Archive for Fulton Street

So apparently the 7 train is all messed up because of an ice condition brought about by an umbrella on the tracks that somehow caused a power outage. Although many have used this is a prime example of why subways shouldn’t run in bad weather, if anything, this proves the opposite as the tracks would have been cleared of ice all day except for the umbrella-inspired power outage. The other elevated lines didn’t have problems today, eh?

Anyway, I’m swamped at work this week and don’t have much time to write anything long-form. Today, I’ll urge you to read Steve Cuozzo’s takedown of the Fulton St. Transit Center. In New York Post style, he eviscerates the complex, and while some of his criticism is off base — the MTA couldn’t re-route 100-year-old subway lines to create truly clear passageways, other remarks hit the nail on the head. Cuozzo thinks claims of untangling hallways was overblown while some wayfinding signs leave much to be desired. The expensive headhouse, he complains, with its fancy oculus is still devoid of retail, but in a year or two, when it’s full, no one will care.

The issue though was the price tag. It cost $1.4 billion, and we got no new stations or new track mileage out of it. I ultimately think the Fulton St. Transit Center is a huge improvement on what was there before it, but Cuozzo’s kicker contains a kernel of transit politics I’ve written about before. “The ugly truth is that the Fulton Center was never about unraveling a maze. It was about building a monument to politicians’ and planners’ egos, crowned by a useless glass dome.”

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When I was touring around the Fulton St. Transit Center last Sunday, I noticed some of the escalators making funny noises. Considering the MTA’s track record with escalators, I should have asked someone about it, but the moment passed. Fast forward to Thursday when I spotted the following photo on Instagram. Need I say more?

Open three days and the escalator is broken. This is why we can't have nice things.

A photo posted by Kate (@librariankate7578) on

If you’d like some of those 1000 words to go with this photo, The Daily News has you covered. Pete Donohue ran a news item on the problems, and the paper’s Editorial team was not impressed. The MTA has pointed some fingers at Westfield Group as the party responsible for elevator maintenance, but MTA Capital Construction had control of the new building until last weekend. The buck stops somewhere.

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It’s now been two days since the $1.4 billion Fulton St. Transit Center opened, and in New York, that’s an eternity. Instagram has filled up with photos of the Fulton oculus, the subway system’s newest attraction, and reviews running the gamut are coming in. I offered a first look on Sunday night with photos and a skeptical essay on the way New York and, more importantly, the federal government spends its transit dollars. Tonight, let’s run through what this thing really is.

What is the Fulton Street Transit Center?

Located on Broadway between John and Fulton Street, the Transit Center is a fully ADA-compliant, multi-story building that sits atop the massive Fulton St. subway station. The $1.4 billion rehab project involved reimagining the underground areas that were a confusing tangle of dimly-lit ramps that traversed multiple train lines built by a variety of private entities at varying depths. The new Transit Center untangles this mess as best it can and provides a much smoother transfer between the 4/5 and the A/C, the key choke point in the station.

Right now, the Transit Center itself is devoid of another other than empty space, but it has 30,000 square feet of retail space that will begin to fill up in early 2015. Space ranges from 200-700 square feet all the way up to one space of 8000 square feet and one space of 10,000 square feet. Westfield is working on leasing the retail spots and hopes to attract a restaurant for one the spaces and a big-name anchor tenant (such as Apple) for the other big spot. Retail kiosks will fill some of the floor space as well, and Westfield is in charge of maintenance and cleanliness. Essentially, the headhouse is a mall.

You’re the saying this isn’t the big white thing near 1 World Trade Center that looks like a porcupine?

No, sorry. That’s Santiago Calatrava’s $4 billion World Trade Center PATH Hub, a project offering even less bang for the buck than this one that also happens to feature extensive retail space.

Inside the Fulton St. Transit Center. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

So who designed and built this thing?

As the Port Authority went with a troubled starchitect for its project, the MTA used three architects of record: Grimshaw, Page Ayres Cowley, and HDR Daniel Frankfurt. The project was originally supposed to be completed seven years ago, but after engineering work proved more difficult and original designs too expensive, the MTA had to redesign the project on the go. These three firms led that effort.

Why didn’t the MTA build a 25-story mixed use building to better capitalize on the demand for real estate in New York City

That is literally the multi-million-dollar question. At a time when space is going for record dollar values and the MTA has to maximize its revenue potential, it had an opportunity to build up. Instead, the building is relatively short with only parts of four floor reserved for retail use. Together with the Corbin Building the MTA is realizing revenue streams of only 60,000 square feet for commercial and retail use.

What exactly is the Corbin Building?

Located next to the Fulton St. Transit Center, the 1888 Corbin Building was constructed as a proto-skyscraper for one-time LIRR President Austin Corbin. The building includes Guastavino tile structural floor arches visible from an escalator and a variety of terra cotta elements popular in the late 19th century. At the time, it was built in one year, a stark contrast to the 12 years it took modern crews to complete the Fulton St. project. The MTA had to spend a lot of time carefully underpinning the Corbin Building to install the necessary escalators and crews found a stock trade records from the 1880s during the work.

Westfield, the company in charge of renting out the retail space in the main Transit Center building, is also tasked with finding takers for the office space in the Corbin Building. The building contains approximately 30,000 square feet. A few years ago, I saw the inside, and it’s an interestingly narrow space that’s sure to attract tenants rather quickly.

These panels in the center of the atrium will one day have touch screens. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

How is this the “Station of the Future”?

The MTA is calling this the subway station of the future, and that’s because of the technology involved. With 340 security cameras, it’s one of the most watched stations in the subway system, and it features numerous video ad boards, 16 On The Go kiosks and other information screens. All in all, the building now has 52 digital displays, two jumbo screens (one that’s 32×18 and another 24×16) and ads as far as the eye can see. The MTA can always take control of these screens in the event of an emergency, and the screens split time with an MTA Arts & Design digital video.

The Sky Reflector Net rings the Fulton St. oculus. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Tell me about this oculus.

Towering 110 feet above street level, the 53-foot diameter glass oculus is the main draw. It serves to bring daylight down into the depths of the subway and features the art installation called “Sky Reflector Night.” Designed by James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimsahw Architects and Arup, the 4000-pound cable net includes 952 alumninum panels that each geometrically unique. It will instantly become an icon of New York City.

The mezzanine above the former Broadway/Nassau stop is wide and well lit, a welcome change from its previous incarnation. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

What about the station? I still have to walk up and down stairs. What gives?

In a rather amusing/oblivious bit from The Post, Steve Cuozzo issued my favorite critique of the Transit Center to date. Instantly forgetting how dismal the old station was, Cuozzo had this say: “No matter how it’s prettied up, there’s simply no way to shorten the long trek from the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 East Side lines under Broadway to the J and Z lines several blocks west. And you’ll still climb stairs.”

Of course you’ll still climb stairs! The MTA didn’t invent a time machine to head back to the early 1900s in order to force the BMT, IND and IRT to design a better station experience. The A and C trains are still a few stories below the 4 and 5 and the 2 and 3. The BMT trains that run underneath Nassau St. still bisect the the passageway that would otherwise connect the 2 and 3 to the 4 and 5 via a walkway above the A and C. It ain’t perfect, but it’s much easier to navigate.

How many people are going to use this?

That’s a good question. The MTA materials all claim 300,000 per day, but current entries at Fulton St. are only in the 65,000 range. Will an additional 235,000 subway riders per day use this station as a transfer point? That seems awfully high to me. For comparison, Times Square, the most popular subway station by no small amount, sees 200,000 entries per day.

R train thisaway. The Dey St. Concourse provides an out-of-system connection between Cortlandt St. (and points west) and the Fulton St. Transit Center. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

I’ve heard of a new concourse under Dey St. What is it?

The Dey St. Concourse is an out-of-system walkway that connects the R at Cortlandt St. to the rest of the Fulton St. Transit Center. When work on the PATH Hub is completed the walkway will run from Brookfield Place near the Hudson River underneath the WTC site via the Calatrava station with out-of-system connections to the E and 1 trains. (Thus, the empty bullets in this photo.)

Did you say out-of-system transfer? What gives?

This is a major point of criticism: There is no free transfer between the R at Cortlandt St. and any of the trains at Fulton St. It’s an out-of-system connection that requires a swipe, and the MTA offered a few reasons. First, the Dey St. Concourse work was tricky as the MTA had to shore up very old buildings that lined Dey St. They had very little margin for error and couldn’t add more space to the corridor. They didn’t want to go through placing a barrier down the middle of it similar to the way the 53rd St.-3rd Avenue station is designed and claim they would lose $2 million annually by creating a new free transfer where one did not previously exist. Plus, all of the Fulton St. train lines connect to the R at Canal St., Borough Hall or Jay St.-MetroTech.

Who paid for this?

Although September 11 is beginning to feel like a different era in city history, federal post-9/11 funds built the Transit Center. Of The $1.4 billion, $847 came from Lower Manhattan Recovery Grants, $130 million came from the MTA in local funds, and $423 million came from the FTA’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the single largest FTA award under the ARRA program.

Was it all worth it?

I’ll leave that one up to you to decide.

The view from the lower level. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

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From street level, the Fulton St. Transit Center unfolds downward. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

The problem with federal funding is how inflexible it is. The feds may be willing to pony over a significantly amount of dollars — upwards of one billion for certain projects — but that money can’t be shuffled around to better uses. It’s earmarked for a specific purpose, and the local agency receiving that money has to spend it on that purpose, even if agency heads know how badly they could use those same dollars for something far more worthwhile. Such are the contradictions of the Fulton St. Transit Center which will open to the public at 5 a.m.

On Sunday, politicians and MTA officials past and present gathered to celebrate the completion of the Fulton St. Transit Center, and in a way, it was a big deal. Two former MTA heads — Joe Lhota and Lee Sander — were in attendance as well as Mysore Nagaraja, the former head of MTA Capital Construction, who oversaw the start of this project well over a decade ago. Chuck Schumer, Jerry Nadler and Sheldon Silver didn’t miss the photo op either. Finally, the construction surrounding Fulton St. will end, and as tenants fill into 1 World Trade Center, the Fulton St. part of the Lower Manhattan puzzle is complete.

The Sky Reflector Night spanning the oculus will bring natural light into the Fulton St. Transit Center. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

But in another way, the fact that the Fulton St. Transit Center even exists as a megaproject comes out of a different era in recent New York City history. Following the 9/11 attacks, politicians thought the best way to restore faith in New York and heal the wound to its psyche was to pump money into Lower Manhattan. It was, at the time, believed to be the only way to get people to return to the area to live or work or shop, and part of that money involved funding both the Fulton St. Transit Center and parts of the Calatrava World Trade Center PATH Hub. No one stopped to question whether the city needed to spend billions of dollars on two fancy subway stops, and no one could stop the political desire to create a public place and public space in Lower Manhattan.

So what we have now is the Fulton Center. It’s a multi-level headhouse atop the Fulton St. subway complex, and it’s not all just an ornate building with an oculus and the Sky Reflector Net, an art installation that will bring daylight into the depths of the headhouse. It’s also going to feature 30,000 square feet of retail that Westfield will begin to fill in early 2015, and the renovations open up corridors that were cramped, dark and hard to navigate. It’s fully ADA-compliant, and when all is said and done in Lower Manhattan, it will serve as the eastern end of an underground passageway stretching from Brookfield Place on the Hudson River to the Fulton St. station complex via the PATH Hub and the Dey St. Concourse. The transfers between the PATH, the E, the 1, the R and all the trains at Fulton St. will not be free, but they will be easy and underground.

R train thisaway. The Dey St. Concourse will eventually serve as a link from Brookfield Place to the Fulton St. Transit Center via the WTC PATH Hub. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

As I toured the new station on Sunday, I was struck by its size. There’s nothing quite like it in the New York City subway system today. While we’re used to cramped corridors with low ceilings and narrow spaces, the Fulton St. Transit Center is massive with wide open vistas and a lot of space for people. The transfer between the A and C platform and the 4 and 5 will be instantly easier and quicker, and the East Side IRT platforms are much wider. (The doors in that photo will always kept open; they can be closed in the event of the emergency.) The Fulton St. Transit Center will likely become a meeting spot and, as Therese McMillan, the Acting Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, said, “an essential part of everyday life” in the neighborhood.

Outside of fare control, this staircase will connect various levels of the Fulton St. Transit Center as well as retail spaces. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Is it all worth it though? During his remarks on Sunday, Senator Chuck Schumer, quoting the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, stated that great public works are always “worth the dollars.” But he also said the same thing about the Calatrava hub, and he’s a big supporter of Moynihan Station. These three projects are all, to varying degrees, nice to look at, but they do little to nothing to solve problems of regional mobility. For a combined expense of over $7 billion — the total of the Fulton St., PATH and Moynihan expenditures — the city could build train tunnels it needs rather than another fancy building.

But the fancy building is what we get. So take a look around as you pass through there on Monday. Try to find the special edition MetroCard and marvel at what federal dollars can bring. It certainly doesn’t look like the subway system with which New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship. That alone is a step in the right direction, albeit a very, very expensive one.

I’ll have more on the features of the Transit Center — the video boards and ad screens, the climate control, the plans for the retail space — later this week. For now, enjoy the pictures. After the jump, view a slideshow of all of my photos from Sunday. For an ongoing stream of my transit-related photos, be sure to follow me on Instagram. Read More→

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New signs for Fulton St. await at Transit’s sign shop. (Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

While I was musing on the MTA’s capital construction credibility problem yesterday, the MTA decided to open a big-ticket project. At the Board committee meeting yesterday, the agency revealed that the Fulton St. Transit Center finally has an opening date. On Sunday, November 9, the politicians will gather for a largely undeserved photo op, and the building will open to commuters on Monday, November 10 at 5 a.m.

For MTA Capital Construction, this is a good moment. It’s only the second project, after the short-lived South Ferry station, that MTACC has opened, but like South Ferry, this one is a few months late due to some issues with the finishes and occupancy permit. The MTA will also open the Dey St. Concourse early. The passageway, outside of fare control, provides an underground walkway between the Fulton St. subway complex and the R train’s Cortlandt St. station. It may one day connect to the E train and wasn’t supposed to open until the PATH Hub is finished next year. But after months of delays, the MTA is just opening the whole thing at once.

So what are we getting for $1.4 billion? Well, most of the work we already see. The passageways and fancy LED screens are lit up; the hallways are as straight as they can be considering the layout; and everything just looks refreshed. But we’re also getting our headhouse, and for now, it’s simply the system’s fanciest Arts for Transit installation. Westfield is working to bring retail to the Transit Center, but no stores will be open on November 10 when politicians cut their ribbons. For now, the Transit Center is an empty building with lots of natural light and lots of empty space.

But cynicism aside, opening the Fulton St. Transit Center is a big day for Lower Manhattan. Some construction will wrap, and a new building, promised as part of the post-9/11 rebuilding effort a decade ago, will reopen. Onward and upward.

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As Monday dawns, the MTA Board Committees will gear up for a full day’s worth of meetings. Despite the fact that the fare is set to rise in March, we won’t hear hand-wringing over the fare hike amounts or even new proposals as, by a few accounts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is putting pressure on MTA leadership to delay public announcement of any fare hikes and toll increases until after Election Day. There’s nary a mention to be found of the looming rate increases in this month’s Board materials, and usually, the MTA announces the plan in mid-October.

What’s done is done — or better yet, what’s not done isn’t done — on that front, and for now, we’ll move on to other things such as what’s up with these never-opening capital projects? October will end this week, and the Fulton St. Transit Center, once expected to open in late June, will remain shrouded in construction. This week’s Board materials offer few clues to the project’s opening. A note in a presentation to the Transit Committee states only that “the Fulton Center Opening date is currently under review” while the opening date is projected to be some time in Q4. Work started, by the way, in December of 2004.

The presentation to the Capital Program Oversight Committee offers a little bit more information. The Transit Center building contract is expected to be completed before the end of December, and it seems that only a few items remain outstanding. But a few items are enough to delay the whole thing. As the materials say, “Substantial completion of this contract has been delayed due to extended testing and commissioning and subsequent punchlist items.”

Information regarding the 7 line is even harder to find this month. The MTA isn’t offering its Board any further information on the problematic elevators and escalators that have delayed the project, and although we’ve heard February 2015 as an opening date, the latest MTA docs give the agency some leeway. Currently, revenue service is projected to begin during the first quarter of 2015 — which runs through the end of March. The one-stop subway extension was once supposed to be open by the end of 2013, the first quarter of 2014, fall 2014 and then Q4 2014, but now it seems, one way or another, we’ll wait until late winter or even early spring.

All of which brings me to the Second Ave. Subway. Construction on the three-stop East Side extension of the Q train is continuing apace, and the MTA still believes they have approximately 26 months left on this project before revenue service begins. The Board materials confidently state a December 2016 ribbon-cutting, and although a few years ago, the feds disputed this projection, the MTA has vowed to open the subway on time. That said, the MTA has also vowed to open the Fulton St. Transit Center on time and the 7 line on time. Given the betting line, wouldn’t you take the “over” on December 2016? I know I would.

On a more immediate level, though, as the MTA wants political support for its $30 billion, five-year capital plan, the agency needs to show that they can deliver something somewhere on time or at least learning why they can’t. The aspect of the Fulton St. project that’s being delayed is a fancy headhouse while, seemingly, the complicated underground work has largely wrapped; the 7 line hasn’t opened because of vent fans, inclined elevators and long escalators — hardly technology unique to New York. We won’t know what happens with Second Ave. for another 18-24 months, but whatever remains of the MTA’s capital project credibility is riding on it.

The Fulton St. Transit Hub, seen here last February, will open eventually. (Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

With three months left in a seven-year project, you’d think that the company — or in this case, agency — managing the project would have a good handle on how much time would be needed for completion. You would think that by announcing very publicly an opening date, the agency would do all it could do to meet that opening date. You would think that yet another delay in a project that was once expected, far too optimistically, to be completed six or seven years ago for 50 percent less than its current budget would be cause for major concern. And perhaps, in some circles it is. But right now, it’s just business as usual.

During its board committee meetings earlier this week, the MTA let slip that the Fulton St. Transit Center will not have its official opening on Thursday as planned in March. Instead, as I speculated last week, the opening will be delayed another 60-90 days. As components to this project open, completion then will come by the end of September.

So what is holding up the project? It couldn’t be that, as with the 7 line, the MTA can’t get a bunch of elevators to work, right? These aren’t even incline elevators; these are your typical up-and-down escalators that are in every tall building and were invented in 1852. Well, lo and behold: If we consult the materials released after Monday’s meetings, one of the outstanding items concerns the elevators. Six elevators have yet to be tested. The MTA also needs to obtain its Code Compliance Certificate and wrap up testing of its fire alarms and communications systems.

In its short assessment of the state of this project, the MTA’s Independent Engineering Consultant doesn’t have much to add on a specific level. The project has simply not met the requirements needed to be permitted to open yet, and it is but one of many outstanding MTA projects facing this issue. As a result, the IEC has urged the MTA to conduct a coordinated review of its megaprojects to “ensure resources can support their current schedules.” Even a cursory review — showing a three-month delay at Fulton St. and at least a year-long delay for the 7 line — cast more than just a shadow of doubt over any other schedules. A review could help shed light on the MTA’s finish line problem.

So we’ll wait for the politicians to slap their backs over a project with a tortured history. It began as an idea with a quick timeline for build out and a $700 million shortly after 9/11, and it has turned into a $1.4 billion transit hub across the street from a $4 billion transit hub at a time when building up would have made more sense fiscally than building a three-story mall. The station is nicer; the ADA compliant elements were badly needed; and transferring throughout Lower Manhattan is easier. Stumbling to the finish though is in line with the rest of this project’s problems. After all, the MTA’s house ads promising the opening of the Dey St. Passageway back in 2012 still hang in subway cars throughout the city.

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Soon, riders will pass through the Fulton St. Transit Center. For now, we have only renderings.

In late March, as part of a presentation to the its Board committees, the MTA announced an opening date of June 26 for the Fulton St. Transit Center. Years in the making and nearly 100 percent over its initial budget, the post-9/11 project — one of two massive retail/transit centers opening near Ground Zero — become the poster child for MTA construction mismanagement and the project Michael Horodniceanu vowed to deliver on time. Well, June 26th is eight days away, and the Fulton St. Transit Center’s opening date remains shrouded in mystery.

A few days ago, a few readers emailed me concerning the state of the Fulton St. hub. Since I’ve switched to the Brighton Line for my daily commute, I no longer pass through Fulton St. and haven’t had a chance to check out the project in some time. It’s clear that it will open soon, but just how soon is an open question. SAS readers have speculated that the project still has more than a week or two left, but the MTA can and has opened projects that are substantially complete with finishing work still required.

So yesterday, I asked the MTA if the Transit Center is going to open on June 26th — next Thursday — and received a non-committal answer. “The date,” I was told, “will be firmed up next week during committee meetings.” Now, that doesn’t mean the center won’t open a few days after the committee readings, but if I were a betting man, I’d probably take the over.

In the grand scheme of transit history, when the Fulton St. Transit Center opened will quickly become irrelevant. Five months after it opens, we won’t care that the MTA missed its initial promised date, and in five years or five decades, no one will remember. But this deadline bleed isn’t unique to Fulton St. After nearing completion, the South Ferry station opened a few months late, and the 7 line will be nearly a year late. All of these projects struggled to pass that finish line on time, and that’s a little bit of a problem as the MTA needs to retain its credibility to gain more funding. It’s the same problem that plagues staircase repairs, escalator installation and station rehabs. Now who thinks the Second Ave. Subway will start revenue service on time before the end of December 2016? Anyone want to place a bet?

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As time marches on and the subways enjoy record-setting crowds (more on that later), various capital construction deadlines are fast approaching. As we know, two megaprojects — the 7 line extension and the Fulton St. Transit Center — are due to wrap this year, after nearly seven years of construction. Due to the delays plaguing the escalators and elevators at the deep 34th St. station along 11th Ave., the Fulton St. ribbon-cutting has leap-frogged the 7 line. According to MTA Board documents released yesterday, Fulton St. will open to public on Thursday, June 26, 2014. Save the date.

Meanwhile, mitigation work and acceptance testing continues on the Far West Side, and the MTA is still committed to delivering the 7 line in the fall, nearly 11 months later than scheduled. For now, the official word is still “November,” but according to an engineering report contained within the MTA’s materials this week, that date could hit December if problems aren’t resolved. The winter solstice is December 21. So the MTA has three weeks in December in which it is still technically fall to deliver the project. Hold your breath.

Finally, over on the East Side, the Second Ave. Subway continues to be on pace for a December 2016 revenue start date, but the documents detail some slippage. Construction crews have burned through approximately half of the project’s planned contingency days, and a few delivery dates have been pushed back. Still, until we hear otherwise, December 2016 it is. That’s only 33 months away, and the real estate market is responding in turn.

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With the Fulton St. Transit Hub set to open within the next six months, the MTA has chosen the Westfield Group, an Australian mall developer will annual revenue over $4 billion, to serve as Master Lessee for the space. Westfield will now be responsible for subletting the ample commercial space in the new facility and overseeing ad sales. It will also have to maintain and clean the leased portions of the Fulton St. Hub, and the MTA will share in a split of revenues. The company will sign a twenty-year lease with two ten-year renewal options.

“This master lease structure will unite risk and reward in a single, highly qualified and experienced private sector operator, while relieving the MTA of ongoing capital and operating costs and expenses and generating revenue for our operating budgets,” MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said earlier this week. “We are confident that Westfield will be motivated to maximize the revenues from the facility while maintaining in accordance with standards befitting the substantial investment the public has made in creating this wonderful new landmark.”

The lease will commence in June when the building opens to the public, and Westfield’s responsibilities include nearly all of the non-station areas in the transit center, Corbin Building and Dey Street Headhouse. The space encompasses approximately 180,000 square feet including 63,000 square feet for commercial uses. The MTA anticipates retail in approximately 42,000 square feet, and I’m sure everyone would love a Lower Manhattan Apple store. The so-called “public circulation areas” account for 60,000 square feet, and the remainder is back-of-house. Now, the pressure is on Westfield to turn this new station complex into a shopping destination as well.

Categories : Asides, Fulton Street
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