On June 14, 2016, two years after comparing LaGuardia Airport to a ‘Third World country”, Vice President Joe Biden stood at a podium beside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to praise a $4 billion redevelopment project at the airport’s groundbreaking ceremony. The Vice-President was there to join Governor Cuomo in announcing the complete overhaul of the outdated, overcrowded & decaying ‘vintage’ airport that was originally dedicated in October 1939 as New York Municipal Airport, opening on December 9th of that same year. Shortly thereafter “LaGuardia Field” was tagged on to the name and within a year of its opening, NY Municipal Airport-LaGuardia Field was the busiest airport in the world. By 1953 it would simply become LaGuardia Airport, after NYC mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia.

Reinvention of LaGuardia Airport

Once a bustling, modern entryway to New York that was built when air travel was a luxury, LaGuardia Airport was a jewel in its heyday with striking features, like the now closed Skywalk observation deck that allowed visitors to enjoy panoramic views of the airport ramp, the Art Deco Marine Terminal adorned with a mural depicting the history of flight and a Central Terminal with a rooftop observation deck running the full length of the terminal.

Although a large and remarkable airport for the era in which it was built, in the decades to come the main terminal adjacent to the Grand Central Parkway became outdated and crammed beyond capacity. With passenger traffic at LaGuardia growing to over 29 million by 2016 the fallout was an increasingly inefficient operation plagued by frequent flight delays, poor service, and an infrastructure that had fallen into significant decline and disrepair. The ‘jewel’s’ reputation was ultimately ranked as the worst airport in the United States.

After Vice President Biden’s uncomplimentary remarks about LaGuardia Airport in 2014, he later commented, “The greatest city in the world — and New York is, it’s not hyperbole — needs and deserves the greatest infrastructure in the world”. With the 2016 announcement of LaGuardia Airport’s major modernization and redevelopment project, Biden commended Governor Cuomo for vigorously commencing the forthcoming transformation of the airport into the 21st century. At the 2016 groundbreaking ceremony, Cuomo announced, “This is not going to be a rebuilding of what it was, this is going to be a whole new airport. We’re not just building an airport; we’re building an airport that’s part of a new vision that revitalizes New York.”

And so, the ‘’new LaGuardia Airport’’ revamp had begun, marking it as the first complete rebuild of an airport in the United States in over 20 years. This comprehensive redevelopment would transform LaGuardia into a unified airport with new terminals for the existing terminals B, C and D, better transportation access with a future AirTrain, additional taxi-lanes, a new parking infrastructure and best-in-class passenger amenities.

Reinvention of LaGuardia Airport
Shorter than the Day is a 2020 art installation by Sarah Sze that hangs in LaGuardia Airport Terminal B’s baggage claim. The spherical structure is built from a network of suspended rods and 900 photographs of the New York sky shot from dawn to dusk.

This massive enterprise was set in motion as a Public Private Partnership with LaGuardia Gateway Partnership, which is responsible for the development and renovations of Terminal B, led by its Chief Executive Officer, Stewart Steeves. Spending most of his career in engineering, construction, and airports, Steeves discussed with Metropolitan Airport News the magnitude of the project as one of the most complex airport projects ever undertaken. Building in front of, behind, and even over top of the existing facility while keeping the original terminal operational, would require a smart and innovative design and construction plan and a talented group of partners, working together as a team. With a pioneering plan and ingenious team, including the Port Authority of NY/NJ, Vantage Airport Group, Skanska, Meridiam, JLC Infrastructure, SWJV, HOK and WSP.

Steeves said, “We knew we were ready for the challenge. Building over top of the existing facility was definitely an innovative idea from Vantage Airport Group, the equity partner leading the development program and management of the terminal, allowing LGP to keep the original terminal operational during construction, thus reducing the number of construction phases. And design partner, HOK figured out how to make it happen. The bridges really were the key element of the new airport’s design and construction and their importance to the project cannot be underestimated.”

“This is certainly one of the most complex airport construction projects ever undertaken.”

STEWART STEEVES, CEO,  LAGUARDIA GATEWAY PARTNERS

As architects now design airports that go beyond their role as air and cargo carriers, there is a new methodology for developing new uses, creating new customers who are not travelers, and gaining revenue. In support of this methodology, Steeves commented, “Airports serve as both transportation and commercial hubs for their communities, and are a natural location for compatible land development, such as office buildings, retail and more, as is evidenced in the commercial development that already exists surrounding New York airports.

Reinvention of LaGuardia Airport

LaGuardia Gateway Partners is focused on transforming the guest experience by partnering with the TSA using the most technologically advanced security screening available, including mobile inspection tables, Smart Pad System, and Advanced Imaging Technology. Other examples include mobile and contactless food ordering through LGP’s partnership with Grab and state-of-the art Building Management System that controls the terminal’s mechanical and electrical equipment. With time, innovative and new technologies will continue to be rolled out.”

Speaking of the men and women who built the airport and the many construction firms involved, Steeves acknowledged their vital work on the project saying, “I am so proud of the team building the new Terminal B, led by Skanska Walsh Joint Venture. It is estimated that more than 11 million work hours will be needed to complete this project. The men and women in the construction trades have worked tirelessly on this project and delivered it on time and on budget. I’m also proud at the unprecedented Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) participation in this project – to date we have commitments of more than $966 million to more than 290 MWBE firms. I am very thankful to each and every person who is making the state-of-the-art new Terminal B a reality.”

Discussing the AirTrain, Mr. Steeves remarked that LaGuardia Gateway Partners is very much in favor of it as it will take cars off the road and provide both passengers and airport employees with reliable public transportation to the airport.

In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on passenger travel volume and its steep decrease, Steeves said, “Air travel is essential for our society-it connects us to family, to business and cultural experiences. I am confident travel will be back to pre-pandemic levels, but of course the question is when with the biggest driver in timing being the vaccine and how quickly it is implemented.”

Speaking specifically just to Terminal B at LaGuardia, Steeves continued, “The health and safety of our passengers and all terminal employees are our main priorities and we have worked tirelessly to put COVID prevention measures in place. It starts with enhanced cleaning throughout the terminal. We have installed 200 hand sanitizer and wipe stations throughout the terminal, including at high touch locations such as kiosks and elevators. Our restrooms were designed to be as touchless as possible. We’ve implemented contactless food ordering and payment systems. Of course, face coverings are required, and we’ve installed plexi-glass shields throughout the terminal. We’re also testing self-cleaning technologies such as elevator buttons and created a video to highlight these efforts.”

With the opening of the project’s largest milestone on schedule during the pandemic, the Terminal B Arrivals and Departure Hall, and the first phase of the western concourse, the remaining project work continues. LaGuardia Gateway Partners focus will be on ensuring both passengers and airline partners have a seamless experience in the new facility. Stewart Steeves added, “The project is now over 80% complete, but we remain focused on the completion of the final phases of the project on time and on budget, as we have always been. We also continue to look for ways to transform the guest experience, be it through technology or new amenities. I am so proud of the LaGuardia Gateway Partners team and all our partners for coming together to open the Arrivals and Departures Hall in the midst of the pandemic. 

This is a monumental project on its own. We are delivering a new terminal worthy of the greatest city in the world and the overwhelmingly positive reaction from passengers, terminal partners and even the media has certainly validated this. We have a 35-year lease here at Terminal B and we look forward to being an integral part of the next chapter here at LGA.”

Julia Lauria-Blum earned her BA degree in the Visual Arts at SUNY New Paltz. After a brief career in the hospitality industry she began research on women pioneers in aviation. In 2001 she curated the WASP exhibit at the American Airpower Museum (AAM) in Farmingdale, NY and was a consultant on the History Channel documentary, Women Combat Pilots, The Right Stuff. She later curated the exhibit, 'Women Who Brought the War Home, Women War Correspondents, WWII’ at the AAM. Julia is the former curatorial assistant at the Cradle of Aviation Museum and now works as an independent registrar and archivist.

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