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Borough officials question airport, trade center swap

Queens officials are concerned that the borough and its residents could be affected if the city goes ahead with an idea to trade the public land at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports for Port Authority-owned land at the World Trade Center site.

The Bloomberg administration floated the idea of the land swap, but the concept is still in its early stages, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this weekend.

But borough politicians worry the city and bi-state agency are not thinking about the effect the proposed deal could have on Queens, a spokesman for City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) said.

“One of his concerns is that while understandably a lot of the attention has been focused on how the deal would affect lower Manhattan, there’s been almost no discussion on how this would affect Queens, which houses the city’s airports,” said Mik Moore, a spokesman for Sanders, whose district includes Kennedy Airport. “The councilman feels it should be much more central in the discussion than it is currently.”

The informal proposal, brainchild of Dan Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, would see the land at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports go under ownership of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which already manages the airports, while the Ground Zero property now belonging to the PA would go to the city.

No formal proposals have been made to the PA or to either Gov. George Pataki or New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who both have a say in the operation of the agency.

“This is a very interesting proposal which deserves serious examination and consideration,” said Jack Sinagra, chairman of the PA. “In concept, it would be consistent with the Port Authority’s core mission of transportation. If the city is serious about pursuing this idea, we would welcome such a discussion.”

The city owns both airports, and leases the land to the PA under a multiyear contract that has netted as little as $3 million a year for the city. Although the Bloomberg administration has been renegotiating the leases to increase the rents by hundreds of millions of dollars, the PA was expected to pay about $3.5 million this year.

And while the city would lose that income in the proposed land swap, it would gain about $124 million a year in rent on the World Trade Center site.

The deal would also give the city more direct control in the planning process at Ground Zero, Bloomberg said.

“The swap does make some sense and we want to be in control of our own destiny in downtown Manhattan,” he said. “The Port Authority, having the leases, and the city, owning the land at the airports, sets up some kind of conflict, and perhaps the fact that both things need some redress lets you do them together.”

The city’s discussion flies in the face of efforts made by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to wrest control of Kennedy and LaGuardia airports from the PA and turn them over to a private company by 2015. Bloomberg halted that deal when he came to office, even though he initially said he supported it.

“Although there are substantial issues that would need to be resolved, this proposal could be a serious first step towards resolving longstanding issues involving the New York airports and Port Authority leases with the city for the airport property,” Charles Gargano, vice chairman for the PA, said of the land swap idea. “The Port Authority would be open to discussions of such a plan, if the city intends to pursue it.”

But some politicians are concerned that Queens will be left out if the Port Authority gains complete control over the airports.

“I think our problem would be to make sure that the PA is still held accountable to the people in the borough and that they will work with the people in the borough,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans). “I would want some leverage over the Port Authority.”

And Sanders said the idea needs more work and more focus on Queens.

“It’s an intriguing proposal,” Moore said on behalf of Sanders. “It’s just not such a terribly developed idea.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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