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Dingy LaGuardia Airport undergoing $3.6B makeover

Fixing LaGuardia

NEW YORK (AP) - Dark, dingy, cramped and sad. These are some of the ways travelers describe LaGuardia Airport, a bustling hub often ranked in customer satisfaction surveys as the worst in America.

"It does not represent what people think of when they think of New York and Broadway shows and glamour. It's not very pretty," said Layla House, a sales manager for a medical supply company who travels from her home in Bullard, Texas, to New York at least six times a year.

That's about to change.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the state is taking control of an ambitious $3.6 billion construction project that envisions an entirely new central terminal at LaGuardia, with vast open spaces, restaurants, shopping plazas, new parking garages, free Wi-Fi and other amenities now common in other airports. Cuomo also wants to develop a plan to upgrade cargo operations at nearby John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"We are going to redevelop those airports the way they should have been redeveloped many, many years ago," Cuomo said in his annual State of the State address to the Legislature.

Cuomo, who is running for re-election and has been mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, said he had become frustrated that talk of such renovations has been going on since the 1990s with little progress.

He wants to jump-start construction just as he has done with a $3.9 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, north of New York City, which also had been stalled for years.

LaGuardia, along the Flushing and Bowery bays in northern Queens, is the closest of the New York area's three major air hubs to midtown Manhattan, just 8 miles, and it handled a record 27 million passengers last year.

Often the first building they see is the sprawling, boomerang-shaped Central Terminal, which opened just in time to receive visitors to the 1964 World's Fair. Many passengers say it is like stepping back in time.

They immediately encounter low ceilings and dimly lit, narrow hallways. Check-in kiosks are arrayed haphazardly in rows just inside the entrances, where bright green neon lights blare "Welcome to LaGuardia Airport." On the west side of the terminal sits a modest food court featuring a hamburger counter, a pizzeria and a Dunkin' Donuts.

"It's probably the worst of all the terminals I go in and out of," said Thomas Smith, a frequent-flying energy company executive from Chicago who has seen buckets on the floor under leaky ceilings and other signs of decay. "There's no real food service other than small snack shops. The gate areas are old."

Most passengers have to drag their carry-on bags down a flight of stairs to get from their gates to baggage claim because only one concourse has an escalator. Others have complained that neither Kennedy nor LaGuardia provides free Wi-Fi, something that has been industry standard for years.

Built to accommodate 8 million passengers a year, the central terminal now handles 12.5 million. Cuomo envisions a new terminal that could handle as many as 17.5 million passengers by 2030. LaGuardia's three other terminals - which include the Art Deco-style Marine Air Terminal, where seaplanes landed in the 1940s - are not slated for renovation.

"When you see the difference between these airports and some of these other countries' (airports), it's shameful," said George Hobica, who runs the website Airfarewatchdog.com. He noted that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, airports had to install security equipment for luggage and passenger screening.

"The TSA equipment barely fits at LaGuardia," Hobica said. "LaGuardia is just functionally disjointed."

In 2012, Travel and Leisure magazine put LaGuardia at the bottom of its ranking of the nation's worst airports, saying it had the "dubious honor of ranking the worst for the check-in and security process, the worst for baggage handling, the worst when it comes to providing Wi-Fi, the worst at staff communication, and the worst design and cleanliness."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, concedes the facility is in need of an overhaul and had already begun awarding contracts for preliminary work at LaGuardia. A spokesman said it welcomes the state's involvement to expedite the project.

Four companies have been asked to submit proposals for the Central Terminal Building project by April 15, and construction is expected to begin by the end of the year. The tricky part will come when construction is fully underway while the airport continues to serve millions.

"Everybody acknowledges that this is a complex undertaking but one that is absolutely necessary," said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of the Global Gateway Alliance, which has advocated for improvements at New York's airports.

"It's going to be a nightmare," added Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst. "This is going to be the equivalent of General Motors trying to change one of its models while the assembly line is still running. ... But this is the way airports get redeveloped. Every airline understands this."

Darius Douglass, a New York writer waiting for a flight at LaGuardia, said the workers throughout the airport try to be friendly and helpful. "But it's an old airport. It just needs to be refurbished. It was good in its heyday, but nothing has been done."

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Doreen January 20 2014 at 1:05 PM

It needs it! Never seen such a dump!

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pdecaneas January 20 2014 at 11:55 AM

I have stayed away from Laguardia for years and now that Cumo the bone head has pushed himself on the scene I never will go back. What a disaster looming.

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1 reply to pdecaneas's comment
Mitchell Forman January 20 2014 at 12:31 PM

You can't even spell your governor's name right. WHO'S the real 'bonehead'??

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dreamers57 January 20 2014 at 11:14 AM

theres nothing wrong with stepping back in time. i live 50 years in the past now in 1964. out side of the computer, i only watch 60s tv shows drive a 60s car and only listen to 1960s music. everything about 2014 sucks.the people were so much friendlier 50 years ago.

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hktrav1@aol.com January 20 2014 at 11:16 AM

Students were better behaved. Families stuck together. Friends were real in the 60's.
A major tragedy is necessary to bring us back,

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Mitchell Forman January 20 2014 at 12:35 PM

"A major tragedy"? Didn't we already HAVE that back in 2001?? Nothing will bring us back, I'm afraid, in this alienating age of techno-zombies who in their zeal to forever stay 'connected', are living only in cyber-space - which isn't really living at ALL!!!

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Mitchell Forman January 20 2014 at 12:29 PM

Hey 'dreamers57', do you still eat food that dates back to 1964? Do you insist on medical and dental treatment from 1964? Do you watch your '60s TV-shows on a snowy early-sixties tube set with 'rabbit-ears'? And how much do you pay for car repair-bills to keep your '60s car running indefinitely?? You know, I'D love to "go back" more than anyone, but time keeps going forward - and we have no choice but to go along with it.. l

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lordamhrst January 20 2014 at 11:04 AM

LaGuardia? LONG overdue. The whole place! Bradley Field (Hartford) finally did something with their sad blighted area. The Delta terminal at JFK is under renovation, and THAT was LONG overdue. Flying Delta out of JFK was like going to an airport in a third world country.

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frankerin January 20 2014 at 11:02 AM

Why is gas tax money going into airports. EX sect. Hood wants federal gas tax raised drastically on top of increasing state gas taxes. Several airports underwent expensive renovations and modernizations in the last decade, all from gas tax money.

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usrml5 January 20 2014 at 10:55 AM

The white zone is for loading and unloading only.

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Tommy January 20 2014 at 10:50 AM

About time to improve our infrastructure and put good people to work building America's future !

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frankerin January 20 2014 at 11:03 AM

So long as someone else pays for it. You espouse the Union label, right?

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genlben January 20 2014 at 10:45 AM

Sounds like it needs a new roof and some more cleaners. 3.6B?

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coxzuchre January 20 2014 at 10:42 AM

I, for one, will be glad to see this eyesore renovated. It's certainly one of the most inconvenient, dumpiest, ill-functioning airports I've been in (outside of some third world countries--some of which have nicer airports). I understand that their may be some political "payback" in projects but that's the case in many businesses and whether we LIKE IT or NOT, Government is a business, big business in fact. As long as we finally get the work done, we will see the benefit of increased travel which translates to increased revenue for the businesses (and increased taxes paid).

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philips0811 January 20 2014 at 10:28 AM

3.6 Billion? (Thank you unions! Here's your payback!) I predict this job will be done as efficiently as the Boston Big Dig.

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1 reply to philips0811's comment
nylaw13 January 20 2014 at 10:44 AM

I am sure, given the deliberate corporate love for high unemployment, that we can get serfs to do the job for $1.00 a day.

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1 reply to nylaw13's comment
frankerin January 20 2014 at 11:05 AM

Aww, is yo knickers in knot, is yo idiotology driving yo battey. Is that what happening to yo, bunkey? Well get a job, loose the maryjane, eat something.

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