May 6, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
Queens, NY – Growing up in the borough, bridge painters Chantel Katanakis and Aiden Suca couldn't remember a time when the once glorious “Tent of Tomorrow” at Flushing Meadows-Carona Park wasn’t a rusting and peeling relic of the 1964 World’s Fair. Now, however, both will play an integral part in an estimated $3 to $6 million restoration project that won’t cost the NYC Parks Department a dime because the union is doing the entire job gratis.
After four years of planning, the New York Structural Steel Painting Contractors Association and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Local 806, District Council 9, are set to take on the awesome task of rehabilitating the circular steel structure by incorporating it into its topflight apprenticeship program.
Wednesday morning’s ribbon cutting marked the project’s long-awaited launch.
“I actually have instructors coming out of retirement to help out,” said Gus Diamantis, bridge painter coordinator at the Finishing Trades Institute of New York. “We’ve done a lot of charity jobs, but nothing of this size. Our instructors are very excited.”
The union’s structural steel painters already hone their craft working on the USS Intrepid, but DC 9 says the chance to rehab part of the ’64 World’s Fair is an absolutely unprecedented opportunity for the men and women going through its 3-year apprenticeship program.
“It’s probably the biggest project we’ve taken on,” said William Candelori, regional vice-president, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Fifty years ago, the ring of 16, 100-foot-tall columns comprising the “Tent of Tomorrow” featured red and blue Kalwall plastic laminate panels set out across what was, at the time, the largest cable suspension roof in the world.
For Suca, 25, the opportunity to bring the ghost of the ’64 World’s Fair back to life is nothing less than astonishing.
“I look at every steel structure and think what it might be like to work on it — now, my dream finally came true,” Suca told LaborPress.
Bridge painting is imprinted on Chantel Katanakis’ DNA. Mom Efrorsini Katanakis was the union’s first female shop steward, as well as the first female bridge painter to ever work for the Department of Transportation. Dad Peter Dimaggio has been scaling and painting dizzying steel structures since 1982.
With rigging on “Tent of Tomorrow” expected to begin within a couple of weeks, the 29-year-old Katanakis says she is already looking forward to inspiring the next generation of structural steel painters in her family.
“One day, I’ll have kids, and God willing, I’ll be able to tell them I worked on it,” Katanakis said.
The multi-million dollar work being performed on the old World’s Fair attraction — still a major draw for tourists — is the largest donation the Parks Department has ever received outside of Central Park.
“This isn’t just sweat equity, this is heart and soul equity,” said Queens Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver.
Bill Goldstein, Mayor de Blasio’s Senior Advisor for Recovery, Resiliency and Infrastructure, hailed the city’s partnership with the painters union.
“We’re particularly pleased that this project could be part of the union’s apprenticeship program, which, in my view, is so important as an entryway to good paying middle class jobs in the construction trades,” Goldstein said.
Flushing Meadows-Carona Park will celebrate its World’s Fair heritage on June 7, with an afternoon of special festivities slated from 1 to 6 p.m.
By that time, the “Tent of Tomorrow” could be on its way to finally reclaiming its faded glory.
“Knowing that this painted structure will be up for years and that I was part of it will be a great source of pride for me,” Suca said.