On a rainy spring morning at John F. Kennedy International Airport, soundproofed walls and soothing opera music drown out roaring jet engines as planes shuttle down the tarmac behind a new $65 million facility that, at any time, could house 180 parrots, 30 dogs and a team of top-bred European-bound show horses.

The melodies help keep the horses calm during their stay at the Ark at JFK, said Greenwich resident John Cuticelli, who co-owns the newly constructed 178,000-square-foot facility with his wife, Elizabeth Schuette-Cuticelli. The Ark’s four barns, which can hold up to 72 traveling horses per day, are wired with dimming lights so visitors can adjust from their jet lag, he said. “This is ultimately a hotel for horses,” Cuticelli said during a tour of the facility.

The Ark at JFK doesn’t boast two of every species, but the Greenwich couple said they have equipped it to be one of the world’s most advanced animal import and export facilities for anything from traveling horses and goats to birds, rabbits, turtles, rats, cats and dogs.

The Ark, which has attracted international attention from delegations in Australia and India, launched its first of three opening phases in January, after the Greenwich couple won a bid to develop the animal transport facility from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2015. They said it is the first privately owned animal terminal and quarantine in the world, and the couple hopes it will be the first among many they plan to open around the United States.

‘Risky endeavor’

The pair has a background in developing real estate, but they never expected to know so intimately the strict laws that govern animal transportation, Schuette-Cuticelli said.

It all began in 2011 when her husband gave a presentation to Cornell business school graduates, drawing from his experience running the Ark’s now parent company, Racebrook, which owns a handful of portfolio companies that ultimately prepared him to develop the Ark.

From his Cornell connections made through giving that speech, Cuticelli wound up taking over a Cornell veterinarian’s response to a request for a proposal to develop a new animal transportation area from the Port Authority. Cuticelli uses Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine to consult on the project, but he led the proposal the Port Authority accepted.

After the Port Authority approved their bid, the Greenwich couple embarked on an international tour of similar projects. “We went to airports around the world and then I drew the plan for this place on a napkin,” Cuticelli said. “This is a very risky endeavor with high barriers to entry.”

The resulting facility includes the Ark, which the couple markets as “all about biosecurity,” and is closely regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to the risks animals can pose when traveling around the world. Also integral to their marketing approach is the way the Ark’s services improve conditions for traveling animals.

Many of the pets who arrive at the Ark, often during a layover for their owners, are dehydrated and need exercise, Schuette-Cuticelli said. At the Ark, animals can go outside to stretch their legs at a fenced-in area attached to the Pet Oasis as they’re cared for by professionals.

The Ark’s location makes it convenient for pets to be dropped off before flights for departing owners as well as transported directly from planes during layovers, she said. “We’re the only location in the world with this kind of accessibility,” Schuette-Cuticelli said.

Crucial to the business side of things is that the Ark subleases the majority of the facility’s space to other entities, many of which offer services that enhance the Ark’s offerings. Their tenants include Worldwide Flight Services, an air cargo company, Air Heart Pet Hospital and the animal boarding company Paradise 4 Paws. The couple expects the Ark’s final phases to be approved and in service by the fall.

The owners emphasize the Ark is still in its early stages, but they’re confident enough of its prospects that they’re already planning their next project. “You’ll see another one of these in the next 18 months,” Cuticelli said.

Contact the writer at mbennett@greenwichtime.

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