Archive for Fulton Street

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.

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For everything that goes wrong during the MTA’s latest capital projects — missed deadlines, blown budgets, leaky stations — the Arts for Transit installations seemingly always go right. What originally grew out of New York City’s Percent for Art program has grown into a nationally recognized showcase for artists, both established and otherwise, that lends an air of civic appreciation, levity and culture to the New York City subways. From Tom Otterness’ figures that live in the 14th St. station at 8th Ave. to a permanent Sol LeWitt installation at Columbus Circle, the subway is the cheapest art museum in New York City.

With a bunch of new subway stops set to open over the next three years, Arts for Transit has the opportunity to draw headlines, and they’ve been doing just that. With just one percent of the budget for the MTA’s capital projects, Arts for Transit can spend on local artists. Back in 2011, the Wall Street Journal profiled some art for the Second Ave. subway, but more immediate is the opening of the Fulton St. Transit Hub. Set for this upcoming June, the hub features an oculus with an installation called “Sky Reflector-Net.” Designed by James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA), Grimshaw Architects, and Arup, this work features 112 tensioned cables, 224 high-strength rods, and nearly 10,000 individual stainless steel components. It will move over time as well.

This week, the MTA released a video about the installation, and I am fascinated by this. It’s not transit ops or anything sexy, but it makes the subway more livable and enjoyable. It makes people pause for a second and appreciate what’s around and above them. So check out the short video above on the piece. I’ll have more later today, including a new episode of “The Next Stop Is…” and some thoughts on Select Bus Service, BRT and transit innovation in New York City. Where are the people advocating for light rail and more comprehensive transportation solutions anyway?

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The Fulton St. Transit Hub, seen here in February, will open in June, and real estate developers are eying properties in the area. (Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin)

Here’s an interesting bit from Crain’s New York on the impact the Fulton St. Transit Center is having on Lower Manhattan real estate. It’s transit-oriented development at its finest within the five boroughs of New York, and it makes me wonder if the MTA is leaving some opportunities on the table. Daniel Geiger has this to say:

As the Fulton Center, the oculus-topped financial district transit hub and shopping destination nears completion, and as lower Manhattan gains in popularity among budget-conscious tenants, investors are seeing opportunity on William Street…

Real estate experts say that the area’s mix of both potential and value are driving the sales activity. The Fulton Center promises to bring in new retailers when it opens next year and convenient access to the neighborhood’s myriad subway lines—amenities that could pull in office tenants. Despite those prospect, commercial real estate values along the corridor have hovered in the $300s per square, at least a third of what office buildings go for in other neighborhoods, including midtown, where prices per square foot top $1,000.

“William Street is increasingly becoming recognized,” said Brad Gerla, a broker with CBRE Group who specializes in downtown leasing and is the leasing agent for 156 William St. “You’re very close to the new transit hub, it has an incredible residential community in the area and it’s an easy hop to the FDR. Tenants are attracted to all of those attributes.”

The Transit Center will open in June after years of setbacks, budget increases and construction, and already, it’s serving as an anchor in an neighborhood low on anchors. Although the Lower Manhattan area isn’t lacking for transit access, it hasn’t had a cohesive focal point, and the Transit Center seems poised to deliver. We’ll know at some point what the retail spaces will deliver, and the MTA has simplified getting to and around the perplexing Fulton St. complex.

So what’s the missed opportunity? For one, the Fulton St. Transit Center will be a sight to see, but it’s going to be all of four stories tall in a neighborhood surrounded by giant skyscrapers. The MTA could have pursued a development deal that led to the creation of a much bigger building at the spot, but held back in favor of what amounts to a fancy headhouse for a subway station. Imagine the revenue that could have been realized with a comprehensive plan to develop a Time Warner Center-like building with high-end retail on the lower levels and residential higher up atop a very popular subway station.

If this sounds familiar, well, perhaps it is reminiscent of what Jay Walder said of Hong Kong a few weeks ago. In a speech at the Kennedy School, Walder spoke of the MTR’s approach to development. “The development of Hong Kong’s rail system,” he said, “has largely been supported by the granting of development rights for the properties that are adjacent to the railway.” For an agency short on cash, the opportunities are staring it in the face.

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Following yesterday’s revelation that the Dey St. Passageway won’t open for a few years, the Daily News took the space to remind its riders of the folly of the Fulton St. Transit Center. In an editorial calling the project a — wait for it — boondoggle, the paper questions the project on an overall basis.

Two transportation projects are eating up more money than you could ever imagine without adding one bit of new service or expanding the subways by a single foot of track. First, the Port Authority will spend at least $3.74 billion on a grandiose World Trade Center PATH station, double the size of Grand Central, complete with a strikingly elaborate above ground entranceway. Originally budgeted at $1.5 billion, the terminus, now running 9 years late, will replace a half-billion-dollar “temporary” station that has been quite well accommodating PATH’s comparatively small number of riders.

Not to be outdone, the MTA set out to untangle the joinder of the Broadway-Nassau station, serving the IND’s A and C with the Fulton St. stations of the BMT’s J and Z and the IRT’s West Side 2 and 3 and East Side 4 and 5. Never mind that riders have negotiated the convolutions for 64 years; the MTA budgeted $400 million to simplify transfers — a cost now risen to $1.4 billion and includes an oculus roof that will allow light to penetrate as at the Roman Pantheon. The plan is seven years behind schedule.

The projected tab for the PATH station and the Fulton Center totals $5.1 billion — money that could have been spent, for example, on extending the Second Ave. subway farther downtown…Now, the agency has built a walkway that does not allow free transfers and will largely be vacant until the office buildings rising at Ground Zero are filled with tenants. And then it would simply be a place to walk between Broadway and Church St. in bad weather. For $200 million.

This is a drum I’ve been beating for years. Even though the money is all federal, this project’s aims were tied more to the revitalization of Lower Manhattan than it was about improving train service. The PATH Hub as well suffers from similar problems with only a small percentage of the expenses going toward increasing train service.

We can ultimately discuss the merits of building Great Public Works to improve train service. There’s a cogent case to be made for spending on architecture and design in order to make travel more appealing, more comfortable and more convenient. But in an era where $5.1 billion isn’t easy to come by and pressing transit capacity concerns are far more important than making a subway station look good from the outside, these projects are federal boondoggles. Better planning would have incorporated design improvements with transit capacity upgrades.

The News says Joe Lhota has asked his staffers to reconsider restoring the free transfer via the Dey St. Passageway. That would be a real start even if few customers need it. Just the illusion of paying attention to transit demands would be a good first step here.

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Renderings for the Dey St. Passageway do not include the throngs of homeless people the MTA fears may camp out there.

In two years or so, the MTA should be ready to open the Fulton Street Transit Center, and already, at parts, the construction is looking a little tidier. The oculus is taking shape above the main building, and the underground work is progressing apace. There is, however, a rub. According to the Daily News, the Dey St. Passageway may remain shuttered long past the Transit Center’s opening.

Pete Donohue has the story. As the Dey St. headhouse gears up for a looming opening, the concourse between the R and the rest of the Fulton St. station could remain closed for years. Writes Donohue:

For years, Metropolitan Transportation Authority construction and planning schedules have pegged November 2012 as the time for the opening of a new underground connection between the Fulton Center subway complex at Broadway in lower Manhattan and the Cortlandt St. station on the eastern edge of the World Trade Center site…

Yet transit officials now say they plan to keep the Dey St. Concourse padlocked — for several years. The official reason: Few riders will make use of the free transfer. The demand, officials say, will come when the new office towers being built at Ground Zero are completed and occupied, and the Port Authority finishes its permanent — and extravagant — PATH hub. That’s will be in 2015. Maybe. “The small number of people we believe would use the transfer . . . does not justify the expense of opening, maintaining and policing the passage,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg explained.

Incredibly, the MTA says an analysis concluded that if the tunnel were to open as initially planned, just five people an hour would want to use the walkway and make a free transfer between the R train at Cortlandt. St. and the many lines running through Fulton Center. So, then, who will come? The homeless — at least that’s the MTA’s fear. The concern is that the brand-spanking-new concourse might become an encampment for the poor, unmoored souls you see huddled in doorways in the city or standing outside soup kitchens.

We’ve seen this move before played out throughout the system. Sometimes, the problems involve disputes between the MTA and the private entities contracted to open or maintain entrances. Sometimes, the problems focus around maintenance work that, for some reason or another, just isn’t completed in a timely fashion. Sometimes, the problems center around security concerns that are seemingly forgotten to time.

For now, though, as Donohue writes, the MTA will have a passageway to nowhere on its hands. It’s a $200 million provision for the future. Try telling that to all the businesses forced out of their shops above ground as this pristine concourse sits unused for the next three or four years.

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Making the rounds today are some new old renderings from the Fulton St. Transit Center that came packaged as part of a presentation from the MTA to Community Board 1 last week. You can check out the renderings in my October post, here via DNA Info or in raw form in the presentation PDF right here. The renderings and construction photos are fun to view, but the real news is in the timeline.

According to the MTA documents, the end of the construction effort is finally in sight. After years of missed deadlines and rising budgets, the MTA says construction is still slated to wrap in June of 2014, just over 28 months from now. A detailed glimpse at the timeline, though, reveals that most work will be completed before the end of 2012.

As the chart on page 45 of the presentation shows, the MTA will complete the rehab of the 4/5 station and ready the new Dey St. entrance by the end of July. In November, the Dey Street concourse is set to open as well the escalator to John St. By the end of the year, the Corbin building restoration and first floor retail storefronts will be ready. In 2013, the MTA’s major work will involve opening the A/C mezzanine by the end of March, and after that, it’s just a spring until the headhouse is ready in mid-2014. Even as there’s light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, I still question whether or not this project was truly worth the billions.

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The Fulton Street Transit Center will feature retail and cafes at street level.

As progress continues on the Fulton Street Transit Center, the MTA is finally readying post-construction plans. The $1.4 billion project isn’t going to wrap until 2014, but the authority wants the pieces in place as this project has taken long enough. Earlier this week, the MTA unveiled a series of renderings of the inside of the transit center’s oculus, and their plans are coming into view.

Essentially, the MTA is going to make the Fulton Street Transit Center a downstair destination for shopping and dining. They want to recreate the aura of Grand Central in Lower Manhattan, but instead of managing the real estate themselves, they’re going to try a new approach. They will, as Andrew Grossman of The Wall Street Journal detailed, lease all of the space to one company who will then be in charge of doling out parcels for what an MTA document has termed “Lower Manhattan’s next great public space.” Grossman explains:

The move would put one firm in charge of filling 70,000 square feet of retail space in the three-story building. The MTA envisions big retailers taking space, along with a “grand bar” overlooking the Manhattan skyline and what it calls “destination” restaurants, similar to the Campbell Apartment in Grand Central.

Whichever firm leases the retail space would also be responsible for cleaning and maintaining it, said Michael Horodniceanu, the president of the MTA’s capital-construction division. That would allow the MTA to focus on maintaining underground space…

The MTA sees the site as a busy public space where people eat, drink and shop in addition to catching trains. It’s a goal similar to the one the Port Authority has for its transit hub under construction at the World Trade Center a few blocks away. That agency has inked a deal with mall operator Westfield Group to develop and manage retail throughout the site, including at the $3.4 billion transit hub designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

The MTA is hoping to draw an anchor tenant for the third floor of the transit center. The renderings show a spot that looks suspiciously similar to an Apple Store.

In short, the agency has unveiled their planned uses to the floors of the transit center. Street level will include retail shops and markets or cafes. The second level will feature destination bars and restaurants, and the third level will play host to an anchor tenant. It could be an alluring spot for an Apple Store if the computer giant wants to open up in Lower Manhattan around the corner from J&R. Whatever company rents that spot though will find a space with views down through the oculus.

In addition to this commercial spaces, the MTA also plans to make the Fulton hub its first all-digital station. Instead of static signs pointing the way, the authority will install dynamic real-time signage that will be updated to reflect the status of current services. It is the culmination of the MTA’s efforts at bringing real-time information to the commuting masses.

And yet, despite the flashy renderings and ambitious plans, despite the rent dollars that will flow in, I still believe Fulton St. is something of a boondoggle with plenty of missed opportunities. It’s a project that was funded by the federal government who wanted to boost Lower Manhattan, but it’s one of three that will deliver more retail space to the area. It’s a $1.4 billion transit expense that doesn’t do a thing to improve train service and mobility in and out of the area. Finally, it’s centerpiece is a three-story building with a fancy roof in an area of high rises and valuable air rights.

Similar to the dollars being spent for the 7 line extension, the MTA didn’t have much flexibility with the $1.4 billion it received. Had they opted against a Fulton Street Transit Center, the feds would have sent the money elsewhere. Still, this project could have been better. If the MTA and its real estate management partner can deliver on tenants, it could still become a destination shopping area. It sure is shaping up to be an expensive one to build though.

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