Jamaica-based architect credits LaGuardia Airport project for keeping firm afloat during COVID-19 pandemic

As the construction of LaGuardia’s new Terminal B nears completion, the founder of a southeast Queens firm credits a state initiative for keeping his company staffed during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the governor’s office)

When the LaGuardia Airport redevelopment project broke ground in 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo encouraged minority and women-owned businesses to take advantage of billions in state contracting opportunities.

“The LaGuardia project will harness the spirit of New York’s thriving entrepreneurial community and continue to bring diversity and fairness to contracting opportunities across the state,” Cuomo said. “With this initiative, we are once again raising the bar, significantly expanding economic opportunity for MWBEs in New York, and I look forward to seeing it get underway.”

The construction at LaGuardia produced $1.58 in contracts to MWBEs, more than any other public-private construction project in state history, exceeding Cuomo’s goal of more than 30 percent MWBE participation in state projects, which represents the highest such goal in the nation. One southeast Queens-based architectural firm was greatly impacted by the LaGuardia MWBE initiative.

Robert Gaskin, principal of the Jamaica-based RCGA Architects, said the initiative was critical to his company’s survival particularly at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic caused such widespread economic hardship across Queens and the world.

“It really helped us to sustain staffing at our company,” Gaskin said adding that the contacts, through the MBWE program, kept his firm afloat.

“It is indeed unfortunate that the COVID pandemic has had such a huge, adverse effect on the world and local economy and also health,” Gaskin added. “Many of the projects that were earmarked for the New York area have indeed been placed in a holding pattern, but projects that had been under the umbrella at LaGuardia have been completed, some of them ahead of schedule.”

Born in Jamaica and raised in Trinidad, Gaskin is also a commercial pilot. In 1997, he combined his love for architecture and aviation to found a full service aviation architecture firm, RCGA Architect, now in its 23rd year.

“We are most thankful to the LaGuardia redevelopment program for the many opportunities that have opened up for us, being that our firm has been assigned 17 enabling and demolition projects within the main terminal,” Gaskin said. “In addition, we completed seven brand new food and beverage concessions, three of which were in the main headhouse, Terminal B, and the other four within Concourse B.”

Gaskin also credits the Port Authority Office of Inclusion and Diversity for the opportunities presented to his firm

“We are together delivering in spectacular fashion on Governor Cuomo’s vision for a whole new LaGuardia, and prominent in this effort has been a relentless focus on ensuring the engagement and contracting with Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises and with businesses within the local community,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said. “It demonstrates that we are committed to producing results and not only empty promises when it comes to our MWBE agenda. And, by the way, we are equally committed to ensuring economic benefits from the LaGuardia redevelopment project accrue to the communities surrounding the airport. I am proud to say that the efforts of our partners, LaGuardia Gateway Partners and Delta, have awarded more than $600 million in contracts to local Queens businesses.”

Moving forward, Gaskin said his firm has received additional contracts at the airport, including work for Delta Airlines, expected to complete its new terminal in mid-2022, and for American Airlines, which hired RCGA to help create event space at the airport. Additionally, Gaskin credited support from the Port Authority and from HOK, the lead architecture firm at LaGuardia’s Terminal B, for making his participation in the historic redevelopment possible.

“They made it smooth and easy,” he said.