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.
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.