The city gave the two companies tasked with running the Big Apple’s heliports — primarily used by high rollers and well-off tourists — at least $1.4 million in breaks on rent payments during the coronavirus pandemic, The Post has learned.
The broad outlines of the sweet arrangement between the Economic Development Corporation and one of the operators, Saker Aviation, were quietly disclosed in a recent company filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Why would we spend so much money for rich people to fly to the Hamptons, when we have so many low-income people in New York who need help,” said Judith Goldiner, a top lawyer at Legal Aid, which represents many of the Big Apple’s poorest in housing court and in the homeless shelter system.
EDC officials confirmed they also provided rent relief to the agency’s second operator, Atlantic Aviation, which manages the East Side helipad. But they repeatedly refused to provide any details about it or how much money the agency had agreed to forfeit.
“EDC plays their games with public funds,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog group, Reinvent Albany. “It undermines public confidence in them as an agency and in their activities when they refuse to answer reasonable questions.”
The agency has come under intense scrutiny for its lack of transparency and handling of open records requests in the past, particularly in regard to its operation of the Big Apple’s costly and controversial East River ferry system.
New Yorkers have vigorously compla ined
Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a deal with the City Council in 2016 that slashed by half the number of flights allowed from EDC’s Manhattan helipads and barred most over-land routes for the remaining operators.
EDC controls two of the three major helipads on Manhattan.
One sits on the East River at 34th Street and is operated by Atlantic. It is predominately used by choppers offering the city’s wealthiest a chance to buzz off to the Hamptons and John F. Kennedy airport without sitting in traffic at eye-watering rates.
Operators of the site include Blade, which was charging $1,025 for tickets on flights between Manhattan and the Hamptons this off-season week.
Saker’s helipad is near the South Street seaport and is mostly used by helicopter companies offering tourists aerial views of the city’s famous skyline. His SEC filings show that EDC either provided a discount or forgave the company’s rent for 20 months, spanning from May 2020 through December 2021.
Typically, Saker would have paid an estimated $1.6 million in rent — or roughly $83,000 a month — over the nearly two-year stretch, but only had to fork over $192,000, EDC confirmed.
The arrangement included two parts: First, EDC forgave Saker’s rent between between May 1, 2020 and April 31, 2021. Then, in March 2022, EDC agreed to charge Saker for rents equal to 18% of its revenues over $100,000 from May through December 2021..
Normal payments returned again in 2022.
EDC said it granted the concession because flight volumes from downtown plummeted during the pandemic. A report the agency provided to the City Council showed there were just 549 flights in September 2021 — a tally that quintupled to 2,703 flights by August.
For Atlantic, which is privately held, EDC spokeswoman Mary Mueller would only say the agency “provided financial relief” but refused to provide any details other than it the firm “received less relief over a shorter period of time” than Saker had.
“NYCEDC followed best practices for many of its operators during the height of the pandemic when the city’s economy and so many businesses were struggling,” she added.
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