BY BENJAMIN FANG
The 512-bed TWA Hotel at JFK Airport opened this past May to much fanfare. Built to replicate the iconic Jet Age terminal that first opened in 1962, the hotel is replete with modern amenities like high-end retail shops, a rooftop infinity pool, a 50,000-square-foot event space and the world’s biggest hotel gym.
Even Governor Andrew Cuomo complimented the project’s creativity and brilliance as “internationally spectacular.” But for Tyler Morse, CEO and managing partner of MCR and MORSE Development, the company that converted the formerly abandoned terminal into a hotel, the project was particularly exciting.
A former baggage handler at Los Angeles International Airport, Morse fell in love with the aviation business. He was especially thrilled by the TWA Flight Center, which ended operations in 2001.
“The opportunity to bring it back to its former glory was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Morse told This Is Queensborough during a recent interview.
The project was lauded for its painstaking attention to detail, from the restoration of the red-carpeted Sunken Lounge to the reproduction of the pencils and swizzle sticks, all of which had to be done in an environmentally friendly manner. Morse even personally collected all of the David Klein posters from that era.
“Everything we did is authentic,” he said. “That was important to us.”
While that focus required a lot of time and resources, Morse said it was a critical part of the project.
“People notice the details, and it really matters,” he said. “The amalgam of the details makes the project.”
The multi-year project had its own set of challenges that the developer, architects and builder had to overcome. In total, Morse dealt with 22 government agencies and 14 preservationist groups, which led to a lot of opinions and thoughts on how to preserve the historic building.
“Trying to incorporate all of that into the design was quite tricky,” he said. “And doing that simultaneously while opening it on time, which we succeeded in doing.”
Another challenge was figuring out where to dispose of the soil for the massive project. After a long negotiation with the National Park Service, the TWA Hotel delivered 74,000 cubic feet of sand for the Spring Creek South South Storm Resilience and Ecosystem Restoration Project.
According to the company, the sand, valued at $5 million, will help stabilize Spring Creek Park, which is a wildlife refuge in the Gateway National Recreation Area on the Jamaica Bay shoreline. It will reduce the risk of storm damage and flooding in neighborhoods like Howard Beach, which was significantly impacted by Superstorm Sandy.
“It was one tricky challenge after another,” Morse said about the project. “The biggest challenge was doing all of that simultaneously.”
But it was all worth it when the hotel was finally built and opened to the public. Morse said the hotel has hosted a lot of former TWA employees for various events. He said when they walked into the building, many began to cry and reminisce about their workplace for decades. Some said the new version looks even better than it did in 1962.
“It’s a great feeling seeing the joy it brings to people,” Morse said. “People took photos for Instagram and shared it with their families.”
He added that while MCR and MORSE Development are working on other hotels, none will “hold a candle” to this historic project. “I don’t think projects like this will ever come along again,” he said.
The TWA Hotel is one of the recipients of the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Building Awards. This year, the award gala will be hosted on October 3 at the hotel itself. Morse said hosting the awards is meaningful for him and his team. He noted that the original Idlewild Airport, renamed in 1963 as JFK International Airport, has always been a big part of Queens.
“To be able to host the awards and honor people from Queens is very special,” he said.