I’ll get to the nitty-gritty of the MTA’s sweetheart deal for the Atlantic Yards rights later today. If you want to read about this embarrassment of riches for Bruce Ratner and the MTA’s dereliction of duty ahead of time, check out Mike Grynbaum’s coverage on City Room.
Right now, I want to instead turn my attention to an intriguing bit of news that came out of the MTA Board’s Finance Committee meeting on Monday. For the first time, the MTA will be taking in money in exchange for the naming rights to a subway station. The Observer’s Elliot Brown summarizes this development:
Monday’s announcement, made at a meeting of the M.T.A.’s finance committee, did include one new, if small, income stream: The agency agreed to lease the naming rights for the Atlantic Avenue station, where the project is based. With payments of $200,000 a year for 20 years, the new name: “Barclays Center,” which an agency official said will appear alongside the existing name for the station.
So in a few years — whenever this hideous arena opens up — the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St. subway station will become the Atlantic Ave./Pacific St./Barclays Center station. Talk about a mouthful.
For the MTA, securing a naming rights deal has been a long-term project. A few years, some subway conductors starting referring to 47th-50th Sts./Rockefeller Center as “Top of the Rock” for the then-newly opened attraction at the top of 40 Rockefeller Center. The transit agency, however, drew in no money for the deal.
A few months ago, the authority tried again. When the city and the Mets dismantled Shea Stadium and opened the corporately-named Citi Field, the MTA tried to get some money to rename the Willets Point-Shea Stadium stop after Citi Field. The two sides could not reach an agreement, and the station is now awkwardly called Mets-Willets Point. It is one of the few stations in the subway system at which the attraction’s name — in this case, the Mets — precedes the geographical identifier — here, Willets Point.
This deal with Forest City Ratner for the naming rights should lead us to reconsider how subway stations are named, and it’s bound to engender a debate between the traditionalists and those who feel the MTA should milk funds out of the system. For the most part, stations are called by their closest streets. There are a few stops at 96th St., some at the city’s various 7th Avenues and others along Canal St. Other stops take on the nearest big landmark: 34th St.-Penn Station, Howard Beach/JFK Airport and Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue come to mind. Others — 42nd St./Times Square, Flushing-Main St., Forest Hills/71st Ave. — are geographical signals.
Until this Barclays agreement was finalized, MTA stations were named for convenience’s sake. Stations with similar names were modified to signify where along a street the station lay, and major neighborhoods were identified as well. Now, though, stations are open to the highest bidder. What is stopping Disney from buying the naming rights to Times Square? Who wants to get off at 42nd St./Times Square/Disney? What about 59th St./Bloomingdales?
Maybe the MTA shouldn’t be charging for these corporate names. Maybe it’s part of its public duty to identify the major attractions that around the station in question. Or maybe the MTA shouldn’t offer up anything more than those in-station gray signs if corporate naming-rights sponsors won’t pay. After all, the MTA doesn’t need to accept free advertising for a brand.