Tag Archives: Governor Andrew Cuomo

LaGuardia Airport to get $4 billion, ’21st-century’ overhaul


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

After Vice President Joe Biden compared it to a “third-world country,” LaGuardia Airport is getting a much-needed makeover bringing it to the 21st century and allowing New York City to start to once again lead in infrastructure.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was joined by Biden on Monday afternoon to announce that the Queens airport would be receiving a complete redesign taking it from a 1939 airport to a globally renowned, state-of-the-art facility.

“LaGuardia is slow. It’s dated. It’s a terrible front door entranceway to New York. It is a lost opportunity. It’s almost universally decried as a poor representation of an airport let alone a New York airport,” Cuomo said.

Bringing up the vice president’s comments last year that referred to LaGuardia Airport as a “third-world country,” Cuomo said that it served as a wake-up call to a city that at one point in history was leading the way in infrastructure.

“It was a strong, some would say prophetic vision, which I believe in many ways is an impetus to say to New York, ‘Get up, move.’ This is not acceptable and it’s not acceptable for New York,” Cuomo said about Biden’s comment.

LGAExistingSite RESIZED

An image of the current LaGuardia Airport.

In order to tackle the issue of the airport — which passengers have called dirty, cramped, hot and delayed — the governor appointed an advisory panel, led by Dan Tishman, to work with the Port Authority and come up with a new plan for LaGuardia.

After getting together and going over goals and obstacles, the group came up with the plan that would create an entirely new facility, replacing the current airport in its entirety. It would run adjacent to the Grand Central Parkway, 600 feet closer to the parkway than it is now. There would be more flight operating space, a world-class retail and hotel complex, and a unified terminal instead of the current isolated terminals. Later, there will be AirTrain and ferry access.

“The goal is not really to repair and rebuild a 1939 airport. We want an airport that is a state-of-the-art facility. We want a globally renowned airport for the next century that is worthy of the name New York and what we’re doing,” Cuomo said.

 Photo courtesy of Office of Gov. Cuomo - Kevin P. Coughlin

Photo courtesy of Gov. Cuomo’s office – Kevin P. Coughlin

The project is a $4 billion public-private sector partnership with more than 50 percent of the money being privately funded. The first half of the project is expected to break ground next year with new facilities approximately in 39 months, with all construction complete within 18 months thereafter. Delta has also agreed to be a partner in the new airport and will work to redevelop their two terminals — C and D — to work together with the unified terminal.

The airport will remain open and functional during the construction phase.

“This is the greatest city in the world. It’s not a hyperbole. It’s the greatest city in the world and it requires a 21st-century infrastructure,” Biden said. “The airport has a first-class workforce, and they deserve a first-class facility to serve customers who count on them.”


In response to the project plan, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said she recommends the Port Authority expands its Aircraft Noise program throughout construction phases of LaGuardia; creates a cellphone lot; and creates more short- and long-term airport parking.

“As much as LaGuardia and JFK International are tremendous economic assets to Queens and to the region, with them has come the need to mitigate the direct, daily impacts of growth upon the thousands of families immediately surrounding them,” Katz said. “When convening this blue-ribbon panel on which I have had the pleasure to serve, the governor charged us with ensuring that community needs are addressed, especially with regard to noise and alleviating traffic congestion.”

Along with LaGuardia, Cuomo also mentioned improvements that will take place at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York, to accommodate more commercial flights to reduce traffic at LaGuardia and JFK airports and make the airport a “New York Free Trade Zone”; renovations at JFk airport such as a historic renovation of the Saarinen building being constructed to a state-of-the-art hotel; and putting to use the Republic Airport also as a “New York Free Trade Zone.”

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Crucial housing laws to expire as state legislature negotiations continue


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Laws that keep rents regulated for millions of residents in the city and help build more affordable housing will expire at midnight Monday unless state legislators reach an agreement to extend or reform them.

State politicians could extend the deadline to Wednesday — when this year’s legislative session comes to an end — giving them time to work on more comprehensive reforms.

One of the laws provide guidelines in rent control and stabilized apartments throughout the city, and many fear without them hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units around in the city will be lost.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who sent a proposal to the state legislature last month, has urged members of the Assembly and Senate to come to an agreement to protect renters in the city.

“This is just unacceptable,” he said, according to The New York Times. “There are over two million New Yorkers right now who woke up this morning not knowing what was going to happen to their future because Albany is not acting.”

De Blasio’s proposal would stop landlords from deregulating vacant apartments when rents go above $2,500. The proposal also seeks to remove the allowance that landlords can raise rents on vacant apartments by 20 percent and end permanent rent hikes when landlords maintain or improve apartments.

Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that they should avoid “mayhem” and not let the law expire. There is a belief that landlords could threaten rent hikes or evictions while the state works on reforming the law, but Cuomo and de Blasio has warned property owners against this.

Public Advocate Letitia James has set up a hotline at 212-669-7250 to field questions to assist rent regulated tenants who have questions or need legal help in the event that the rent laws temporarily expire.

Last week, Cuomo promised to call state legislatures beyond the end of their session until they worked out a deal, according to published reports.

The state Assembly has introduced a bill that will extend current protections until Wednesday, while they look for a more permanent solution.

Also on the table for Monday is the 421-a tax abatement, which grants developers tax breaks in exchange more affordable housing. Critics have called for reforms to this law because many critics of the program say it current allows developers to build more market-rate housing.

De Blasio revealed a proposal that will revitalize the program to and give developers 35 years of tax breaks instead of 25, but with the trade-off that projects must include 25 to 30 percent affordable housing. It also suggests a mansion tax for condos or co-ops valued at more than $1.75 million.

Reportedly, Cuomo supports a short-term extension and a revamp of the program over a straight extension of the current plan.

“I would not want to see the program expire, because then you have no construction, so, depending,” Cuomo told the New York Observer. “But on these facts, I would favor a short-term extension, so you still have the pressure on people to get a new agreement done, but you don’t actually stop producing affordable housing.”

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Kim helps usher in consumer awareness campaign for nail salon industry


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Office of Ron Kim

Updated June 3, 1:38 p.m.

BY ANGELA MATUA

Assemblyman Ron Kim joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Manhattan on Friday to launch a consumer awareness campaign to improve conditions in the nail salon industry.

Kim, who represents parts of Flushing, Whitestone and Murray Hill, called for a more educational approach to reforming the industry and proposed a training program to ensure that workers receive minimum wage while learning about their rights.

“I’m proud to join Governor Cuomo in this fight and that’s why I’m sponsoring important legislation to protect New York’s workers,” Kim said. “Together with the governor, the owners and advocates, we can transform the nail salon industry and protect the thousands of workers in our community so they can obtain the proper treatment they rightfully deserve.”

The consumer awareness campaign proposes to teach consumers what to expect when they visit a nail salon. As part of the initiative, pocket cards listing the “Top Five Things to Ask When Entering Nail Salons” are being distributed statewide.

The questions include “Are workers paid at least minimum wage and overtime?”; “Is appropriate protective equipment (respirator, mask, gloves, eye protection) provided to workers and used?”; “Is there adequate ventilation (no strong odors)?”; “Is the salon business license posted in plain view?”; and “Is the Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights posted in plain view?”

Kim joined public officials and owners of local nail salons earlier last month in Flushing to announce the “Healthy Nail Salon Network,” a series of proposals to create a safe working environment for nail salon workers.

Among the proposals that Kim outlined that day, raising prices for manicures and creating a code of conduct for salons were among a few solutions he suggested.

Several politicians including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James have taken steps to reform the industry on the state and city level. Efforts to reform city nail salons increased after a New York Times article exposed unfair wage and labor practices at many nail salons.

A spokesperson for James’ office noted Wednesday that the public advocate has been working on the issue for more than a year.

“We are calling on New Yorkers to use their power as consumers to patronize nail salons who treat employees fairly, and boycott those unscrupulous businesses who profit by exploiting their workers,” Cuomo said.

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Port Authority selects group to build, manage LaGuardia Airport’s Central Terminal Building


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey finally announced Thursday the winning group for a $3.6 billion project to build and manage LaGuardia Airport’s new Central Terminal Building.

The bi-state agency selected LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a team comprised of Swedish construction firm Skanska, Vantage Airport Group and various financial firms. The group was selected over the other project finalist, which includes a team comprised of Tutor Perini Corp., Goldman Sachs Group, TAV Construction and other firms.

The Global Gateway Alliance, which supports improvements to the local airports, applauded the selection of the partnership, and called for the Port Authority to act quickly so the team can start the project to replace the more than five-decade-old building, known as Terminal B.

“A new terminal is the linchpin in finally changing LaGuardia’s reputation from ‘third world’ to world class,” the organization said in a statement. “But the project has already faced delays, so we urge the Port and the winning consortium to finalize the agreement quickly and get redevelopment underway so travelers don’t have to wait one day longer than necessary for a first-class experience at LaGuardia.”

The Port Authority was supposed to pick the group that would build and manage the terminal last year, but that selection was delayed because Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a design contest for the terminal. The Port Authority hasn’t selected a winning design despite having announced the group that will build the terminal.

An advisory panel overseeing the redesign contest recommended that the new terminal include a central “great hall” to serve as the airport’s entry, a 100- to 200-room hotel in the airport, people-movers between terminals, and docking for a future AirTrain, which Cuomo announced earlier this year.

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New tax credit bill to widen ‘parental choice in education’


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo courtesy of Office of the Governor/Kevin P. Coughlin

Looking to give parents greater choice as to where they send their children to school, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday legislation creating tax incentives for private education.

Cuomo was joined by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and elected officials, as well as parents and students, to call on the legislature to pass the Parental Choice in Education Act during this session, which concludes in June.

“Education is the greatest gift that a parent can give to their children—and it is also one of the most personal decisions that a parent can make,” Cuomo said. “That’s why we need to support parental choice in education.”

The Parental Choice in Education Act aims to support and protect alternative schooling options for parents and students across the state. It calls for $150 million in education tax credits annually that would provide tax credits to low-income families who send their children to non-public schools; scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either an out-of-district public school or a non-public school; incentives to public schools for enhanced educational programming, such as after-school programs; and tax credits to public school teachers for the purchase of supplies.

“By rewarding donations that support public schools, providing tax credits for teachers when they purchase classroom supplies out of pocket and easing the financial burden on families who send their children to independent, parochial or out-of-district public schools, we can make a fundamental difference in the lives of students, families and educators across the state,” the governor continued. “The legislature must pass this act this year, because families deserve a choice when it comes to their child’s education.”

More than 400,000 children attend non-public schools across New York State. Many parochial schools in New York State, however, are facing financial hardships. More than 75 parochial schools have closed in the last five years statewide, and average tuition costs and reach as high as $8,500 annually per student.

“This is not just a Catholic issue — it is an issue for every parochial, private or non-public school that is devoted to the success of their students,” Dolan said. “Our students are our greatest treasure and the Parental Choice in Education Act is all about supporting them no matter where they go to school.”

The Parental Choice in Education Act’s Family Choice Education Credit will provide $70 million in credits to approximately 82,000 families of non-public school students across the state, benefiting nearly 140,000 children. Families with incomes below $60,000 per year would qualify for up to $500 per student for tuition expenses to non-public and out-of-district public schools.

Additional tax credits in the bill would fund $67 million in scholarships to help low-income families afford private education for their students. Individuals and businesses can receive a tax credit for up to 75 percent of their donations made to non-for-profit organizations that award scholarships to students in grades pre-K through 12.

Educational improvement programs would also receive a $27 million boost. Individuals and businesses will be able to apply for a total of $20 million in tax credits for up to 75 percent of their donations made to public schools and non-for-profits that support public schools’ educational programs.

Finally, instructional materials and supplies credits totaling $10 million would provide $200 per public school teacher to support the purchase of instructional materials and supplies. This credit will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Transit advocates challenge Cuomo to ride the 7 line


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo via Gov.Cuomo's Flickr/File photo

Fed up with rising fares and poor subway service, members of the Riders Alliance and the Straphangers Campaign wrote a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo inviting him to take a ride on the 7 line during the morning rush hour.

The purpose of this ride-along, the transit advocacy groups said, would be to give the governor a firsthand look at the city’s public transit system and get him to agree to fully fund the MTA’s five-year capital program, which currently faces a $15 billion shortfall.

“It defies comprehension that Gov. Cuomo hasn’t taken up the issue of funding for our subways and buses,” said Nick Sifuentes, deputy director of the Riders Alliance. “The only reason we can think of is that he doesn’t have to deal with the dreadful rush hour commutes that average New Yorkers face every day.”

According to a report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer comparing commute times in 29 major American cities, New Yorkers have the worst commute in the country. Additionally, report by the New York Post provides MTA data that shows delays have increased in recent years.

“New Yorkers are paying more for less and they hate that,” said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the Straphangers Campaign.

If the MTA’s five-year capital program, which pays for new subway cars, buses, commuter rail trains, modern signals, track and station upgrades, as well as supporting expansions like the Second Avenue Subway, does not get fully funded, commuters will feel the consequences with more fare hikes.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office has reported that for every $1 billion that the MTA must borrow for its capital plan with no new revenue sources, it could be forced to raise fares an additional 1 percent.

“New Yorkers are fed up with fare hikes, bad service, and overcrowded trains — we’ve been hearing from frustrated riders for months,” Sifuentes said. “It’s about time the governor does too.”

The letter specifically asks Cuomo to join riders “on the 7 train, which is over capacity daily and which was recently stuck in a tunnel after yet another equipment failure during the morning rush.” It also asks him to ride other problem-plagued lines such as the C train in Brooklyn.

Public transit supporters will hold a rally on Tuesday, May 5, at noon on the steps of City Hall to call for greater investment by the city in its subway and bus system.

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As Jamaica blooms, so will the School of Business at York College


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of York College 

Now that the city has launched its Jamaica Now Action Plan to revitalize the neighborhood, more and more businesses are expected to migrate to the area.

York College, a City University of New York (CUNY) institution that has a 50-acre campus in downtown Jamaica, is hoping to be an incubator and usher in new companies to the neighborhood, and also partner with them for the benefit of students.

The school has already been negotiating with businesses looking to move to and grow in Jamaica through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY tax-free program.

In addition to York’s business networking, the school plans to add a nine-story, 162,988-square-foot Academic Village and Conference Center (AVCC) in the near future. The center will further promote business as it will be anchored by the School of Business at York, providing the next generation of managers, company owners and entrepreneurs with modern classrooms and more services.

The new building, which was approved by the CUNY board of trustees back in 2011, will replace the aging 4,000-square-foot Classroom Building at 94-43 159th St., which was the first structure built on York’s campus.

Updated renderings of the Ennead Architects-designed center reveal a modern glassy exterior. School officials believe it will revolutionize the experience at York not only because of its appearance, but also because of the various amenities in the building. In addition to the business school, the building will house a bookstore, student common and recreation spaces, a conference center and some administrative offices.

“It will sort of serve as our front door,” said York College President Marcia Keizs. “It will really be, in our minds, a critical facility for us.”

Permits have yet to be filed for the new structure with the Department of Buildings, and the project still needs more funding, according to Keizs.

She added that an anticipated completion date has not been decided.

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Jamaica revitalization to benefit from state Brownfield Opportunity Area designation


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

In a sign that the state is looking to help spur Jamaica’s revitalization, 132 acres near the LIRR and JFK AirTrain transit hub have been designated as a Brownfield Opportunity Area, meaning development projects there could receive public funds.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the designation Thursday along with 11 others at sites around the state.

The Brownfield Opportunity Area Program is a state initiative that seeks to transform potentially contaminated or polluted places to better utilized areas. The downtown Jamaica area has 224 potential brownfield sites near the rail station.

Being located in the newly designated area now gives property owners and developers access to Brownfield Cleanup Program tax incentives and they have priority to state grants for projects.

“By designating these sites as Brownfield Opportunity Areas, we are helping to reimagine their potential as vibrant parts of the surrounding communities,” Cuomo said. “This distinction allows us to put their rehabilitation on the fast track with additional state resources, and that means new development, jobs and opportunities in the future.”

Downtown Jamaica, especially near the transit hub area, has seen a lot of real estate development action recently as the market is heating up.

Huge projects, including a 210-room, 24-story hotel nearby the LIRR and AirTrain station at 93-43 Sutphin Blvd. and a $225 million mixed-use, 29-story residential and commercial tower at 93-01 Sutphin Blvd., are coming to the area soon.

Also, massive properties were sold or listed in downtown Jamaica recently, including a 90,000-square-foot building and parking garage at 163-05 and 163-25 Archer Ave. that sold for $22 million in October last year.

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L train riders fed up with delays, look to Cuomo for help


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Service problems along one subway line serving Ridgewood has some riders asking, “What the L?”

In recent weeks, the L train has suffered from hour-long delays, overcrowded platforms and other service problems. Riders Alliance member Alexis Saba shared her experience with transit delays. “On [March 17], I waited forever on the L train before we actually left,” she said. “When we finally left, the train crawled to Bedford, and were told that a rail was out and that Bedford was the last stop—and I couldn’t physically get out of the Bedford station due to the crowds.”

The Riders Alliance, a grassroots organization of public transportation riders that pushes for better service and affordable rates, has invited disgruntled subway riders to visit its website and share their “subway horror stories.” As previously reported, the organization plans to present the horror stories to Governor Andrew Cuomo in hopes of enticing him and members of the state Legislature to fully fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) five-year capital plan.

Delays like this are nothing new for the MTA. According to the Riders Alliance, in February, the MTA NYC Transit and Bus Committee Meeting Report showed that subway delays had increased 45.6 percent from 2013 to 2014. With the most recent MTA rate hike, riders are now paying $2.75 for a single fare and $116.50 for a monthly Metrocard, and they are getting worse service, the Riders Alliance charged.

“What we’re hearing from riders is that they feel like we’re paying more and more for less and less,” Deputy Director for the Riders Alliance Nick Sifuentes said.

The MTA’s capital plan of $32 billion will build, repair, maintain and enhance current MTA infrastructure. But the plan faces a $15 billion shortfall, and if this gap is not filled, it will result in increased transit fares, further reductions in service and more repair issues in coming years, the Riders Alliance believes.

“I know the L train horror stories all too well,” state Senator Martin Malave Dilan said. “Frustrated riders write or call my office frequently, some send photos of overcrowded platforms with lines running up the stairs and riders dangerously close to spilling over onto the tracks.”

“The current budget proposal leaves the MTA unable to address these and many issues,” he added. “The MTA capital plan is $15 billion in the red. This year’s proposed $1.6 billion capital allocation will have little effect and the Senate majority’s proposal to reduce it only makes matters worse. It’s irresponsible to ignore these shortfalls. For the daily commuters on the L, it’s inconceivable.”

John Maier, co-chair of the Public Transportation Committee of Community Board 5, feels that “We are at a funding crisis.” With little funding from the government, all expenses have to be paid by the commuter. “Something needs to change,” he continued. “The system needs a lot of help.”

The city’s budget plan is due on April 1, so commuters, elected officials and the MTA must wait to see if any additional funding will be funnelled in to seal the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s budget plan.

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MTA to award $236.5M contract to rebuild Queens Midtown Tunnel


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of MTA Bridges and Tunnels/Mark Valentin

One of the city’s tunnel systems is expected to get a much-needed face-lift after being heavily damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the MTA is expected to award a four-year, $236.5 million contract to rebuild the Queens Midtown Tunnel, which since the 2012 hurricane has been operating with temporary repairs. Around 40 percent of the length of tunnel was submerged in 12 million gallons of salt water during the storm.

The contract, which will be completed with Judlau Contracting Inc., was approved by the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Committee on Monday and is expected to be approved by the full MTA board on Wednesday.

“Superstorm Sandy demonstrated the need for our infrastructure to be safer, stronger and more resilient to meet the challenge of extreme weather, and today, we’re taking another important step in that direction,” Cuomo said. “The Queens Midtown Tunnel is a vital part of the transportation network for the entire metropolitan area, and by undertaking this aggressive renovation we can rebuild from the damage caused by Sandy and ensure that it is protected from future storms.”

Work on the tunnel is expected to begin in the summer and will likely result in nighttime and weekend tube and lane closures. A majority of the work is Sandy-related and will also include several capital projects to try to organize the work and minimize the amount of closures impacting traffic.

Some of the Sandy-related repair and restoration work includes replacing the electrical, lighting, communications, monitoring and control systems in the tunnel. Restoration and mitigation work will also be done at the tunnel’s mid-river pump room.

“This investment in the Midtown Tunnel rehabilitation will restore the roadway to its pre-Sandy state while minimizing disruptions and delays and prioritizing the safety of commuters,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney said.

Structural work at the tunnel includes the replacement of catwalks, duct banks, wall tiles, ceiling finishes, polymer panels, curbs and gutters.

The tunnel is also expected to get new roadway LED lighting and clearly marked exit signs, lights and emergency phones.

Capital projects include replacing the fire line system in both tubes, and a complete rehabilitation of the Manhattan Exit Plaza, including the 36th Street ramp where full and partial repairs will be done.

“When Sandy flooded the Queens Midtown Tunnel with millions of gallons of water, our crews worked valiantly to make immediate repairs and get traffic moving again,” said James Ferrara, MTA Bridges and Tunnels president. “Now we need to fully repair the damage and fortify the tunnel to be more resilient for the future.”

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Sunnyside parents, students, teachers protest against Gov. Cuomo’s proposed education reform


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Angy Altamirano

One Sunnyside school came together to let their teachers know that they support them in the fight against what they call Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial proposed education changes.

Parents and students of P.S. 150, located at 40-01 43rd Ave., gathered with teachers on Thursday afternoon to rally against Cuomo’s plans, which include making teacher evaluations depend heavily on state tests and increasing the number of charter schools.

Once these changes are approved, then $1.1 billion in funding will be added for public schools.

“By increasing the stakes of these high-stake tests you are increasing the pressure on the teachers which then increases pressure on the students to perform,” said Karen Schumacher, a parent of a third-grader at P.S. 150. “There’s more to children, there’s more to teaching than a test score. We want our teachers to know that we love them, we think that they’re doing a great job and that they’re the most important thing and not a standardized test.”

According to Schumacher, along with being a way to show the teachers that the parents and students support them, the rally also serves as a way to let parents know what is going on and understand what the changes mean.

“We want to raise awareness. A lot of parents are busy and not active on social media and politics so they want to let them know what’s going on,” Schumacher added.

During the rally, teachers and students formed a human chain around one-half of the front and side of the school. Participants also handed out flyers with information on the proposed changes and asked parents to sign a postcard to send to Cuomo that read, “Stop waging war on public schools!”

Those who participated during the protest held signs that read messages such as “Protect our schools,” “Hear our (1.1 million) voices,” “We believe in public schools, “Our teachers are more than tests,” and “We support our teachers.”

“We want Gov. Cuomo to listen,” said Joann Rodeschin, UFT chapter leader at P.S. 150, who added that they invite Cuomo to come visit the Sunnyside school. “Kids are not just a test.”

The protest at P.S. 150 is just one of hundreds that took place throughout the five boroughs on Thursday, where parents gathered to form human chains around schools.

“We are proud of being a public school, we love our public schools and we are the parents and the teachers and the students that are affected by these proposals, so we are the ones that should be heard,” said Deborah Alexander, a parent of a student at P.S. 150 who helped organize the rally. “It’s all a political dance and we’re just the pawns, except the pawns are children. It’s very disconcerting.”


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City collecting proposals for Sunnyside Yards feasibility study


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo via NYCEDC Sunnyside Yards Feasibility Study RFP

Mayor Bill de Blasio is moving full steam ahead with his plan to create 11,250 housing units over Sunnyside Yards, although Gov. Andrew Cuomo has voiced opposition to it.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC)  announced Friday a request for proposals for a yearlong comprehensive feasibility study for building over the rail yards. The agency is collecting proposals until March 20.

The study will examine the prospect of decking the enormous rail yard, and building homes, schools, open spaces and community facilities for the neighborhood as well as improving public transportation and infrastructure, while not interfering with train operations in the yards.

“This is the first step in understanding whether development of the Sunnyside Yards is possible, and what it could contribute to the city and surrounding communities,” de Blasio said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to deliver on our vision of a more affordable city and smart development that responds to the needs of surrounding neighborhoods.”

De Blasio first announced his plan for the yards during his second State of the City address in January, but hours later Cuomo disagreed with using the yards because of long-term plans for it.

But Cuomo is not the only politician to oppose developing Sunnyside Yards. When an idea to build a new Jacob Javits Center over the rail yards surfaced last year, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan didn’t immediately respond favorably to that plan.

Both shared concerns of major development in the area without first addressing issues current residents are facing, including lack of sufficient public services. State Sen. Michael Gianaris addressed Community Board 2 earlier this month about the proposal as well, and stated similar concerns.

“Any talk of thousands of new housing units at Sunnyside Yards should be secondary to meeting our significant existing infrastructure needs,” Senator Gianaris said. “Western Queens is already in need of many more schools, parks and open spaces, and vastly improved mass transit, particularly on the 7 line. As this process unfolds, I look forward to working with the community to ensure our voices are heard loud and clear when it comes to Sunnyside Yards.”

Building over the yards is a key part to de Blasio’s goal of building and preserving 200,000 affordable housing units — 80,000 of which will be new construction — in the next 10 years.

There are nearly 200 acres of land at the site, 113 acres that are owned by Amtrak, 66 by the MTA and the remainder by private owners, according to the EDC’s request for proposals.

The EDC is working with Amtrak, which is in favor of development over its section of the yards.

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FEMA approves $28M in flood protection projects for LaGuardia Airport


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

LaGuardia Airport is receiving a new level of protection to keep the facility and travelers safe from future storms such as Hurricane Sandy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that FEMA approved over $28 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds to go toward helping LaGuardia Airport achieve post-Hurricane Sandy flood mitigation and resiliency initiatives.

“Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage to LaGuardia Airport, but today we are taking an important step toward strengthening its infrastructure so that it is more resilient than ever before,” Cuomo said. “To face the new pattern of extreme weather, we must ensure that vital transportation hubs and economic engines like LaGuardia Airport are ready for the next major storm.”

When Sandy hit the city, LaGuardia’s airfield suffered severe flooding from water rising from Flushing Bay. The airport had to remain closed for three days due to damage to key electrical airfield infrastructure. 

The over $28 million in funds will go toward projects, expected to continue through the end of 2016, such as the construction of a flood wall and rainwater pumping system, and development of two gravity drainage systems on the airfield to advance removal of water in case of flooding. 

The money will also fund upgrades to bring the airport’s backup electrical substations into the primary power system. There will also be improvements to existing emergency generators and installation of new backup generators throughout the airport. 

“We must do everything we can to ensure that LaGuardia is able to withstand extreme weather and resume flight operations as quickly as possible,” said Pat Foye, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive director. 

Since Sandy hit in 2012, resources have been put forth to protect the airfield runways, electrical systems and aeronautical equipment. FEMA’s new grant of $28,148,625 adds onto the agency’s previous grants of more than $2 million.

“While we continue to help communities across New York recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, it is equally as important to make much-needed investments in our infrastructure to ensure our city is prepared to face the challenges of any future storms,” U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowely said. “There is no question that one of those investments must include LaGuardia Airport, which serves tens of thousands of passengers a day and contributes greatly to our local economy.”

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Man of the Year: Carlisle Towery


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of the Greater Jamaica Development Corp.

Many people say Jamaica wouldn’t be the up-and-coming community it is today without Carlisle Towery.

Over the course of four decades, Towery has watched over Jamaica as the head of the not-for-profit Greater Jamaica Development Corp. (GJDC) and guided its regrowth as an emerging neighborhood.

He witnessed the initial economic decline throughout Jamaica as department stores and anchor stores shut their doors and left for brighter pastures in malls across Long Island and elsewhere as his organization planted the seeds of the future by working to attract various public and private projects to the neighborhood.

In the process he formed important business relationships, which helped to eventually bring back retailers and investors. Now developers around the city have been eyeing Jamaica as the next frontier for opportunity, and massive projects that will spur economic growth are already planned.

After setting the table for Jamaica’s revival, Towery plans to watch the completion of his work from the outside. He recently announced his retirement from the position where he has spent half of his life.

For his many accomplishments that have helped to improve the Jamaica community from all angles, The Courier has selected Towery as its Man of the Year.

“His most extraordinary contributions to Jamaica have been unparalleled in terms of his achievement, persistence, and creating an environment for business to grow,” said Victoria Schneps, publisher of The Courier. “He has focused his life’s work on all aspects of the Jamaica community, and has made it better for his having been there.”

Towery, born and raised in Alabama, received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Auburn University and then moved to New York City to study urban planning at Columbia University in 1961 after earning a full scholarship.

He later went on to use his planning skills, including an assignment as chief urban designer of the Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based organization that focuses on improving urban growth across the New York metropolitan region.

Carlisle

While at the RPA he began working on a plan to transform Jamaica and repair the business community it started to lose. He presented the plan to the members of a chamber of commerce that represented Jamaica and impressed its board members.

At the time, the organization was working on establishing a not-for-profit, which would later become the GJDC, to bring economic growth back to a neighborhood that had suffered mightily from the urban decay of the early 1970s. The GJDC was formed and its new leaders picked Towery to be its first president in 1971.

“He is very bright and knowledgeable, conscientious, an excellent speaker and an expert planner,” said Vincent Albanese, a founder of the GJDC and current board member. “We were very impressed with his background, his expertise, and we were fortunate that [the RPA was] prepared to make him available to us.”

When Towery took the role of president of the GJDC he knew that he would be presented with a major challenge in the coming years.

Jamaica was heading into an era he later called the “disinvestment decade,” as downtown Jamaica’s anchoring department store giants, Macy’s, Gertz and Mays were all about to leave the area.

Towery fought to keep the stores, which he knew were the lifeblood of the community, but they all ended up exiting, starting with Macy’s in 1978. And as the bigger retailers left, so did smaller ones. Some banks and The Long Island Daily Press also closed around this time.

Jamaica had gone quickly from one of the city’s major commercial centers — a hub for Long Island shoppers who arrived at the Long Island Rail Road station — to a shell of its former self.

Its row of movie theaters, including the once-majestic Loews Valencia, shut their doors. The Valencia would later be resurrected and renovated as a church.

Towery oversaw city, state and federal partnerships over the next four decades that resulted in a revitalization of the neighborhood into one of the borough’s hottest development areas.

From 1978 to 1996, private investment in Jamaica totaled just $17 million, compared with the $364 million that has been invested in the last three years, according to the GJDC.

“He has had tremendous accomplishments,” Albanese said. “Jamaica was not growing, not serving the best interest of the business or residential communities. There was a tremendous need for a person of his caliber.”

Towery credits a number of strong public initiatives in Jamaica in the past few decades that led to the rebuilding of the downtown. He persistently advocated what he calls “pre-developments” through seven mayors and eight governors, dating back to John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller, and the federal government to attract more private investment.

This includes removing the Jamaica Avenue El and extending the subway to Parsons Boulevard, which started the creation of the transportation hub in the downtown area, and moving York College into the neighborhood instead of alternative sites.

Towery says York College’s move to Jamaica was the greatest development for the neighborhood while he was head of the GJDC because of the jobs it creates and the college’s ability to interact with the community in many ways.

“We worked our tails off to get York College here,” he said in a recent interview.

Today the college, part of the City University, is the only site in the borough selected to be part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s START-UP NY initiative, a much-heralded economic development initiative that will encourage businesses to partner with the school and move to Jamaica, either to a location on the campus or in the surrounding area, in exchange for wide-ranging tax breaks.

York College is now in negotiations with many businesses looking to partner with the school in exchange for being exempt from corporate, sales or property taxes for 10 years. The new businesses would move to a property near the school or build on a portion of 3.5 acres of vacant, government-owned land on campus. The college is slowly becoming the hub for business, opportunity and community that Towery envisioned it could.

York College - Campus and students.

The GJDC also supported building the new regional Jamaica headquarters for the U.S. Social Security Administration and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which are two federal agencies that brought jobs into the neighborhood.

The not-for-profit also advocated for the construction of the AirTrain rail line from John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2003, which further expanded Jamaica’s transportation hub to new heights.

That transportation hub, which is now comprised of various subway lines, an LIRR station, numerous bus lines and the AirTrain, has become a magnet for development.

After a 368-block rezoning was completed in downtown Jamaica in 2007 near the transit hub to allow more developments with commercial and residential uses, more and more developers have been planning large-scale projects there.

Some local initiatives and projects that have helped shape Jamaica were original ideas the GJDC started under Towery’s leadership, such as the creation of the first business improvement district in the downtown area to focus on the growth of local stores and companies and the first green market in New York City.

“Carlisle has been extremely successful in attracting government resources to the downtown, and has been a leader in urban revitalization and ahead of lots of other people with ideas of how to make things go better in downtowns,” said Andrew Manshel, the GJDC’s executive vice president. “He has integrated arts and culture in economic development way before that got to be a standard practice.”

In 2014, the GJDC was proud to announce the development of a $225 million mixed-use, 29-story residential and commercial tower at the building it owns on 93-01 Sutphin Blvd. just north of the LIRR and AirTrain station. The project led numerous community leaders and politicians to proclaim the return of Jamaica, because it followed the 2013 announcement of a 210-room, 24-story hotel on the south side of the LIRR complex at 93-43 Sutphin Blvd., a plot of land that is partly owned by the GJDC.

Jamaica also saw some sales last year that showed developers were highly interested in purchasing land in the area and building commercial centers or residential properties. A 90,000-square-foot building and parking garage at 163-05 and 163-25 Archer Ave., which has 719,736 square feet of buildable space, was sold for $22 million in October. Additionally, a development site at 147-07 to 147-37 94th Ave., which has 420,000 buildable square feet, was listed for $24 million.

Going forward, Towery believes that Jamaica is in need of more housing developments, since most of the GJDC’s projects and partnerships have been unrelated to housing. New housing in the area should be 50 percent market rate, 30 percent moderate income and 20 percent low income for Jamaica, he said in a published interview.

Towery also said in that interview that his replacement should be a visionary who should pursue productive partnerships.

Towery plans to retire with his wife to their home in Maine. But because he’ll always be interested in what Jamaica will become in the future, he hopes to keep a close eye on the neighborhood as it completes its transformation.

 

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LaGuardia and JFK airport design contests take flight


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The plan to modernize the borough’s airports is finally taking off.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is now accepting plans for the contests to redesign LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo first announced back in October.

Architects and designers can submit master plans for either or both airports. Final submissions are due on Jan. 30.

Cuomo hopes the plans submitted will be “bold and comprehensive.” Within the competition guidelines, emphasis is placed on certain design expectations for each airport.

Some interesting expectations mentioned include reviving ferry service to LaGuardia and creating an “Aerotropolis or Airport City” with office complexes, conference centers, and medical and warehousing facilities that have a nexus to JFK.

“Modern and accessible infrastructure is key to growing our state’s economy, and with this plan we’re bringing New York’s outdated airports into the 21st century,” Cuomo said. “By reimagining them from the ground up, we’re making an investment that will strengthen our state for years into the future.”

The Port of Authority board of commissioners will judge the contests. Following the Jan. 30 deadline, three finalists will be selected to make public presentations and each will receive up to $500,000 to further develop their plans.

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