BY BENJAMIN FANG
At the end of every year, the Queens Chamber of Commerce honors local business leaders who have contributed to a prosperous and thriving borough.
On December 4 at Terrace on the Park, the chamber recognized five honorees: Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority; Tyquana Henderson-Rivers, president and CEO of Connective Strategies Associates; Alexandra Vassilaros, president of Vassilaros & Sons Coffee; and Chris Xu, president of United Construction and Development Group. Dimitrios “Jimmy” Kaloidis, the philanthropist, entrepreneur and co-owner of Terrace on the Park, was honored posthumously.
“These individuals are not only extraordinary business people, they believe in doing well by doing good, and giving back,” said Tom Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber. “They may come from different industries and different walks of life, but they all represent the very best of Queens and contribute greatly by creating opportunity throughout the borough.”
Cotton, the evening’s Hall of Fame honoree and keynote speaker, said the award is recognition of the teamwork of the Port Authority in rebuilding the borough’s two airports. Altogether, the Port Authority is investing $23 billion in Queens, including $13 billion for John F. Kennedy International Airport, $8 billion to LaGuardia Airport, and $2 billion for the LaGuardia AirTrain.
Cotton said they are “moving full steam ahead” to get these projects done, and committed to doing so “in close consultation” with the neighborhoods surrounding the airports.
“We are completely committed to ensuring that real, tangible benefits flow to the Queens communities impacted by the airports and by the major construction,” he said.
Delivering an update on the progress at LaGuardia, Cotton said they’ve already completed a new garage and two new concourses for Terminal B. By the middle of next year, they will open the Terminal B arrivals and departures hall, as well as 70 percent of the airport’s new roadways.
“That means nearly one-third of every flight at LaGuardia Airport today comes into the new gates,” Cotton said. “That’s real progress.”
Six months ago, the Port Authority’s board approved $2 billion to fully fund the AirTrain project, which is now in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s environmental review process. “We are pressing hard to advance this project,” Cotton said.
The Queens Chamber is also part of a coalition called “A Better Way to LGA,” which in November called for the revitalization of the Flushing Bay Promenade as part of the AirTrain project. “We are fully committed that we will leave the promenade far better than it has been,” Cotton said.
The Port Authority executive concluded his keynote remarks by acknowledging that the construction process for rebuilding the airports has not been “easy on anyone.”
“I appreciate the patience and understanding,” he said. “I promise that when it’s done on time and on budget, New York will be proud of them.”
Henderson-Rivers, who hails from southeast Queens, said “it’s not everyday” that someone like her is honored as a business leader.
“For 30 years, I have been working in this community,” she said. “It has been an honor and a privilege.” Vassilaros noted that her company is proud to be immigrant-grown, and now, wholly women-owned. “Queens is the best advertisement for why diversity works,” she said. “Different people from different parts of the world can live together and thrive together.”
Xu, whose company is building the 67-story Skyline Tower in Long Island City, which is the tallest structure outside of Manhattan, spoke about his roots as an immigrant.
After moving to the United States in 1986, Xu started working as a contractor for a construction company for $40 a day. In 1994, he founded United Construction and Development Group, and started by building small single-family and multi-family homes.
He got his first construction loan from Maspeth Federal Savings bank. Today, his company has $1.2 billion in projects, 99 percent of which are in Queens. “We always work with the community,” Xu said.