By GREGORY ZELLER //
Trumpeted as “the biggest milestone to date” in the aerodrome’s $8 billion overhaul, LaGuardia Airport has officially opened the new Arrivals and Departures Hall inside its sprawling Terminal B.
The multiyear overhaul – which first appeared on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s radar in 2015, taxied into position as a $4 billion facelift and ascended steadily in scope and price – has quickly checked off some impressive boxes: The new Terminal B officially opened its first gates in 2018 and Delta Air Lines’ new Terminal C, adding seven state-of-the-art gates and daily service to Boston, Chicago and Washington, followed last October.
But the opening of the 850,000-square-foot Arrivals and Departures Hall “is just so invigorating,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who landed at LaGuardia Wednesday to christen the sparkling space.
“It’s like, when you’re having a child and you talk about it, and you see little scans of it, and you plan for it, but then it’s indescribable when it actually happens,” Cuomo said. “And to see this real, and alive, and all the drawings and the years of work come to life, is really invigorating.”
Tortured analogies aside, the progress is a fairly ginormous deal for the airport, which suffered “Third World” slights from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and then-Vice President Joe Biden before the VP joined Cuomo in 2015 to herald the renovations.
Cuomo lauds the extensive remake – which will eventually include 72 new gates across six new concourses, a second Arrivals and Departures Hall (connected to the first by a “central hall”), new AirTrain services and more than 13 miles of new support roads – as “the first new airport in the United States of America in 25 years.”
Whether you agree that the Queens airport is “new” – New York Municipal Airport-LaGuardia Field officially opened in 1939 – it’s certainly being improved by the project, under the auspices of private construction consortium LaGuardia Gateway Partners.
The new Arrivals and Departures Hall, which debuts with both “advanced safety protocols” and “COVID-19 safety protocols” in place, officially opens to passengers Saturday with a shopping mall’s worth of world-class concessions at the ready, including a city-style diner, a barbecue restaurant, a Junior’s Cheesecake franchise, a coffeehouse and a new restaurant by chef Marc Forgione, namesake of New York City’s popular Restaurant Marc Forgione.
There are other amenities in the new Arrivals and Departures Hall – Cuomo’s office notes a “New York-inspired shopping district” – and plenty of elbow room: larger restrooms, roomier baggage claims, kiosks that promote contactless services and eschew queues.
The expansive space is also graced with a display of permanent artworks carefully curated by The Public Art Fund and featuring a bevy of world-renowned creators, including Danish sculptor Jeppe Hein and Boston-based contemporary artist Sarah Sze, “underscoring New York’s global position as a beacon for arts and culture,” according to the governor’s office.
There’s still some significant flight time before LaGuardia Gateway Partners’ $8 billion project – which will ultimately tear down and replace every legacy passenger building at the airport, save the historically landmarked Marine Air Terminal – is complete. But opening the four-story Arrivals and Departures Hall marks an enormous leap toward “a single, integrated, brand-new LaGuardia Airport,” noted Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Rick Cotton.
The days of LaGuardia Airport being “a laughingstock on ‘Saturday Night Live’ skits” are over, according to Cotton, who joined Cuomo and airport officials Wednesday to mark the “truly major milestone in the construction.”
“The construction of the nation’s first entirely new airport has progressed with great intensity,” the executive director said. “Four years ago, we broke ground on this terminal. Three years ago, we broke ground on Delta’s eastern half of the airport.
“In the last 18 months, we’ve opened two of six brand-new concourses with 25 new gates,” Cotton added. “Today we celebrate … the most significant milestone to date.
“The new Terminal B Arrivals and Departures Hall creates a fundamentally different travel experience.”