Many New Yorkers will recall fond memories of their first time flying out of the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy Airport. The curving 1960s-era white concourse, designed by legendary architect Eero Saarinen, served as TWA’s terminal until 2001. The building, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was deemed obsolete as a terminal because it could no longer accommodate today’s passenger volumes or modern aircraft. But come 2018, it will find new life as the bustling public space of a 505-room hotel built by New York-based MCR Development.
Last September, the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners approved a long-range lease deal with MCR Development and JetBlue Airways Corporation to turn the flight center and its nearly 6-acre site into JFK’s only on-airport hotel. MCR will maintain 95 percent ownership of the hotel. The $256 million construction project, which is expected to break ground later this year, will generate an estimated 3,700 jobs.
Prior to the deal, the Port Authority had already invested nearly $20 million to renovate the historic building to comply with its historic designation. “TWA had no money to take care of the airline let alone this fabulous piece of architecture, so from 2000 to 2011, the place was a little bit forgotten and deteriorating,” said Russ Shattan, SVP of acquisitions and development at MCR. “So the Port Authority said, if we’re going to have a shot at restoring this and returning it to greatness, we need to spend a little money on our own to preserve and stabilize it, and make it marketable.”
The complex will feature two six-story hotel towers, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, half a dozen restaurants and bars, a spa, and a 10,000-square-foot observation deck. Along with the developer’s financial commitment, the Port Authority will invest up to $8 million in a connector to the JetBlue terminal, a parking garage, and an AirTrain Station to serve the hotel complex.
MCR retained architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle, which specializes in historic preservation, to design the hotel. “They went into the building in 2010 and 2011 and returned a lot of the distinctive historic features that TWA had covered up, hidden, or in some cases had replaced or damaged, and restored a lot of it to what it looked like when Howard Hughes and Eero Saarnen had opened it back in the early ’60s,” Shattan said. “Now, at least from a cosmetic standpoint, when you walk in, it’s really quite remarkable. It’s kind of jawdropping.” Turner Construction Company will serve as the general contractor.
“We view it as a valuable piece of real estate that happens to be on-airport,” Shattan said. “It will be great for the airport business but also for our neighbors as well.”
MCR’s last historic adaptive reuse project was a transformation of the 1865 seminary buildings in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood into The High Line Hotel in 2013. MCR aims to purchase about 15 to 20 hotels in 2016.