Oct
26

Along Second Ave., merchants protest as MTA pledges improvements

By · Published in 2010

The MTA's before-and-after highlight improvements proposed for Second Ave.

Throughout the long and torturous history of the current Second Ave. Subway project, the MTA’s community relations or lack thereof have come under fire. Residents, subject to the whims of negligent landlords, complain of building vibrations, noise, dust and constant construction while business owners bemoan the lost sidewalk space and street access. As the MTA responds to some of these complaints a few years too late, the business owners are getting ready to fight back.

The story as we know it tends to crop up every few months. In August, merchants claimed a 40-percent reduction in business, and earlier this month, The Times ran a sob story on businesses going under as the impact of construction ate away at the bottom line. A few weeks ago, I was less than sympathetic to those business owners who, knowing full well that the MTA was about to dig up the avenue, opened restaurants six months before Second Ave. Subway construction began.

Yet, despite my decidedly Spockian view on the transit needs of the many, the MTA has clearly not gone out of its way to help businesses. On the one hand, neither it nor the state has the money to make direct payments to suffering merchants, but on the other, construction crews work with little regard for the area around the site. This weekend, the authority announced a series of improvements designed to bolster business along Second Ave. These are, said MTA Capital Construction, part of a “good neighbor” initiative and include:

  • Implementing way-finding signage for stores that is uniform, legible and clean
  • Ensuring sidewalks are in good condition without holes, cracks, and trip hazards
  • Replace bent/worn fencing
  • Painting all barriers
  • Maintaining sidewalks, crosswalks, and safe sight lines for pedestrians/vehicles
  • Maintaining full access to businesses/residences

The Post noted that Capital Construction vowed to keep construction areas free of garbage and that the authority will continue to maintain a website explaining where construction will be at its worst. “These are simple things that will make people happy, so people can actually be in that area and not hate every day they live there,” Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTACC, said to Tom Namako.

While the MTA decided to act on years of complaints, the Second Ave. Business Association, supported by attorney and failed Public Advocate candidate Norman Siegel, hosted a rally on Sunday. Now claiming that business is down by 70 percent, the businesses want action of any kind from the state. Ben Heckscher from The Launch Box was on hand, and he offered up a few photos of the rally. Take a look:

Reporters seemingly outnumbered protesters at this weekend's SABA rally. (Photo by Ben Heckscher/The Launch Box)

Despite the small crowds, the speakers were passionate, and the rally has garnered significant press coverage — CBS News, The Post, DNA Info, NY1. The story too makes for a good David vs. Goliath narrative. These business owners have indeed been jerked around by the MTA, and they’re right to note that the authority originally said in 2007 that Phase 1 would wrap by 2013. Today, we’ll be lucky if the MTA finishes up this four-station extension of the Q by the end of 2016.

“It’s been three and a half years of the construction pretty much destroying our neighborhood, destroying our way of life doing business and destroying the quality of life for people living here and we’ve basically had enough, it’s just too hard,” Marcelo Ronchini, owner of Nina’s Pizzeria, said.

Time and again, these business owners have asked the city for tax breaks, and when those did not materialize, they’ve asked the MTA and state for direct financial contributions. This weekend, Siegel even threatened to sue — a proceeding bound to cause even more slowdowns along Second Ave. “Some of these businesses have put all their life savings into the mom and pop stores. So what we want is for legislation to provide for financial assistance for the businesses on Second Avenue. If that doesn’t happen we’ll have to give serious consideration to going to court,” said Civil Rights Attorney Norman Siegel.

As construction drags on, it’s clear that something has to happen. The MTA has mired Second Ave. in fences, dust, noise and reduced sidewalk space for nearly 42 months now, and the project won’t finish for at least another 72. While the empty store fronts along Second Ave. will quickly fill up once the subway reaches 96th St., for now, the work is stealing vitality from a neighborhood. Still, the MTA can’t just stop work, and the business owners can’t simply be bought out. I want to say what I’ve said all along — the needs of the many do outweigh the needs of the few — but someone should figure out a way to protect the needs of the few as well.



11 Responses to “Along Second Ave., merchants protest as MTA pledges improvements”

  1. Christopher says:

    The question to me is though, does this actually affect the many. By not attending to the quality of life and business during construction to we end up having a much longer term economic effect on the avenue? When SF built BART and the Muni tunnel in the 1970s, they were much pro-active in building the subway through the Financial District while the cut and cover techniques and general disorder as you moved away from the Ferry Bldg was hirer. And while there were co-factors in this: the mid-Market area has never fully recovered. It’s still skid row. Some of that is because of the number of landlords and businesses that failed during the construction period.

    NY is obviously different and our density plus the relative economic health of the community living along 2nd Ave in the Upper East Side suggests the are recover okay. By not protecting the businesses and landlords do we make that recovery period post-construction longer? That is still valid question to ask.

  2. John says:

    IIRC, back during the last major phase of midtown construction in Manhattan along a business street, the Phase 1 63rd Street tunnel project between 53rd and 59th Streets on Sixth Avenue, the biggest fight wasn’t actually between the TA and the businesses along the street, it was over the destruction of the playground in Central Park to start the extension over to 63rd.

    That work of course was cut-and-cover — upper Sixth Avenue was a quarter-mile of wooden boards during the mid-1960s — but because of that, the work moved along as the digging progressed, so that no 1-2 sites had to bear the burden of the project’s disruptions more than others. That’s part of the problem here; with the deep tunnel bore method, if you’re around the future station sites, you’re going to go through hell compared to businesses just a block or two away (those locations will benefit more from people coming and going to the stations when the line’s finally completed, but that’s not much compensation if you’re bankrupt 2-3 years before then).

    You’d think at the very least the city and state could figure out some sort of ‘tax break’ or even just a ‘tax deferment’ zone in the station areas, so that stores could lower their obligations to the government while construction is in progress, even if the MTA can’t do all that much to get people into the stores during that time.

    • Think twice says:

      “the work moved along as the digging progressed.”

      Would you say the pace of construction was faster than the TBM work going on now? I ask because, for me, the question going forward for future subway construction is “what is better, minimal disruption or faster turnaround time?”.

      • John says:

        I’d have to go from memory — my dad’s office was in the area, but I wasn’t up there all the time — but I believe the overall work on the 53rd-58th Street section lasted about four years from start to finish (the Sixth Ave. entrance to Central Park was still a mess well into the 1970s as part of Phase 2 of the project and the fight over the playground). So the extension and the 57th Street station work went on longer than the current work has gone on at the moment, but less time than the current work is supposed to take.

        (And of course, being a shallow cut, the other benefit was they could use the old-style sidewalk ventilation for the tunnels, as opposed to the large vent buildings Second Avenue needs. But this was probably the last project (including the cut-and-cover on Chrystie St.) the MTA will ever do that’s not bogged down in NIMBYism — They got the first phase done with limited problems, but Phase 2 had both the Central Park playground advocates and Rockefeller University to deal with, even though once the tunnel turned east, they were going to the deep bore method with the only major scar at 63rd and Lex. I doubt they could get away with cut and cover along Second Ave. today without a huge bump in the number of lawsuits, even if the work took less time.)

  3. Al D says:

    As I mentioned previously, perhaps the feds/state/city/MTA should arrange for some very low interest loans to help businesses cover their expenses/lost profits during this time of lost profits. Then, once SAS is up and running, since these same businesses will benefit from SAS, the loans can start being repaid at that point. In other words, have the repayment dates commence upon opening of SAS.

    This way, there is no ‘free ride’, just a little help getting to the finish line.

  4. Tsuyoshi says:

    Are rents the same as before construction? It would seem that if businesses get a break, it would be because the value of retail space is lower and so, rent should be lower. The value will eventually go up, so landlords should in theory be able to finance lower rents for the duration of construction against higher rents after the new train service has started. Of course the MTA could smooth this process along by providing loans to landlords in return for lowering rents or something, but there’s no point in doing much more because…

    Even without the adverse construction effects, the new subway would make some longtime businesses close. There are going to be higher rents: higher commercial rents alone will hurt, and then higher residential rents will cause some customers to leave. There will be new customers, but they won’t want to buy exactly the same things.

  5. Ben says:

    THE MTA HAS TO BEAR DOWN HARD ON THE CONTRACTORS TO COMPLETE THE RELOCATION PHASE OF THE UTILITIES ASAP. THE SOONER THE UTILITIES ARE MOVED THE SOONER LIFE ON THE SURFACE WILL RETURN TO NORMAL. AT THIS RATE, THE TUNNEL BORING MACHINE WILL BE DONE BEFORE ALL THE UTILITIES ARE MOVED, WHICH WOULD ADD EVEN GREATER COST AND TIME TO THE PROJECT. THE MTA CAN AND SHOULD FIGURE OUT WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO FINISH THE UTILITY WORK ASAP.

    As I’ve been saying all along, the best thing the MTA could do is run this project on a high level. Subway construction in other parts of the world is done better, cheaper and faster under conditions as difficult or even more difficult than the SAS.

    The MTA’s design decisions, construction methodologies, project management, legal wrangling with landlords (which thankfully, the MTA management has figured out rewards lawyers, including its own, while delaying and costing the project more than it gains). These are the things that are jeopardizing everything in the path of of the SAS. The businesses, the residents, and ultimately the project itself, because it is so delayed and overbudget it could run out of funds.

    We need more infrastructure, and we’ll never achieve it using current MTA methodologies. I applaud the MTA saying it won’t tussle any longer with landlords to shore up their buildings. A single such tussle over one building on the corner of 92nd and 2nd, delayed the use of explosives on the project for six months, costing tens of millions of dollars in delays.

    The MTA should apply best practices in project design and management, which it has not. We simply do not have world champion type people working on this project. One of the auditors reports said so, that the MTA personnel are not up to the task of a project of this nature.

    Their errors, and the learning curve they are undergoing as managers are responsible for the delays. The delays are crushing the neighborhoods. The general design and management failures have caused many injuries amongst pedestrians and vehicles. Note that one of the MTAs improvements is “Maintaining sidewalks, crosswalks, and safe sight lines for pedestrians/vehicles” They have been unsafe until now, and there has been a great number of broken bones and flesh and broken vehicles because of unsafe conditions. Why didn’t the MTA maintain safe sidewalks and crosswalks from the start?

    I want to applaud the MTA for waking up in the ways mentioned above. As an engineer, I know it can go much further in reducing business, schedule and financial risks that have been burdening this project. It’s currently locked into a very flawed design architecture. But it can be more effective hitting its project milestones.

    To repeat what I said at the start of this post:
    THE MTA HAS TO BEAR DOWN HARD ON THE CONTRACTORS TO COMPLETE THE RELOCATION PHASE OF THE UTILITIES ASAP. THE SOONER THE UTILITIES ARE MOVED THE SOONER LIFE ON THE SURFACE WILL RETURN TO NORMAL. AT THIS RATE, THE TUNNEL BORING MACHINE WILL BE DONE BEFORE ALL THE UTILITIES ARE MOVED, WHICH WOULD ADD EVEN GREATER COST AND TIME TO THE PROJECT. THE MTA NEEDS CAN AND SHOULD FIGURE OUT WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE TO FINISH THE UTILITY WORK ASAP.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] What Should the MTA Do to Help Merchants in 2nd Ave Construction Zone? (2nd Ave Sagas) […]

  2. […] « Along Second Ave., merchants protest as MTA pledges improvements Oct […]

  3. […] about the impact Second Ave. Subway construction has had on neighborhood businesses, a topic I covered this morning. Producers told me earlier today that the segment should be on at around 10:30, and for those of […]

  4. […] on the Upper East Side to celebrate the beginning of that change. The authority announced plans back in October to beautify the construction site, and this week, they unveiled the model block between East 92nd […]

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