I-Team cameras inside LaGuardia Airport found mold, holes in the ceiling, ripped seats and numerous other signs of disrepair, even as the busy hub commands the nation's highest landing fees from airlines and rakes in healthy profits each year.
On a recent morning at the airport's Central Terminal, Marissa Demott cringed when she looked up at the ceiling, where she saw a colony of greenish black mold, measuring about a square foot.
"You're coming to New York City and that's your first impression and it's just gross," said Demott, of Chicago.
A few yards away from Demott, there were three holes in a drywall portion of the ceiling that appeared to have been caused by water. A few gates down the concourse, the seats are ragged and worn, some with rips and tears exposing the wood.
"You shouldn't find seats that look like they've been gnawed upon at a terminal that serves 12 million passengers a year and creates so much of the first and last impression of New York for so many travelers,” said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of the Global Gateway Alliance, a coalition of business, labor and academic leaders pushing for modernization of LaGuardia.
Sigmund is also the former chief of Public and Government Affairs at the Port Authority.
Ron Marsico, a Port Authority spokesman, said in an email that the agency has spent between $11.5 million and $15 million annually on maintaining common areas of LaGuardia in the last seven years, including millions on repairs to the Central Terminal’s leaky roof. But he said the stained tiles and leaks found by the I-Team could not be immediately repaired.
“Some of this work must wait until temperatures consistently rise above freezing,” Marsico said. “Stained tiles and damaged drywall will be replaced as soon as the leaks are fixed."
The Port Authority said ripped-up seat cushions and arm rests are the responsibility of an airline tenant which rents the gate.
“They have assured us that the fabric will be replaced soon," Marsico said.
Last month, Vice President Joseph Biden compared conditions at the airport to those one might find in an impoverished nation.
“If I took you and blindfolded you and took you to LaGuardia Airport in New York,” he said, “you must think 'I must be in some third world country.'"
Disrepair and lack of upgrades at LaGuardia’s Central Terminal have been a topic of ridicule for years, but the conditions cannot be blamed on a failure of the airport to produce revenue. An I-Team analysis of Port Authority budgets shows LaGuardia has earned more than $860 million in profits since 2006.
In 2013, LaGuardia's projected revenues were $344 million, compared with $235 million in expenses, according to Port Authority budgets.
The airport also commands the nation’s highest landing fees from airlines that rent the facility’s gates.
Despite revenue that far outpaces expenses at LaGuardia, in recent years the Port Authority has failed to reinvest much of the profit in the airport’s infrastructure. Instead, revenue from LaGuardia and the Port Authority’s other major airports – John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty – have often gone to subsidize another massive Port Authority project: redevelopment at the World Trade Center site.
“The real estate projects became more important, politically,” said Sigmund.
This year, the Port Authority’s capital budget includes $3.6 billion in financing to build a brand new Central Terminal building.
“We are fast-tracking efforts that have lagged for more than a decade,” Marsico wrote.
The transit agency touted the construction plan as a long overdue investment to “provide passengers with a world-class terminal.”
The Global Gateway Alliance applauded the plan to construct a new state-of-the-art terminal, but cautioned it will take at least seven years to construct, and during that time, everyday maintenance should not be ignored in the current facility.