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JFK meet aims to bring tourism $$ back to boro

The city’s aviation, business and tourism leaders met in southeast Queens Monday to discuss ways to recapture billions of dollars lost in the borough since Sept. 11.

Just two days before the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, nearly 80 local, state, and federal leaders brainstormed about how to revitalize the hotel and air transport industries that have been struggling for the last year.

The roundtable discussions were hosted by City Councilman James Sanders, Jr. (D-Laurelton) and featured panelists from the state Economic Development Corporation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Delta Airlines, and New York City and Company, the city’s tourism agency. The meeting was held at the JFK Sheraton, just north of Kennedy Airport.

The nation’s airline industry suffered an $8 billion loss in 2001, and experts are predicting another $5 billion loss by the end of this year, said Rhianna Quinn-Roddy, director of civic and public affairs for Delta.

In Queens, this means about 15,000 lost jobs at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, as well as related industries that serve the airports, said Marie Nahikian, executive director of the Queens County Overall Economic Development Corporation.

“In Queens especially, aviation is an important economic engine,” Sanders said. “It has been the No. 2 job generator (after health services) in this borough.”

Aside from the industry slump after Sept. 11, both Kennedy and LaGuardia airports have slipped among the ranks of national airports, and growth at both has slowed, said Jonathan Bowles, research director for Center for an Urban Future, a non-profit group.

Kennedy dropped from the seventh busiest passenger airport in the nation in 1991 to the 14th busiest in 1999. LaGuardia dropped from the 15th busiest to the 20th, Bowles said.

In cargo, Kennedy fell from the busiest airport in the nation in 1991 to the third busiest in 1999, with companies like United Parcel Services, Federal Express and Airborne Express gradually moving their operations to Newark Airport, Bowles said.

Among the key problems facing Kennedy Airport, in particular, is a lack of ground access to the airport for commercial vehicles bound for air freight companies. Since commercial vehicles are not allowed on the Belt Parkway, the trucks must use the overburdened Van Wyck Expressway, Bowles said.

“For too long city and the state officials have been ignoring the most important point – ground access,” he said. “Trucks simply cannot get in and out of the airport.”

To combat this, Sanders said he has been talking with Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff about opening the Belt Parkway to small cargo vans for certain hours of the day, allowing the vans to make a quicker trip into Manhattan during peak hours for the cargo industry, such as 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Bowles and other speakers also pushed for the extension of the AirTrain light rail system. The system, which is due to open from Kennedy to Howard Beach this fall, would be much more useful as a one-seat ride to Manhattan, Bowles said.

“Let’s make it a one-seat ride to Manhattan,” he said. “Let’s make sure we get the fullest use out of it.”

Sanders also told the group that he would introduce legislation in the Council that would increase the funding for New York City and Company for increased tourism advertising. The tourism agency is now working with a budget of $14 million, a paltry sum when compared to Las Vegas, which spends $132 million on tourism, Sanders said.

“We simply cannot compete this way,” he said. “We have to raise this to a level that we can compete at.”

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

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