through the airports,” Sitt said.
“The more commerce and tourism we drive to New York, the more ability retail or office tenants will be able to pay rent, which drives the bottom line for all Realtors in New York City. While everybody benefits, Realtors should all want to take this up as a cause.”
The hope is that a focus on improvements will in time create a U.S. transportation hub in New York that would rival Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and Chicago’s O’Hare airports. That, Sitt says will continue to drive economic growth in the region and will positively impact the real estate sector.
Inaction however, would be disastrous, he said. “Before Atlanta built that hub, the plan was to build it in Birmingham, Alabama,” he said. “But the people of Birmingham started to hesitate. Atlanta went ahead and built it and their economy has been booming ever since. Alabama’s is doing nothing but falling. It’s one of the greatest mistakes that state has ever made in their history.”
On the heels of New York City setting a record high for tourism during 2012, the Global Gateway Alliance advocacy group will campaign for general infrastructure upgrades, reduced flight delays, better passenger screening and improved access points to the airports themselves.
“We had 36 million visitors to New York 10 years ago and we have 52 million now,” said Sitt, chairman of the Alliance and founder and CEO of real estate development company Thor Equities.
“One of the biggest challenges we have is to be able to accommodate that volume. We’re not looking to run the government; we’re looking to be good civic supporters and help guide them and the MTA.”
While the board of directors is already in place, the group is still at the stage of appointing a day-to-day operational staff that will be place soon. From there, the push for improvement will become more visible.
Sitt, whose company’s portfolio holdings include properties in entertainment locations the Meatpacking District and Coney Island, indicated that while the Global Gateway Alliance primary focus is on improving the region’s transportation, they are also concerned with the impact the airports have on business.
Indeed New York area airports have suffered from an image problem. Last January, the New York Times reported that New York area airport delays accounted for half of all delays in the United States.
Sitt drew comparisons of New York’s airports with retail locations, saying impressions are a key factor. The city, he says, risks facing a drop in volume because our airports leave a lasting negative impression on our customer base.
“The most important thing you do in retail is the first impression and the last impression you give a customer,” he said. “The first impression a tourist gets is landing in our airports.”
Some of the immediate recommendations Sitt says will have an immediate impact would be the upgrading of the radar systems and the adding of runways in order to handle newer emerging market airlines that are driving international traffic. Improving delays in processing international passengers as well as issues of crime by TSA officers was also mentioned.
These improvements he says, need to be made sooner than later.
“With the current state of the airports, the horrible radar system, lack of runways, the horrible delays in getting airplanes up and down and processing us through the airport gates, that creates challenges,” he said.