Vantage Airport Group’s Sammy Patel has spoken to TRBusiness about collaboration, customers and sense of place as the $4.9 billion John F. Kennedy (JFK) Terminal 6 redevelopment gains pace.
“It’s a blank piece of real estate,” enthuses Sammy Patel. The Vice President Commercial at operator Vantage Airport Group told TRBusiness over a Zoom call.
“It’s a vibrant time for all involved with John F. Kennedy Airport. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is pouring $19 billion into modernising JFK, with $4.9bn earmarked for the development of Terminal 6 and the eventual demolition of Terminal 7. It’s a blank canvas because the T6 project is starting totally from scratch.
And, as Patel says, there’s an appetite to do things differently. He’s targeting US- and world-first concepts. “We can drive real change,” he tells this publication. “Hopefully we will have something which is pretty groundbreaking in every sense.”
In late October, Vantage Airport Group, alongside JFK Millennium Partners, kicked off a competitive solicitation process for the food and beverage (F&B) and retail space for the new terminal.
Due for completion in two stages (the second involves building expanded gate capacity where T7 currently stands), the 1.2 millionsq ft complex will offer 60,000sq ft of concession space, spanning shopping, dining, and a digital-first concierge experience.
Building a sense of place is critical, so too is creating a calming space. Patel and his team has kept all that in mind when considering the terminal layout.
“We know security is a high stress point,” details Patel. “We spent a lot of time focusing on just how the passenger moves through the building, and in particular, the screening process working with our partners at TSA.” What happens next is critical in terms of mindset for both F&B and retail.
Post-security, passengers flow down escalators or elevators into a stunning skylit space, with duty free off to the left and a New York-centric foodhall to the right. “We’re going to have a pretty magnificent focal point, which essentially is supported by skylights in the middle of the building, to keep people in that centre,” continues Patel.
It will be calm, offering a sense of wellbeing. “How do we adapt our design style or operation to make you feel comfortable?” He muses. The “absolute masterpiece” in the centre will feature art and soft seating. And now it’s about creating the specifics of the offering in the space.
‘Redefining’ the JFK experience
“We want to be a terminal of many firsts,” Patel states as discussion turns to the competitive solicitation for both duty free and F&B. “We’ve got something called collaborative dialogue meetings. It’s not your typical RFP where we’re saying, ‘Here’s a list of requirements, give us your proposals’.”
Instead, it’s about working to find the right collaborators to build an experience. “We’re really trying to make sure we find the right partners to work with, we can help really redefine what that JFK experience looks like.” He’s aware that there will be a lot of interest. “Rarely do you get an opportunity to do something transformational on the international level.”
What does a collaborative dialogue meeting look like for T6? “We sit around the table and start really talking to their proposal, our requirements, our desires, our thoughts, dreams, and all the rest of it.” It’s about how that all can be brought to life.
“It’s a similar approach across the board, but the duty free piece is more involved, because we really do think here is where, you know, we can drive real change about what duty free looks like.” The US, he says, has perhaps been “a little lacking” in this area. Not any more.
The JFK T6 project is clearly a huge one. There’s ambition across the board. While Lufthansa Group will be the key anchor tenant, when complete the terminal will also link directly to JetBlue’s Terminal 5. The result is a broad passenger mix spanning different segments. The key to reaching a diverse audience is to work with diverse businesses.
JFK Millennium Partners has set targets in this area. It wants to exceed 20% participation for minority firms, 10% from women-owned businesses, 10% local companies, and 3% for service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses. There’s a target to create 4,000 jobs, including 1,800 for Queens residents in skilled labour, hospitality, security and facilities.
The local lens is critical if a strong – and authentic – sense of place is to shine through. “We’re ensuring that at all levels, we have full integration in the area,” Patel explains. From operations to design details in the terminal, “I’m proud that it is reflective of the communities we are serving.”
Getting that balance of international and local brands is key, something Patel says Vantage Airport Group has lots of experience in doing. Striking that will be key in partnership discussions. Ultimately, “if you’re in any one of our airports and you close your eyes, and you open them again, you absolutely will know the community and the region you’re in,” he states. “We do that through design, we do that through the selection of our operators and the brands, the concepts, and we do that through our people.”
And in the world of airport terminal projects, we don’t have long to wait to see the outcome. The first phase is due to open in the first quarter of 2026. The second phase will be concluded by 2028. Interested parties will have to act much more speedily. Phase one for first proposals closes in January 2024.
Interested parties can email:[email protected] for more information.
This is the first in a three-part feature interview with Vantage Airport Group. More to follow.