Archive for Fulton Street

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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Sheldon Silver thanks the MTA for opening up the Cortlandt Street station before the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Flanked by the usual array of politicians and authority officials, MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder cut the ribbon on the southbound platform of the R train stop at Cortlandt St. in Lower Manhattan this afternoon. By opening the station today, the MTA fulfilled a promise made to the Lower Manhattan community to restore service to the station prior to the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. As the southbound platform right now has no direct access to the street, straphangers must use the open par tof the Dey St. underpass to exit on the northern side, and the MTA will restore the southbound exit once construction aboveground is complete.

“We made a commitment to have this platform open before the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and today we are here to fulfill that commitment,” Walder said. “I’m so proud that the MTA is able to participate in another vital milestone in the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. Our employees were first responders on that tragic day; we worked tirelessly to bring the subway back just months after the attack and every day since we have been rebuilding and helping the city come back stronger than ever.”

For the past ten years, the Cortlandt Street BMT station has been amidst a construction zone. The station was badly damaged during the attacks, and station was shuttered until September 15, 2002. It remained opened until August 20, 2005 when work on the Dey Street Passageway forced its closure. Right now, the underpass linking the northbound and southbound platforms is open but bounded by a false wall. Once the Dey St. Passageway is fully complete, that wall will be removed.

The other Cortlandt St. station impacted by the September 11 attacks will remain closed for now. The 1 train hasn’t stopped at its Cortlandt St. in ten years, but due to ongoing Port Authority work at the World Trade Center site, that station will remain closed indefinitely.

Along the BMT, the northbound platform opened in November of 2009, and the MTA and Port Authority spent another $20 million to reopen the southbound platform. Included in the reopened station are a variety of murals by Margie Hughto entitled “Trade, Treasure and Travel.” The murals were added to the station in 1997 and were undamaged in the attacks. Many of them have been restored to Cortlandt St., and the remaining panels will appear in the Dey St. Passageway.

For more scenes from the opening, click through to view the slideshow. Read More→

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The MTA and local politicians celebrated the opening of a new entrance at William Street yesterday. (Photo courtesy of New York City Transit)

As the MTA’s general capital future remains unknown, its funded projects are moving forward at a brisk pace. Yesterday morning, MTA officials and New York politicians gathered in Lower Manhattan to celebrate the opening of a new entrance at Williams St. that leads into the Fulton St. complex. Overall, the Transit Center is now more than 50 percent complete and on target for its 2014 opening.

“We have reached yet another significant milestone as we move forward to complete what will become a landmark transportation facility,” MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder said. “Once complete, this complex will provide our customers with a more seamless experience at this major downtown hub. The Transit Center will improve travel for hundreds of thousands of daily commuters and Lower Manhattan residents and visitors while providing a modern and convenient retail location.”

The new entrance — located at 135 William St. — provides immediate access to the 7th Ave. IRT platform and the former Nassau St. stop on the IND. Next year, the MTA will open entrances at 150 William St. and 129 Fulton St. that will allow for similar improvements.

As part of this entrance, the MTA included a restored mural — seen below — and a gate from the McAlpin hotel. These items had previously been installed on the A/C/ station but were removed in 2009. The mural is one of six being refurbished for the Fulton St. Transit Center. It certainly looks nice. Whether it’s worth the federal expenditure remains in doubt.

Click through for a view of the Marine Grill mural. Read More→

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The saga of poor Cortlandt St. on the BMT Broadway line is a decade-long one. Seriously damaged by the collapse of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, the station remained closed for a year before opening again in 2002. For three years, the station remained open as work at the WTC site stalled out. When the MTA began to prep for the Fulton St. project, the station closed in August 2005, and it has remained a work in progress since then.

With the tenth anniversary of those terrorist attacks just two months away, the MTA has vowed to reopen the two Cortlandt St. stations, and work on the R line is coming down to the wire. Christine Haughney examines the station in a Times piece today, and while workers are patching up the walls, the station may not be entirely ready by early September. “There are two pieces to the puzzle. Some of it is cosmetic and some of it’s structural,” Michael Horodniceanu, head of MTA Capital Construction, said. “This part of the work is much more time consuming because finishes always take longer.”

The station, Horodniceanu said, will be open to the public on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, but it won’t be finished. The Dey Street connector will not be ready until 2014, and escalator repair and elevator installation won’t happen until after the grand re-opening. Still, it will good for Lower Manhattan that passenger service on the southbound platform will be restored to Cortlandt St. Ever so slowly, the pieces are being reassembled.

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A view of the Fulton Street Transit Hub from 19 stories up. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy)

Before the long weekend, SAS reader Jeremy sent me the above picture via his Twitter account. It is, as the caption says, a view into the Fulton Street Transit Center from 19 stories above, and it reminds me of the numerous photos of sports stadium construction that dot the Internet. Clearly, work has a long way to go, but the future $1.4 billion hub is quickly taking shape.

In its most recent update, the MTA still says the transit center will wrap in mid-2014, and the budget is still set for $1.4 billion. Even as the MTA struggles to keep the East Side Access project on schedule, it’s hard to believe it could miss the Fulton St. revenue date. After all, this is a project that was supposed to be completed years ago for $700 million, and it’s now talking twice as long and twice as much money to realize a glorified subway station amidst the streets of Lower Manhattan.

Every time, then, that I see images of this structure, I’m both impressed and disappointed. The Fulton St. hub will certainly be a pleasing addition to the downtown landscape, and the station rehabilitation at that location is a badly needed one. Yet, it’s a money sink. At a time when the MTA has to fight for dollars from Albany for capital projects that keep the trains moving, the feds are lavishing over a billion dollars on a glorified subway stop. This isn’t some regional hub that connects passengers entering and leaving New York; it’s a subway stop.

So what would I do with $1.4 billion? Adding a PA/CIS system along the B Division lines would greatly improve the rider experience. Pushing the CBTC program with more funding would allow for more trains at peak hours. Think about what $1.4 billion could do for the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway or how many basic station rehabs it could fund. The possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, the Fulton Street expenditure is a problem I’ve often highlighted. Politicians like to spend money on things that are living examples to their generosity. A Senator can’t point to a specific piece of equipment with pride when he or she starts to cull votes, but that same representative can discuss his or her efforts at securing federal dollars for a gleaming new downtown transit hub. The problem is that New Yorkers need more of those behind-the-scenes improvements that make the subways more pleasant or easier to ride. We don’t need a $1.4 billion subway stop at Fulton St.

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