When the Port Authority of NY & NJ first began its multi-billion-dollar redevelopment projects at New York metropolitan airports, beginning in 2016 with its groundbreaking at LaGuardia Airport, community outreach was a key element of the agenda at its inception. But before this redevelopment and before this community outreach effort began, many in the community around LaGuardia did not consider the Port Authority to be present.
That has taken a complete 180-degree turn over the last six years since the launch of the Port Authority’s airport redevelopment community outreach initiatives and the opening of the LaGuardia Community Outreach Office, the first community outreach office to support the Port Authority’s mission to replace its legacy infrastructure with 21st-century facilities at LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, and Newark Liberty International Airports.
In 2017, when Rick Cotton became the Port Authority’s Executive Director, he brought with him a vision that prioritizes community engagement. Hersh Parekh, Director of Government & Community Relations-NY, said of the Port Authority, “We are an agency that builds, operates, and manages transportation infrastructure, but it was important for us to really look at community engagement, community outreach, and community development through a different lens than we may have in the past. These community offices and the community outreach staff is one of the elements of how we have shifted our focus, and a lot of that comes from the direction of our executive director, Rick Cotton. He really prioritizes community engagement and puts it at the forefront.”
One of the first people hired early on for the LaGuardia Airport redevelopment timeline for community outreach was Shanel Thomas, Community Outreach Manager, LaGuardia Redevelopment Program. In the initial stage of the LaGuardia community outreach effort, mobile outreach offices were set up at various high-traffic locations that provided a touch-point for people in the community to ask questions about the airport and to understand the impacts that the redevelopment might have in their communities, questions such as, “Is there a job opportunity available at the airport?”, “What was that noise that I heard this morning?”, “When is the project going to be completed?” or, “I am a business looking to work at the airport in construction, concessions, etc.”
It was quickly realized that, while the mobile offices were largely efficient at their inception, the Port Authority needed to do more, and that is when it was decided to set up storefront outreach offices very close to the airports, but still in the community, to allow for residents to come in and ask anything they want about the redevelopment programs.
In 2019, two years after the installment of LaGuardia Airport community’s mobile outreach offices, the Port Authority announced the opening of permanent community outreach offices at LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport to support the agency’s ongoing and future airport redevelopment projects and to provide access, information, and regular engagement with residents, customers, and other stakeholders in the metropolitan New York and New Jersey region.
Understanding that these airports sit in diverse, minority communities, it was essential that the Port Authority gauge with neighbors at LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark Airports. Community outreach was their focus right out of the gate. With that in mind, the two principles that guided the entire effort of setting up these offices for the redevelopment programs were that they are easily accessible and located within the community, and that they are staffed by outreach teams who are from and live in the community. Today, these centers are busy hubs of activity.
The LaGuardia Community Outreach Office is located in East Elmhurst and is co-managed by Shanel Thomas and Raquel Moss, Community Outreach Managers-LaGuardia Redevelopment Program. Its proximity to LaGuardia allows it to work well, as its office space is in the center of the community that people can walk to. The leased space, formerly a florist, was gutted and renovated with imagery, branding, colors, and signage clearly reflective of the LaGuardia redevelopment program. A very important feature of the build-out is that many businesses involved in the redevelopment office’s planning, design, and construction were Queens-based and MWBEs (Minority Women-owned Business Enterprise). The project was led by a team of all women, including staff from LaGuardia Redevelopment, the Port Authority, and architects and designers from the private sector. Emphasizing the need to have local MWBEs be a part of the project, it is estimated that 90% of MWBEs were involved in the build-out.
Services at the LaGuardia Community Outreach office are walk-in or by appointment, Mon.-Thurs., between 10 am – 5 pm and include MWBE certification workshops, contracting opportunities for local businesses, job opportunities through the Council for Airport Opportunity (CAO), community briefings, LGA redevelopment construction updates, educational opportunities in STEM & aviation operating and hiring events that take place 3-4 days per week with vendors at the airport.
The LaGuardia Office is located at 98-12 Astoria Blvd. E. Elmhurst, NY 11369. Outreach staff may be reached at (929) 666-5392.
As the redevelopment of LaGuardia winds down from full construction mode, there is still a great deal of activity there. The office is now focused on filling vacancies at the airport, helping businesses get any opportunity at the airport, and also shifting course to the ground access project, which involves improvements to the Q70 and new shuttle bus service to LaGuardia Airport from the Ditmars Boulevard station which is currently in the design, planning, and engineering phase. Community engagement at the airport and as part of the ground access progress will continue, as will the Port Authority’s commitment to having a continued presence and being a good neighbor.
JFK Redevelopment Community Information Center is located in Jamaica and started up in 2019 to support the JFK International Airport’s $19 billion redevelopment project. Handling communications and community outreach and engagement are Rachelle Antoine and Akshar Patel, Co-Managers of External Affairs & Community Outreach, JFK Redevelopment Program.
At the inception of the JFK redevelopment project, the community wanted to ensure that the local businesses and residents benefit from the significant, historic redevelopment at JFK International Airport. In order to bring this initiative to realization, a community advisory council consisting of 45 members was developed. Co-chaired by Congressman Gregory Meeks, Borough President Donovan Richards, community leaders, civic associations, community boards, as well as churches, the body of 45 members works alongside the PANYNJ and the JFK redevelopment outreach team to ensure that there are significant opportunities related to the program. The advisory council is active and engaged in ensuring that, with the launch of community initiatives, they give back to the community.
When the advisory council was developed, one of the most important necessities was a focal location to which people could reach out. The JFK Redevelopment Community Information Center is the first point of contact where people in the community can meet with Port Authority outreach staff to discuss the JFK Airport redevelopment opportunities and issues.
Rachelle Antoine connects with local residents and businesses to ensure they get contracting opportunities at the airport. There is a 30% MWBE goal on each terminal project, so she works with terminal developers- American Airlines, Delta, JFKIAT (Terminal 4), as well as all four terminals undergoing redevelopment. There is also a 10% local goal where terminal developers are encouraged to reach out to businesses around the airport to ensure the local community is a part of it. “What community outreach provides to the community is access,” said Antoine, “When you hear ‘project’ and when it comes to getting information, especially around bigger agencies, it’s really hard to connect, so the Port Authority’s redevelopment communication center at our airport truly provides access to local businesses, community residents, and educational institutions in southeast Queens, and Queens at large. The centers serve as a point of access, so you can’t get lost at all, based on the massive projects that are happening. So, when I think of one word as to what the Port Authority, our Executive Director, and the outreach team is doing, the word is ACCESS… access to the local community.”
Community development programming also includes supporting local schools to be well-equipped to be part of the JFK redevelopment project. One of the community projects that Antoine has worked on is the York College STEM program, a $3 million program to ensure that 700+ students in southeast Queens are exposed to aviation industry careers.
Other services at the JFK Redevelopment Community Information Center include concessions programs, where the center hosts a series of webinars that ensure that local businesses are equipped for opportunities at the terminals and with terminal developers. The center also assists with certifications for MWBE, MDBE (Minority Disadvantaged Business Enterprise), and ACDBE (Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise). It holds a monthly webinar where a certification specialist from the Port Authority provides these types of opportunities and training to help local firms obtain their certification. An additional service is provided by appointment, where terminal developers meet at the center with local firms interested in bidding on opportunities at each terminal’s respective projects.
Through monthly outreach events and whenever there is a contracting opportunity from a different sector of opportunity, the center will coordinate an event and work with local newspapers to share the word. In addition to word of mouth, the centers’ website, webinars, and officials on the board will help disseminate the information to their local constituency in different areas of southeast Queens. The center also has a substantial database of people who are constantly requesting information and have been at various events, enabling new events to be shared with those on the database.
Akshar Patel, who co-manages the JFK Redevelopment Information Center with Antoine, said, “What the Port Authority is doing is so unique in that it is not just about the project; it’s about enabling individuals to fend for themselves and any future opportunities. It is like the saying, ‘Don’t just give a person a fish, but teach them HOW to fish.’ Because you never know when the next opportunity is going to be available.”
Services at the JFK Redevelopment Center are walk-in or by appointment, Tues. – Thurs. Between 9 am -5 pm (adopted after the pandemic, 3 days a week + 2 days remotely). The center is located at 144-33 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, NY 11435, in a completely renovated building located a short walk from the Long Island Railroad and downtown Jamaica buses. Outreach staff may be reached at (718) 244-3834
Newark Community Outreach Office is located in Newark, NJ. It is designed to serve as the central resource for job and contracting opportunities for residents and businesses interested in the Terminal One project. It will focus on communication and building stronger community engagement and assist in the recruitment of certified MWBEs. Outreach staff also will provide certification workshops and job fairs.
The Newark outreach office is located at 89 Market Street, 4th Floor, Newark, NJ 07102. Hours of operation are Mon.-Fri. 8:30 am- 4 pm, and open until 7 pm on Tuesdays. Appointments are recommended. For additional information, outreach staff may be reached at (973) 961-6944.