As the COVID-19 pandemic tore through southeast Queens in the spring of 2020, a Jamaica-based architectural firm continued to operate as so many other businesses were forced to shutter due to the city’s economic fallout.
Robert Gaskin, principal of the Jamaica-based RCGA Architects, credits the minority- and women-owned business enterprises initiative through the state’s LaGuardia Redevelopment program for providing a much-needed lifeline.
“We are most thankful to the LaGuardia Redevelopment program and the Port Authority’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity for the many opportunities that have opened up for us, being that our firm has been assigned 17 enabling and demolition projects and eight new Concession Projects at LaGuardia Airport,” Gaskin said. “The contracts we were awarded at LaGuardia, at the Main Terminal helped us to sustain staffing at our company during the pandemic when other opportunities were difficult to find during the economic slowdown during COVID.”
Gaskin attended a Port Authority briefing at the project’s community office on Astoria Boulevard in East Elmhurst Tuesday, Nov. 30, where it was announced a record-setting $2 billion in contracts have been awarded through the MWBE program, which is now the largest participation by MWBE firms at any public-private partnership program in New York state history.
“I commend the Port Authority for its commitment to breaking down barriers and leveling the playing field so that minority- and women-owned businesses have access to one of the nation’s greatest infrastructure projects at LaGuardia Airport,” Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement. “As one of the nation’s leading transportation agencies, the Port Authority is demonstrating what can be done to create more equity in our society and make sure the economic benefits of great infrastructure projects reach all of our communities.”
The redevelopment project has also demonstrated a significant focus on working with locally based contractors, with $775 million in contracts awarded to Queens-based business enterprises to date.
“It demonstrates that we are committed to producing results and not promises when it comes to our MWBE agenda,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said. “Our commitment to the communities has been equally intense. I am proud to say that the efforts of our partners, LaGuardia Gateway Partners and Delta, have awarded nearly $800 million in contracts to local Queens businesses.”
Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry said the milestone for MWBE participation represents the “culmination of many years of work” to ensure that the community that has been most impacted by the airport will have the most opportunities at the airport.
“Almost as astounding as the MWBE numbers is the local hiring for jobs at the airport,” Aubry said. “Of the 600 jobs filled so far, two-thirds of the new hires are from Queens. Much is said about government when it fails to live up to promises, but LaGuardia’s MWBE program also proves that government can do things right.”
In addition to the economic benefits, the Port Authority in recent weeks announced some community benefits as well.
Skanska, the contractor for Terminal B, agreed to renovate the 70-year-old Elmjack Little League ballfields after using a portion to store construction equipment since 2016. The $1.2 million project to renovate the six remaining fields is expected to be completed before the Little League season kicks off in 2022.
“We will be delighted to see the final product next spring, and hope this safe space stays that way for years to come,” LGA General Manager Tony Vero said.
The Port Authority and the state DOT have also started to renovate the medians along Ditmars Boulevard which have long been in disrepair.
“Over the years the existing medians really started to show their age,” Vero said. “The existing plantings died off and we knew rebuilding the medians in this area would be a wonderful benefit to our community, and to the many, many travelers using this stretch of Ditmars Boulevard and the western entrance of the airport.”
The United Community Civic Association worked with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards to secure the DOT funds with the Port Authority doing the physical labor.
UCCA president Rosemary Poveromo said additional funding “will enable us to make further safety enhancement to traffic signals and pedestrian ramps” that will transform the unsightly medians “from ugly to environmentally friendly, eye-appealing medians. It’s been a long time coming.”