Home U.S. Transit SystemsCTA Apple’s money renovates a Chicago subway station

Apple’s money renovates a Chicago subway station

by Benjamin Kabak

The CTA's North/Clybourn station shown before and after the Apple renovation. (Photos by flickr users Audrey Leon and Kevin Zolkiewicz. Click the image to enlarge.)

The Chicago Transit Authority’s finances aren’t in much better shape than those of our beloved and hated MTA. The Windy City’s own transit system doesn’t have a fully funded capital plan, and the agency recently had to go hat in hand to Springfield for permission to issue bonds that will help balance the budget in the short term. Yet, it recently enjoyed a first of sorts. For a cost of $0 to the CTA, the North/Clybourn station in the city’s Near North Side area received a full overhaul. A private partner picked up the $4 million tab.

That private partner, you see, had an economic interest in sprucing up the neighborhood. To much fanfare, Apple recently opened a new store in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and hammered out a deal last year with the CTA that mirrored a sponsorship agreement. In exchange for the advertising space inside the station, a right of first refusal should the CTA sell the naming rights and use of a nearby bus depot, Apple paid for the station renovation.

Mary Schmich, news columnist for the Chicago Tribune, went underground on the day of the opening last week and explores what $4 million buys these days. She writes:

Outside, the station has clean new brick, big new windows and a sleek new look, partly 1940s and entirely 2010. The inside isn’t stylish, but it’s improved. Someone has scrubbed the red concrete floors, brushed red paint on the old railings, tried to wipe the grime from the escalator stairs. And the Apple name is everywhere, except out front.

From the moment you push through the turnstile, Apple ads beam at you, as bright as searchlights. Down in the tunnel, all the other ads are gone. Apple expressed interest in calling it the Apple Red Line stop. The CTA, which is exploring the possibility of selling naming rights to its stations, said Apple would get the right of first refusal for this one.

Even if you like Apple products, Apple’s master-of-the-universe attitude can be annoying. And the branding of everything can feel like mind control. But Apple has created a unique space in Chicago: handsome, communal, connected to the city, a space that makes public transportation attractive. The CTA may as well profit from the inevitable. Sell Apple the naming rights, for a big chunk of change. People are going to call it the Apple stop anyway.

As is obvious from the two photos atop this post, the station both needed and benefited from this rehab project. The outside — seen at the bottom of this IFOAppleStore.com post — appeared dilapidated with peeling paint and boarded-up windows. It now has a fresh interior, and the exterior has been completely overhauled. This is a subway station that screams for attention.

Now, not everyone is as in love with the station as Schmich is. Kevin O’Neill, a writer with Chicago Now’s CTA Tattler site, bemoans the bright lights that emanate from Apple’s advertising. But by and large, reviews have been favorable, and Chicago-based transit riders are urging the CTA to explore more public-private station-based partnerships.

All of this leads me to the same question I had when the project was first announced almost a year ago: When will the MTA hop on board with these types of partnerships? It’s true that the authority will append the Barclays Center name to the Atlantic/Pacific subway stop when the Nets’ new arena opens, and it’s true that Forest City Ratner is funding some transportation upgrades to that busy Brooklyn hub. But Ratner purchased the Vanderbilt Yards air rights well under market value. The least he could do is fund some transit upgrades.

For New York, a partnership of this magnitude would make sense along Manhattan’s Far West Side. As the 7 line extension inches forward — and crawls past 41st St. and 10th Ave. without a stop — real estate developers are going to benefit. Walking around the area reveals numerous new developments waiting for tenants, and easy transit access will only increase the value of these apartments. If the MTA can work out a deal with developers who stand to benefit from increased transit accessibility, our city’s cash-strapped authority could supply that better service.

As the authority struggles to stay afloat and struggles to realize new revenue streams, these partnerships may just be an integral part of transit development over the next few decades.

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pea-jay October 29, 2010 - 1:45 am

My how that neighborhood has changed…
It will be interesting to see how long Apple/CTA can keep those walls white…

Peter October 29, 2010 - 8:12 am

Four million bucks!? A rehabbed NYCT station would cost $40 Million, and thats if it wasnt in too bad a condition to start with.

And you ask why doesnt Ratner throw some money at transit. Because it works the other way around: Mass Transit subsidizes the owners of wealthy Sports Franchises. But you already knew that.

Christopher October 29, 2010 - 8:45 am

The West side is an example of something that should have been paid for not in quite the direct way that the N. Clyborn station was paid for, but by using Tax-Increment-Financing type structure from the landowners adjacent. In DC, the new Florida Avenue Station was paid for by special private financing by the local property owners and the special tax assessment was added to properties within a half mile of the new station. The area has seen explosive growth with the opening of the station, long vacant parcels have ben built and a revitalized North Capitol Hill arts and entertainment district has sprouted up. Also WMATA is building an extension to Dulles which is being built through the massively developed Tysons Corner area that features to major malls and tons of corporate offices. That extension is also paid for by a special tax assessment. This is the future of extensions to the system, I would hope / suspect — and the past too, in some ways the way the various business interests came together to build the tunnel and IRT-Flushing line is similar.

Kid Twist October 29, 2010 - 9:51 am

The 7 extension is being paid for through tax increment financing.

Christopher October 29, 2010 - 10:20 am

Entirely? Or a small piece of it. I haven’t heard about TIF in relationship anything on this site as we’ve discussed it. While the new Silver line through Tysons corner is a federal and airport authority project, the Florida Avenue Station in DC was entirely privately financed.

Alon Levy October 29, 2010 - 5:11 pm

In principle, yes. In practice, Hudson Yards won’t generate the extra taxes required to pay for the 7 extension.

Al D October 29, 2010 - 9:04 am

Apple has been rumored to be looking for a Brooklyn location for a store. Let’s hope they will offer up improvements to the subway stop that will service it.

mike October 29, 2010 - 6:21 pm

bedford ave on the L doesn’t really need the improvement. $100 says this is where the store winds up.

John October 29, 2010 - 10:24 am

The closest thing the MTA has had to this was the creation of the two transfers at 53rd and Lex and 23rd Ely-Courthouse Square between the E/F (now E/M) and the 6 and the E/M and the G thanks to Citicorp’s two office building construction projects. Not a complete station re-do, but the creation of new connections within the system via a public/private partnership (albeit G riders probably wish the latter connection had never been built, since that would have made it far tougher for the MTA to cut back the line from Continental Avenue).

SEAN October 29, 2010 - 10:45 am

I know I’m setting myself up for harpooning by some here, but I think this proves that station naming rights maybe the way to atract $$$ for renovations & upkeep. Here are a few examples…

1. 42nd Briant Park – Verizon
2. JFK Airport A/ E, J, Z stations JetBlue/ Delta/ American Airlines
3. 34th Harold Square – Macy’s
4. 59th Columbus Circle – dare I say it? Trump

I think you got the idea.

Kid Twist October 29, 2010 - 11:28 am

Verizon? That building facing Bryant Park now belongs to MetLife.
If anything, the stop should be Bank of America, since B of A ostentatiously dubbed its tower on the northwest corner of 42nd and Sixth “One Bryant Park.”

SEAN October 29, 2010 - 12:44 pm

I sit corrected. What is the difference if it is Bank of America or Verizon anyway.

Adam G October 29, 2010 - 12:01 pm

Howard Beach/JFK Airport and Jamaica already got huge rehabs as part of running AirTrain to them in the first place. They’re not exactly as in need of some TLC as some other stations I could think of.

SEAN October 29, 2010 - 12:48 pm

Granted, but who is going to pay to maintain it? Hence I repeat Jetblue/ Delta/ American Airlines.

Think twice October 29, 2010 - 2:31 pm

59th and Lex could be adopted by Bloomingdales and/or Bloomberg LLP.

Alon Levy October 29, 2010 - 5:15 pm

Sean, the point of station naming is not to provide advertisement for big corporations. It’s to provide passengers with easy navigation aids. Columbus Circle is a well-known destination, and so are Bryant Park, JFK, and Herald Square. The only one of the four corporate renamings you propose that people would be able to easily associate to a place is Macy’s.

Jeff October 29, 2010 - 11:42 am

I don’t understand the logic here. Much of the station rehab components touted are aesthetic, but you’re paying for it with aesthetic blight–i.e. very bright advertising. I, personally, would rather look at a blank, grimy wall, than a sparkling clean wall covered in ads (especially ads with some kind of light source, or worse, video-based ads). Sounds like a zero-gain to me.

Edward October 29, 2010 - 11:59 am

“I…would rather look at a blank, grimy wall, than a sparkling clean wall covered in ads.”

Then you must be in heaven riding the NYC subway. There are TONS of stations with blank, grimy (more like filthy) walls, with or without advertising. Sad that it’s come to this: we need corporate America’s help to clean the walls of subway stations. Wow. Welcome to America 2010.

Christopher October 29, 2010 - 2:25 pm

Sounds like America of 1915 and 1787 too. The idea that infrastructure should be entirely a public investment is a relatively new thing. And I think we’re faced with the idea that it’s not entirely an efficient thing. We aren’t alone. Public/private partnerships have built great and innovative systems across the globe.

Edward October 29, 2010 - 2:48 pm

And exactly what public/private infrastructure was built in 1787 or 1915? Can you be specific? And did we need corporate help to maintain said infrastructure?

My point was, and is, that even companies such as the IRT/BMT, which built our subways as a public/private partnership, did not need help from corporate America to clean the damn walls. Really, is it that hard and/or costly to hose down a wall once a month? Maybe, if you pay the cleaners $25 an hour and give them full benefits. Otherwise, turn the damn hose on, the water is free!

Christopher October 29, 2010 - 6:43 pm

Well the subway was privately built. The railroads were privately built. Most early — 18th century — tollroads were privately built and funded.

KK October 29, 2010 - 12:08 pm

Besides the $4M upgrade, the annual upkeep should be equally considered here by the CTA and Apple.

Is Apple going to pay for annual upkeep? Or, can CTA cover upkeep costs using Apple’s ad revenue – I assume not. It would stand to benefit Apple if they are plastering themselves on the station.

Joe October 29, 2010 - 12:21 pm

Those light boxes are amazingly bright, though. When the train rolls through, they shine right in the windows and the entire train becomes blindingly bright.

Scott E October 29, 2010 - 12:30 pm

Did Apple (or its agents) oversee the rehab project, or did they just finance it? In New York, the #7 extension is a perfect example of financing without direct involvement. Those managing the work see it as a chance to milk the “free money” for all they can, and those writing the checks don’t really control how their money is spent. Just like excavation of 2nd Avenue, utility relocation and unforeseen replacement of deteriorating wires and pipes is a real possibility. Who will pay for that?

Christopher October 29, 2010 - 2:28 pm

I don’t think they are granted naming rights. At least according to wikipedia (which links to original ordinance passed by the CTA board.)

“On August 12, 2009, the Chicago Transit Board approved an ordinance granting Apple Inc. advertising rights to the station and the exclusive lease of the bus turnaround for nearly ten years in exchange for refurbishing and landscaping both. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010, and the amount paid by Apple to refurbish the station and bus turnaround is not to exceed $3,897,000.[2]”

Benjamin Kabak October 29, 2010 - 2:32 pm

As I said in the post, Apple is granted the right of first refusal if the CTA offers to sell the naming rights. You can read the entire agreement between the CTA and Apple, complete with that term, right here (PDF).

The relevant term is on the bottom of page 3 of that PDF and reads:

WHEREAS, The Authority has agreed to grant Apple a right of first refusal for naming/sponsorship rights at the station in the event the Authority chooses to offer such rights for sale…

Christopher October 29, 2010 - 6:44 pm

Right. That wasn’t too you specially. It was to the several commenters that seemed to think that the station had been renamed. That decision has yet to come.

Think twice October 29, 2010 - 8:15 pm

I can’t get enough of that pristine trackbed roof. Imagine 5 Av/53 St looking just as nice. And that particular station does not lack for high-powered upstairs neighbors.

Profit-motive is a powerful force that, when harnessed correctly, can break down political and cultural barriers and build great infrastructure.

24gotham October 30, 2010 - 10:24 am

I am all for finding new and creative revenue streams to help finance a better system, but I draw the line at naming rights from private corporations to subway stations. Do we really want to live near stations named for Dr Zizmor, or Ricky’s, or American Apparel? Aside from having zero geographical reference (they could be in any one of dozens of neighborhoods), it is just plain tacky. And where would this end? Would stations in lower income areas be named for check cashing places or nail salons?

Oh, and I would hardly call the North Clyborn corridor where the new Apple sponsored station is located “rapidly gentrifying”. I was well gentrified back in 2000 when I lived there. A better and more acurate term would be “completely gentrified and now over”.

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