From TWA to JFK

In New York City, where developers are perceived as destructive to communities and enablers of gentrification, long-overdue upgrades for decades- and centuries-old infrastructure are finally underway and some players are engaging differently. “I'm happy they included community folks, too. Sometimes these things don't actually involve community people, said NYS Assembly District Leader Richard David at the May 15th opening of the new TWA Hotel, as part of the massive JFK Redevelopment project.

NYS Assembly District 31 Leader Richard David | Carolyn Adams

NYS Assembly District 31 Leader Richard David | Carolyn Adams

District 31 includes neighborhoods in Southeast Queens and JFK Airport, the site of a major redevelopment that has been years in the making. One of the first major projects, a conversion of the abandoned yet iconic TWA, or Trans World Airlines, flight center into a state-of-the-art hotel and convention center, was revealed on May 15th. Once called the "Grand Central of the Jet Age", it gained landmark status in 2005 and began to stir buzz in the community and among other potential stakeholders, including JetBlue and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. According to David and others, community members had been exploring space repurposing to avoid demolition since the company’s closure in 2001.

Connie Cocktail Lounge, housed within a restored TWA plane once used for drug-running in South America, sits in view of the hotel lobby | Carolyn Adams

Connie Cocktail Lounge, housed within a restored TWA plane once used for drug-running in South America, sits in view of the hotel lobby | Carolyn Adams

In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed that a public-private partnership had been established for its transformation and in October of 2018, he made a $13 billion commitment to the redevelopment of the infrastructure of JFK - including new terminals, runways, the new hotel, and more. ““It is going to be what New York deserves, which is the front door for an international community to come and visit and do business.”

 In early talks with the city, Tyler Morse, the CEO of MCR and Morse Development, found it difficult to get local officials to buy-in, including a failed pitch to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg who told him that the project wasn’t worth pursuing. Ultimately, his team took a more grassroots approach and assembled a massive team effort. “It took a lot of hard work. Seven thousand people worked on this project and 178 different companies. We worked with 14 preservationists groups, 22 government agencies. We participated in 18 workforce employment programs. We went through the New York City ULURP process.” But some of the greatest support came from local community boards 10, 12, and 13.

TWA Hotel Employees | Carolyn Adams

TWA Hotel Employees | Carolyn Adams

The community rallied around the redevelopment, forming an advisory council made up of elected officials, civic leaders at all levels, local clergy, and other community members including Councilmember Donovan Richards of District 31. “It's much broader than just this hotel. We need to make sure that, you know, when $13 billion is allocated for a community that the local residents benefit from it. MWBE procurement and local jobs hiring is something that was important to the council.” MWBEs, or Minority and Women Business Enterprises, play a significant role in the predominantly Black and Brown community districts that surround JFK and goals have been set by stakeholders and the state alike. The agreed upon goal for the TWA project was 17 percent and they hit 22 percent, according to Morse. Councilmember Richards added that the goal for the entire redevelopment sits around 40 percent, but they appear to be on track to meet or exceed the goal.

However, Morse and his development team’s engaged approach has bred positive results thus far. The president of the partnering New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council union, Peter Ward, described him as, “one of the single most responsible developers in the city of New York. Every box that needs to be checked has been checked. Outreach to the community. Respect to the community. Outreach to partners in labor. Every group and every person that's affected by this hotel, in this community, has been met with, talked to and listened to. That doesn't happen in most development projects and Tyler sets the gold standard in this area.”

State and local elected officials and stakeholders prepare to cut the ribbon, officially opening the new TWA Hotel | Carolyn Adams

State and local elected officials and stakeholders prepare to cut the ribbon, officially opening the new TWA Hotel | Carolyn Adams

Councilman Richards added that the development team were very prepared when they came to the table. “More prepared than most developers we've dealt with in the past. They did their due diligence in terms of doing outreach to everybody, including people in the local community, the local organizations. They've made every effort, you know, working in tandem with the electeds to ensure that they're reaching these goals, but you know, at the end of the day, we trust but we verify, so I think we’ll be looking for that data as we move along.”

Nantasha Williams is the External Affairs & Community Outreach manager at the Port Authority, an adamant supporter of the redevelopment works. She is also a member of the community advisory council and has worked alongside her peers to ensure that, at all levels, MWBEs are involved in redevelopment projects. “It can range. It can be construction training, to engineering, professional services, lawyers, accountants. Even to some of the other things that you might not think of, like catering, printing.”

Marcia and Karen Bytnar worked at TWA from the 60s to the time of its close in 2001 | Carolyn Adams

Marcia and Karen Bytnar worked at TWA from the 60s to the time of its close in 2001 | Carolyn Adams

Ultimately, time will tell whether the project is successful for the surrounding communities, but for those who once worked at TWA during its heyday, like Marcia Bytnar-Rouse and her older sister, Karen, returning to the space feels like going back in time. “[I] haven't had this uniform on in 20 years, but it was very exciting to think that we're fortunate enough to walk into our past. It's like a family reunion in our old house.”

Jacob Tschetter

Jacob Tschetter is the kind of guy that draws you in with his warmth and authenticity from day one. So much so that I vividly recalled our conversation as he served drinks in the lobby of The Benjamin Hotel in Manhattan... two summers ago!

We met up on a quiet Saturday morning in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, before the brunch crowd awoke, and made our way to the sultry European-inspired cocktail bar Barely Disfigured (www.barelydisfigured.com).

He talks about his 'former life' working in social services, the importance of creativity, and how the bar opened up a new world for him.

Thrive NYC Lends an Ear to Southeast Queens

September 22, 2018 (Duration 1:00)
Host: Mankaprr Conteh

First Lady of New York City Chirlaine McCray and her Thrive NYC staff, are keeping their ears to the ground. The signature mental health program, launched their “I Hear You Brother & Sister” listening tour, in Jamaica, Queens, on Thursday night. Carolyn Adams of the NYC News Service reports.

According to Northwell Health, the highest rates of mental illness in Queens have been found in its Southeastern neighborhoods. Thrive NYC hosted more than 150 residents and community leaders to discuss what needs to be done.

The group was divided by gender, but attendees wanted similar things: more providers of color, support for new mothers, and creative solutions to engage hard-working parents in local PTAs.

One representative from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, seemed hopeful, stating that communities are capable of change, when everyone is equipped with the same language around mental health. Thrive NYC is committed to doing just that.

Saving Doctor's Lives

A hidden epidemic within the medical industry has led many to the edge.
Can we rescue the rescuers?

A procession of doctors, nurses, and medical professionals walk through Hell's Kitchen hand-in-hand in honor of their lost colleagues | Carolyn Adams

A procession of doctors, nurses, and medical professionals walk through Hell's Kitchen hand-in-hand in honor of their lost colleagues | Carolyn Adams

Trigger Warning: Suicide

On Thursday afternoon in Hell’s Kitchen, heads were turned as dozens of medical professionals, dressed in white coats and scrubs, walked arm-in-arm in memory of their friends and colleagues lost to suicide each year.

Dr. Pamela Wible, a physician with a private practice in Eugene, Oregon, has found her passion - in taking on, what she describes as “assembly-line medicine”. She has catalogued thousands of physician deaths, exposed hospital cover-ups, and runs a suicide hotline for doctors in crisis. Having struggled with suicidal thoughts during her own residency, she has identified troubling similarities.

I know from the outside the hospital looks like it could be a safe place, but people working in there? They’re having [the] physiologic breakdown that human beings have when they’re mistreated. They don’t have anywhere to go with this tremendous amount of pressure.
— Dr. Pamela Wible
Dr. Pamela Wible (left) led a memorial service in honor of Dr. Deelshad Joomun, a Mt. Sinai resident lost to suicide in January 2018, and invited parents and friends of the lost to speak | Carolyn Adams

Dr. Pamela Wible (left) led a memorial service in honor of Dr. Deelshad Joomun, a Mt. Sinai resident lost to suicide in January 2018, and invited parents and friends of the lost to speak | Carolyn Adams

According to a study in 2014, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of resident death among women and 1st among men, but many more have thought about it and attempted. Two Mount Sinai West physicians leapt to their deaths from the nearby residents’ housing in the last two years. One third year resident admitted before the crowd that she had a close call just two months ago.

I was sitting in the bathtub with a razor blade and instead I called a friend. I had this pull that said, ‘I need some kind of human kindness before I can deal with this afternoon of patients’.
Doctors, medical professionals, family and friends laid down photos of those lost to suicide during a memorial at the site where Dr. Deelshad Joomun died | Carolyn Adams

Doctors, medical professionals, family and friends laid down photos of those lost to suicide during a memorial at the site where Dr. Deelshad Joomun died | Carolyn Adams

Determined to push the industry to action, Dr. Wible and Emmy-winning director Robyn Symon joined together to produce ‘Do No Harm,’ a documentary currently on an international screening tour. The film reveals the silent epidemic and advances the institutional work being done to save both doctors’ and patients’ lives.

When I linked the causes of why doctors would jump to the quality of patient care, then to me, it became a story that impacted everyone. We can’t wait for regulators to make changes. We’ve waited for decades.
— Robyn Symon, director
Close-up of photos and signs during memorial | Carolyn Adams

Close-up of photos and signs during memorial | Carolyn Adams

Some physicians have made the choice to step away and potentially save their lives. Dr. Zinaria Williams, an opthamologist in New York, left the hospital circuit 10 years ago and now writes about how the system turned patients into the enemy who robbed doctors of sleep and family time. But she wants students to know that there are alternatives.

You can feel fulfilled… endure and make it in a way that you want…this job is not worth dying for.
— Dr. Zinaria Williams