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Across New York State, the 570-mile Thruway — one of the longest toll road systems in the nation — connects people to jobs, families to vacations, and goods to market via millions of cars, buses, and trucks that depend on the reliability and service quality to travel safely and efficiently to their destinations. The Thruway is the very heartbeat of New York, the artery between the Empire State’s major cities and the connector to the economic, tourism, and job centers within and beyond the State’s borders. About 250 million vehicle trips travel more than 8 billion miles on the Thruway each year, and their passengers and drivers look to NYSTA to ensure the Service Area facilities across the Thruway deliver a much-needed break from the road.


The Request for Proposals issued in 2018 by NYSTA for the design, construction, financing, operations, and maintenance of 27 service areas along the Thruway, served as a call to action for Empire State Thruway Partners (ESTP), a consortium of best-in-class global leaders in infrastructure development and service area operation and maintenance. Upland Architects partnered with our client Applegreen and the consortium as the design architect responsible for executing the architectural vision for NYSTA. With our expertise in retail, convenience, and restaurant architecture as well our long history with Applegreen here in the U.S., Applegreen entrusted Upland Architects in representing their brand, to develop a prototypical program and design that reflected the Applegreen reputation. Our team of architects, designers and planners spent two years developing the master plan that was awarded by the State of New York in early 2020.


Empire State Thruway Partners’ vision for our redevelopment plan is informed by NYSTA’s customer surveys, the goals defined in the RFP, and the collective knowledge of a best-in-class development team, with experts in every required area. ESTP has identified a holistic solution that will optimize revenue generation, ensure user satisfaction, and implement a responsibly sustainable design that will deliver a world-class point of pride for the State of New York.

ESTP reached out and spoke with Regional Economic Development Councils, historical societies, and other organizations representing regions along the Thruway to collect their ideas for Service Area place making. Our approach was initiated with a customer segmentation process to assess the needs of key market segments, including commuters and business travelers, families, leisure travelers, motor coach and public transit bus passengers, and commercial vehicle drivers.

The architectural concept proposed by ESTP is inspired by the farmlands, fruit stands, and rolling hills that dot the landscape. Seasonal and natural lighting themes, local vendors serving local products, and soft inviting materials and fabrics surround the space creating a welcoming moment to reflect, recharge and revitalize. The main concourse in the ESTP design is the driving force of the space, advancing and leading visitors through the interior in what we define as an Experiential Concept. Our proposed Service Area Experience incorporates high ceilings reminiscent of the great outdoors, a welcome center equipped with interactive technologies to help customers navigate all that New York has to offer, and great food options that make this a destination for travelers on the way home, heading to work, or starting a weekend getaway.

This world-class design approach to the amenities creates a series of experiences framed by a food hall, convenience services, interior play area, commercial truck drivers’ lounge, and comfortable seating areas. The building’s modern architecture, high ceilings, and wood finishes bring the outdoors in, with south side dormers for natural light and ventilation, calling up the natural beauty that is pervasive across New York State. The clean and simple gabled roof of the main concourse visually connects two major site nodes: parking, and fuel. The south side of the large roof remains unobstructed, allowing for integration of a substantial solar array. Materials throughout are selected for durability and low maintenance requirements, particularly with respect to the variable climate of most of the sites. The roof and siding of the main structure are black metal with accents of stained maple. The amenity building’s central core comprises a path of experiences showcasing regional achievements and innovations, including a Taste NY Market focal point, touch-activated tourism kiosks, and information on local history and culture.


ESTP has designed a range of buildings of varying scale to provide a comprehensive offer to NYSTA, individually tailored to suit the volume of traffic and potential business anticipated for each Service Area.


The Level 1 Plus sites will include a new 3,896 sq ft Service Area providing food, beverage and c-store services. While NYSTA had included a concept of vending-only for these sites, our proposal includes a more complete service offering on all sites. Each Level 1 Plus site will have one food offering of either quick service restaurant ("QSR") with drive-thru or coffee with drive-thru, along with a c-store. Services include: Restrooms, tourism kiosks, outdoor picnic and seating areas, and ample parking to accommodate passenger cars, commercial vehicles and buses. Also proposed will be EV charging, pet friendly areas, dog walking areas, outdoor exercise areas/equipment, seasonal outdoor food truck placements, and Taste NY Kiosks and Farm Markets.


The Level 2 sites will feature a new 5,742 sq ft Service Area providing food, beverage and a c-store. Level 2 sites will have two QSR food offerings, one for QSR with drive-thru and one for coffee with drive-thru, along with a c-store. Services include: As described above in Level 1 Plus.


Including all of the amenities of Level 1 and Level 2 Sites, the 14,654 sq ft Level 2A building is being developed for larger volume locations. It will have three offerings of QSR, one with drive-thru to better serve the “grab-and-go” market and other healthy food offerings, along with a c-store. Services include: As described above in Level 1 Plus.


The Level 2B sites include development of a new 14,654 sq ft Level 2B building with services that will encourage longer dwell times. Level 2B sites will have three food offerings of QSR, one with a drive-thru to better serve the “grab-and-go” market and other healthy food offerings. Facilities for commercial truck drivers are available and will include secured separate entrances, a lounge, single occupancy showers, and coin operated laundry, among other amenities. Services include: As described above in Level 1 Plus. 


Our Flagship Service Areas, the Level 3 sites, will have 20,145 sq ft of floor area with first floor mezzanine lounge areas. These Flagship sites are destination properties with a broad selection of products and services and a wide range of local, regional, and nationally recognized food, beverage and retail options. They will include between six and eight QSR offerings, one with drive-thru, with other healthy food offerings developed as an Artisan Food Hall featuring a rotating roster of local dining options. Services include: Restrooms, tourism kiosks, outdoor picnic and seating areas, and ample parking to accommodate passenger, commercial vehicles and buses. Also proposed will be EV charging stations, pet friendly areas, dog walking areas, outdoor exercise areas/equipment, seasonal outdoor food truck placements, and Taste NY Farmer Markets. The opportunity to include a mezzanine floor has been incorporated into the Flagship Level 3 sites, to create a unique relaxing lounge area featuring complimentary customer business center facilities, available at no charge to customers. The building layout provides clear options for customers in friendly surroundings with instant access to retail choices and comfort facilities as well as local and international food offerings. Parents can relax while children enjoy play areas, and travelers of all kinds will benefit from a tourism kiosk, with information on area attractions.


Including all of the amenities of the Flagship Level 3 site, Level 3B differs in that it will have commercial truck driver facilities that accommodate longer dwell times to allow for required driver downtime. Facilities for professional truck drivers will include secured separate entrances, lounge, single occupancy showers, specialty amenities, and a coin-operated laundry.

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