Home MTA DiNapoli: MTA could beef up real estate dollars

DiNapoli: MTA could beef up real estate dollars

by Benjamin Kabak

For years, critics of the MTA have accused the authority of underselling its real estate offerings and not maximizing potential profits from its property holdings. In a report issued today, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli accused the MTA of doing just that. The authority, he says, doesn’t need to rent some spaces it does and hasn’t made all of its potential spaces available to rent.

Although DiNapoli used this platform to bash the MTA on service cuts, his report lacks a knockout punch.“Millions of New Yorkers rely on the MTA,” DiNapoli said. “Those New Yorkers can’t afford to pay more while the MTA ignores potential cost savings. But that’s exactly what has happened here. Before making drastic service cuts and talking about fare hikes, the MTA has to maximize the value of its real estate holdings by advertising their availability and ensuring that it’s receiving market-rate rents for prime properties. The MTA should also publish a full list of its real estate holdings as required by law and let New Yorkers know how it’s going to capitalize on these assets.”

The Comptroller’s audit (PDF), which covers a four-year period beginning in 2005, found that the MTA generates nearly $200 million in real estate revenues per year but could do more. It accused the agency of leaving its properties, such as 370 Jay St. in Brooklyn, vacant while allowing not charging interest or late fees on missed rent payments. He bulleted his findings:

  • Non-government tenants owed the MTA a total of $9 million in rent during the audit period;
  • The MTA did not effectively market the space above certain properties (known as ‘air rights’), despite estimates that the rights could generate more than $12 million in revenue;
  • Six large rental units in the 42nd Street/Sixth Avenue subway station at Bryant Park had been vacant since 2004;
  • The MTA does not ensure its rents are competitive with market values and does not charge interest and late fees when appropriate;
  • Two of the agency’s buildings—one vacant and one nearly-vacant—cost more than $6 million to maintain; and
  • More than one-quarter of the MTA’s occupied rental units sampled were not rented through the required competitive rental processes.

As far as recommendations go, DiNapoli’s were fairly tame. He wants the MTA to streamline its real estate databases and portfolio management system; he wants to see a “strategic marketing plan” to make sure empty spaces are being promoted; and he would like the MTA to collect interest and late fees on missed rent payments. Considering the field day The Post had with this report, nothing DiNapoli said or recommended came as a big surprise. Left unsaid by DiNapoli as well were any details as to the city as the ultimate landlord in many cases hamstrings the MTA’s ability to administer its property with any flexibility.

For its part, the MTA acknowledged DiNapoli’s conclusions. “While MTA real estate generates nearly $200 million each year to support the transit system, our ongoing financial issues demand that we think creatively and do more,” the authority said in a statement. “We are trying new technology to increase advertising revenues, working to change regulations that limit our ability to develop our assets, and better utilizing space as we downsize. No stone can be left unturned to maximize revenues and reduce costs, and we are actively pursuing each of these initiatives.”

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Scott E July 1, 2010 - 9:31 pm

As far as real-estate goes, I’ve seen some shuttered concession stands on subway platforms… and why not? If I think that food and beverages are about to be banned from the subway, I’d be stupid to sign a long-term lease for a space to sell Snickers bars and Snapple to people waiting for a train.

Al D July 2, 2010 - 9:34 am

Waiting all these years to do something about 370 Jay is pretty darned stupid. They could have rented the space for top dollar instead in 2007 before the marker crashed. To say the Downtown Brooklyn community is angry about this seemingly permanently abandoned and scoffolded structure is an understatement.

Ed Ravin July 2, 2010 - 11:00 am

No mention of how the MTA sells valuable real estate for well under market value, like the Atlantic Yards sale to Ratner or the Columbus Circle sale years ago to Zuckerman?


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