Home Fulton Street A glimpse at the commercial plans for Fulton St.

A glimpse at the commercial plans for Fulton St.

by Benjamin Kabak

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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SomeGuy32 October 28, 2011 - 1:34 am

Have to think they came to the conclusion that improving/altering rail service to downtown was going to be next to impossible with the $ allotted.. (any dream of LIRR service would cost waaaaaay more than what they had).
Might as well create an automatic revenue generator.
It’s also possible that they didn’t have the air rights and/or zoning to go higher.
The area does have more than enough office space (especially with the new WTC going up just a block away) – there really isn’t as much decent retail space down there as you would think.

Ramiro October 28, 2011 - 1:37 am

I am disappointed in your recent transit pieces Ben, as I have always been fond of your writings.

This has to be at least the 2nd maybe 3rd article where you call it a 1.4 billion dollar boondoggle. While I agree that maybe the station is unnecessary with the MTA’s budget being as it is, the Building itself is only worth 300-400 million of that price tag while the rest is costs relating to the reworking of the Fulton Street ramps and the new connections between the lines.

While I understand your dismay at the misuse of funds on the stationhouse, to call it a 1.4 billion dollar boondoggle would be phrasing it very incorrectly.

Benjamin Kabak October 28, 2011 - 1:44 am

Reasonably minds can disagree on the answer to this question, but I’m going to pose it anyway: Let’s excuse the $400 million three-story headhouse. Do you honestly think spending $1 billion on reworking the ramps and providing new underground connections that aren’t entirely useful isn’t also a boondoggle? Not one cent is going toward improving transit service.

The most useful transfer — from the East Side IRT to the IND Fulton line — was already in place, and the rest of the lines all intersect at stations a few stops away in either direction. Even if we allow for the need for retail space in Lower Manhattan, the expenses here seem to far outweigh the benefits.

Alex C October 28, 2011 - 2:14 am

I agree on the details of the project not really being worth the cost, but the retail space could really help the MTA out long term. I’m hoping that third floor space can get a really high rent tenant like Apple.

John-2 October 28, 2011 - 10:29 am

The problem with the retail space – at least in comparison with what the MTA has set up at Grand Central — is that the 42nd Street terminal is a manditory pass-through for anyone wanting to access MetroNorth trains. The Fulton Transit hub in contrast will be just one on many access points to the A/C/J/Z/2/3/4/5 complex. People will use it, but people won’t have to use it if another entrance is more convenient.

So that means the MTA and the building manager are going to have to go out of their way to make sure the facility is attractive in order to keep people coming in their after the newness novelty wears off, especially for the non-food retail space. Fail do do that and in about a decade or so you’re going to be left with a $400 million downscale food court, which would be not much different than what was on the block in the first place.

Christopher October 28, 2011 - 5:30 pm

It’s pretty easy to skip most of the GCT complex when you come through the terminal. You pass a few shops maybe. But generally it’s easiest to figure how to get out while avoiding the shopping.

It’s a destination because of it’s architecture and because of tourists. Both will be drawn to Fulton Street as well. Also the area needs more retail for the 1,000s of new residents down there. A decent sized grocery store would be a huge help for instance.

This will literally become a hub for the neighborhood and will greatly improve the community feel of the entire Financial District which can often seem lonely at night. The retail down here is only just beginning to understand the changing demographics of the neighborhood. I think this project will cement this.

On the 50th anniversary of Death and Life of Great American Cities was re-reading parts of Jane Jacobs writings for Fortune magazine on revitalizing neighborhoods and the need to have destinations during different parts of the day.

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 4:08 pm

The building layout actually seems well-thought-out for retail, as a large number of the people travelling through the complex will be able to see the store marquees on *all three levels* by looking up while they walk through the bottom level.

(Of course the “oculus” was not necessary for this.)

Andrew Smith October 28, 2011 - 12:41 pm

The problem here, to my mind, is the position.

No one is going to make the effort of going up a couple floors from street level for anything but a destination shop. A food store up there or yet another Duane Reade or any sort of commodity shop will fail. So they need a real draw up there.

But why would a draw take third floor space when there is better space, with sidewalk access nearby? Why would Apple or any marquis retailer not opt for something like the former Borders store instead? Yes, Apple is off the street and up a floor at Grand Central, but this is not Grand Central.

Who can explain a vision for this hooking a big name tenant and succeeding rather than becoming like the shopping upstairs in the Port Authority bus terminal?

Christopher October 28, 2011 - 5:33 pm

I can see something like a Bed Bath and Beyond or a DSW or Filiene’s or similar that have off the street locations in other parts of the city.

Marc Shepherd October 28, 2011 - 8:57 am

Ben: The fact remains that your statement was wildly inaccurate. The project does make the station ADA accessible and easier to navigate, and adds new entrances and connections. Hence, to say that it “doesn’t do a thing to improve train service and mobility” is a flat-out falsehood. You can’t possibly be unaware of these things, so why do you continue to deny them?

If you want to argue that those things aren’t worth $1.4 billion, go ahead. But as others have noted, the money had to go to Lower Manhattan, so options were pretty limited. Practically everyone agreed that the Fulton Street complex, as formerly configured, was a user-unfriendly mess, and those stations were overdue for renovation in any event. The one extravagant non-transit component, the headhouse, will probably pay for itself eventually, since it will generate revenue.

These are all reasonably arguable points. The statement that it “doesn’t do a thing,” is not.

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 4:04 pm

Benjamin, it’s not a boondoggle. Unless you think the ADA, passed in 1992, is a boondoggle. In which case it’s a federally mandated boondoggle, so suck it up and stop complaining about it.

Anyone in a wheelchair will tell you that this project is improving transit service. Try looking at the wheelchair-accessible subway map of New York City sometime. (Hint: it’s *AWFUL*. It’s worse than London, and London is bad. The only comparably bad subway system in the world is Paris.)

Benjamin Kabak November 11, 2011 - 4:08 pm

No offense, but that’s just an excuse to cover for the absurd costs of this project. You don’t think the MTA could make Fulton Street ADA-compliant for a quarter of the price without building an unnecessary and largely useless headhouse in Lower Manhattan? I’m all for accessibility and spending to make the system more accessible, but the MTA simply does not need to spend $1.4 billion on an ADA-compliancy project. That’s not what this is all about.

Bolwerk October 28, 2011 - 11:05 am

It’s a boondoggle in that represents a huge wasted opportunity. It should have at least incorporated residential housing and/or more profitable commercial space to hedge against the construction and future operation costs.

pete October 28, 2011 - 3:51 pm

Just a 3 story building on Broadway is unconscionable. You might as well put a double wide trailer on the lot there and rent that to a single section 8 family. Its nice the MTA doesn’t pay property tax on that building and that land. If the real world came to the MTA, there would be at least 10 stories there.

Bolwerk October 28, 2011 - 7:46 pm

Well, shit, if you really want to be literal, it’s a better site for the atrociously named “Freedom Tower” than the WTC site is. At least it’s, you know, above a transit hub.

SomeGuy32 October 29, 2011 - 12:55 am

It’s not actually named the Freedom Tower

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 4:09 pm

I wonder how strong the foundations and frame are. It’s not unheard of to “overbuild” short buildings.

Ray October 28, 2011 - 8:00 am

Why attempt to build these structures first and then seek out commercial partners (with relevant expertise) to lease and operate after the structure is built? The PA brings in the partner/experts early and so they can build to suit. Who were the retail consultants that guided the MTA on the design of the structure and the placement of light retail and cafes, and suggested that its upper floor would be attractive to a major named anchor? Who wrote these plans, based on what demographics and building circulation plans? Why is the MTA carving up the maintenance of stationhouse and underground areas? Horodniceanu is the single voice and that isnt encouraging (and I’m a fan).

My gut is the retail was an after thought and that IS the point of a stationhouse experience. Rather, someone wanted an icon, an architect drew a box with occulus, and we got it. Today we see renders with no name tennants. At this advanced stage its possible the MTA has little leverage to cut a favorable master deal for these spaces. SURE the halo of WtC could cause someone step up and turn this place turn into TimeWarner Center with Apple, Whole Foods, H&M, and Desigual. Yet they may choose to lease with Westfield. Just as easily we could find ourselves in the downtown twin of the Port Authority Bus Terminal with Sbarros, Hudson News, Dunkin, Magic Nails and Annies Pretzels and they are not going to fill MTA coffers.

Maybe the timing wasnt perfect post 9/11, but it seems a stationhouse development fund with $300-400m surely would have been attractive to a REIT (Vornado, TS, Westfield, Related) to engage and plus up. Free Manhattan land is worth something. A traffic generator is too. So is a $300m state partner. A joint development of an office and residential tower, mall, hotel, or major downtown branch of a dept store WAS possible from the beginning.

The MTA could have come out with a great mixed use project – I’ll wait and hope the homework was done.

Marc Shepherd October 28, 2011 - 9:10 am

The retail was not an afterthought. You can go back and look at the public scoping documents, and see that it was part of the design from the beginning.

Your statement about the PA is untrue. Neither the original WTC nor the Freedom Tower nor the new PATH terminal were built to suit specific tenants. I might add that none of the current tenants at Grand Central had a part in its design, and that space has turned out pretty well.

The fact that you and I weren’t part of the discussion, does not mean that the MTA designed the space without consulting anyone. To have actually chosen the retail tenants a decade ago would have been wildly impractical. Back then, guesses about potential occupants would probably have been way off-base.

Of course, I do share your concern that we could end up with another Port Authority Bus Terminal, instead of another Grand Central. We will have to wait and see.

pea-jay October 28, 2011 - 9:33 am

I think the PABT tenants comes closer to reflecting the typical bus user’s spending power and the preconceived notions of a bus station as a “Destination.” I mean who shows out of towners around with a bus station on the itinerary. The Fulton St station on the other hand is more or less in the heart of downtown and used by many more passengers than the PABT is and is located in a high rent area. Not saying it will become a destination like GCT or host a wide range of restaurants and stores in a functional (albeit drab) space like Penn because it doesnt tie into any commuter rail lines but it will be a nice addition to downtown.

Like others have commented, it would have been better to expend the money on something that actually added subway capacity or introduced commuter rail but hey, its federal money and its use it or lose it. I dont consider that wasteful. If it helps pedestrian throughput in the area, even better.

Christopher October 28, 2011 - 5:39 pm

No one shows out of town guests the bus terminal because it is unsightly. Both inside and out. The new transbay terminal that is planned for SF will have trains but also transbay buses and will be a major retail and office hub. Since the transbay buses like many of the buses coming into PABT are coming from the wealthiest suburbs the passengers are desirable.

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 4:11 pm

(1) A bus terminal is full of diesel exhaust. Even with the doors and “gates”, PABT is.
(2) The design of PABT is appalling, in that they seem never to have figured out how to keep the pigeons from living inside it.

It is theoretically possible to make an attractive bus terminal. Electric buses and no pigeons would be a start. 🙂

Larry Littlefield October 28, 2011 - 9:47 am

“Essentially, the MTA is going to make the Fulton Street Transit Center a downstair destination for shopping and dining.”

I had suggested renting out most of it to barber shops and beauty parlors, to become New York’s haircut destination. That seems more in keeping with history.

Eric F. October 28, 2011 - 9:59 am

The staten island ferry complex would have been a more welcoming spot for a dining/retail experience if it was built properly. On nice days in the warm months, it’s a natural tourist magnet anyway and is next to an enormous park. Oculus or not, you won’t be able to see this station unless you are almost on top of it, given the tight street grid in that area.

Al D October 28, 2011 - 9:47 am

It seems that the rendering already has “Apple” stapled all over the top floor. I mean look closely at the picture. That is an Apple design, and since their nearest store is in SoHo, I won’t be surprised to see them taking advnatage of a good (read discounted) leasing opportunity.

Moreover, the vision of this project provides a much needed shot in the arm for Downtown both in terms of transit access and the retail/cafe form. Plus, it’s at 1 of the busier intersections there. After all these years of suffering and construction and combine this with the WTC site rebuild, and finally, finally downtown can have its fresh start.

Josh October 28, 2011 - 2:52 pm

How does it provide a shot in the arm in terms of transit access? It’ll still be the exact same trains at the exact same frequencies, no?

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 4:12 pm

If you’re in a wheelchair, it provides dozens more trains.

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 4:13 pm

You know who is trying to copy the Apple Store experience? Tesla Motors.

Somehow I don’t think they’ll crane their cars up two stories for a showroom, though. 🙂

SEAN October 28, 2011 - 9:57 am

Was a provision ever made to include underground connections to the new PATH station in the future?

Will the complex be getting a new name, or will it remain as Fulton Street/ Broadway Nassau Street.

The funny thing was I was going to put a little sarcastic humor in this comment regarding Apple opening at FTC, but you beat me to it.

Larry Littlefield October 28, 2011 - 10:35 am

I think the whole complex should be renamed “New Amsterdam Station.”

Much of the big bucks in this project and the PATH terminal went for underground passageways all the way from Battery Park City through Williams Street.

Andy Battaglia October 28, 2011 - 12:10 pm

There was no “provision” necessary since the Dey Street concourse which is meant to connect the new PATH terminal to the Fulton Complex was one of the first components built for the project. Both stations will in fact be linked underground when they open which will provide PATH riders with countless subway connections. Also, the complex already has a new name. Broadway/Nassau was dropped almost a year ago and renamed Fulton Street along with the rest of the lines. The entire complex is now called, “Fulton Street.”

Nathanael November 11, 2011 - 4:17 pm

Of course, the new PATH terminal is interminably (ha ha) delayed. So when Fulton Street opens, most likely there will be a nice underground walk all the way to the R/W line… followed by walking outside to take the stairs at the “third temporary terminal”.

Yeah, I’m a bit curmudgeonly about this. But seriously, it’s been ten years, and so far the PATH terminal appears to have had no permanent work done at all. IIRC, Parts of the R/W work were actually transferred from the PA to the MTA because the PA wasn’t getting them done.

normative October 28, 2011 - 11:22 am

Does any one know how if they have any particular quotas for the retail space? For instance, setting aside a portion for small business/non-chain stores?

WilletsPoint-SheaStadium October 28, 2011 - 12:58 pm

I know this is a HUGE pipe dream based on what’s been written lately regarding future capital investments – but if the Second Avenue Subway actually reaches Phase 3, what if Phase 4’s current plan was scraped and instead rerouted to the Nassau Street BMT via the old Nassau Loop? This would bring the Second Avenue Line into the Fulton Street Hub, and then immediately give it access to Brooklyn on a tunnel dying for more capacity. I think this is a realistic possibility providing Second Avenue chugs forward with more funding.

In terms of a much more ridiculous idea, just imagine trains from the Hoboken Terminal extended east and trains from Atlantic Terminal extended west to the Fulton Street Hub, connected in a similar way Penn Station is laid out underground. Talk about a revitalization of downtown Manhattan and the entire region, not to mention making Fulton Street a TRUE destination…. but I digress…

WilletsPoint-SheaStadium October 28, 2011 - 1:55 pm

And naturally, the Chambers St, Fulton St, and Broad St stations would have too be lengthened for 10 Car R160’s. I still feel that it would come at a much lower cost than building a new tunnel downtown at a place where all the lines are bunched so close together as it stands.

Larry Littlefield October 28, 2011 - 2:51 pm

“What if Phase 4?s current plan was scraped and instead rerouted to the Nassau Street BMT via the old Nassau Loop?”

This option was analyzed and discarded back in the 1990s. Then again, whatever species succeeds humans several millenia from now may reach a different conclusion and built it that way.

pea-jay October 28, 2011 - 6:07 pm

The major benefit is that the Second Avenue Line would now tie into other lines quite nicely in the downtown area instead of hanging out along water st. The major downside is well, Water St. would gain a pair of stations. A minor downside would have to be that this would make the T brown as it would follow the color convention that dictates Nassau services (J/Z, former M) be brown. But yeah overall that would be a good idea.

Even better, save the phase 4 money and use it to extend the line at the OTHER end along 125. Getting across manhattan between the Seventh and Eighth Ave lines and the Lex just sucks right now.

John October 28, 2011 - 6:59 pm

The 2nd Ave connection to Nassau was deemed to be an engineering and environmental nightmare. It would involve tunneling beneath multiple subway tunnels and ripping apart a public park and the 1990’s studies deemed it unwise.

Chris October 28, 2011 - 1:57 pm

Fulton Street is a boondoggle – but can we blame NYC & MTA for grabbing at Federal dollars when they are available? Yes, we get some minor improvements for the money being spent. But the big question should be – why do we need to waste money to get small improvements? Why are our hands tied when spending this money – we could have gotten the bulk of the improvements for much less, and used what we saved on projects such as the second avenue subway….

Ramiro October 28, 2011 - 5:01 pm

How would we get it for much less? Everyone says this but no one explains how it will be cheaper. Of course there is some waste in projects like these, but when you have to underpin a building and a tunnel or two while trains are still moving I am sure it will still cost you an arm and a leg.

Jerrold October 28, 2011 - 5:23 pm

I believe that the issue of “waste” is whether the above-ground building was even necessary to begin with. The same issue applies to the Calatrava Center, a few blocks west of there. Yes, there once was Hudson Terminal, but the PATH station in the original World Trade Center was completely underground.

John October 28, 2011 - 7:03 pm

That is a completely ignorant question to ask then. As discussed many times in this site, both the Fulton Street and the Calatrava stationhouses constitute a small percentage of the overall costs of the projects. And as mentioned above, retail elements within the stationhouses will actually benefit the agencies in the long term, because they generate additional revenue.

Benjamin Kabak October 28, 2011 - 7:05 pm

I’m actually not sure if that’s true with regards to the Calatrava stationhouse. I’m still waiting for the PA to get me documents from a FOIL request.

Jerrold October 28, 2011 - 7:18 pm

I do not see how it could be true that a large, “fancy” building costs only a small part of the total price of a project. A few hundred million dollars were spent to build the temporary PATH station. Why couldn’t sufficient improvements be added to it to make it into a permanent PATH station? Instead, they are building Calatrava at what obviously must be a much higher cost.

Jerrold October 28, 2011 - 5:16 pm

A little off-topic, but still very relevant to the general subject here:

It’s just so unpleasant and frustrating to see the ridiculously slow pace at which even the SMALLEST of transit projects proceed in this town. Today, I checked out the new entrance/exit to Grand Central
which by now has been under construction for a long time on 47th Street between Park and Lexington. It is walled-off, but you can look through a big gap between the plywood “doors”. It is also possible to walk to the eastern end of the underground “47th St. Cross-Passage”, where some work is going on.
First, it was supposed to be finished in 2011, then in 2012.
The sign there STILL says 2012, but it does not look anywhere near completion, so it will probably be in LATE 2012 at the earliest.

Jerrold October 28, 2011 - 7:49 pm

P.S. From the Wikipedia article on Grand Central Terminal: A fifth entrance will open in September 2011 on the south side of 47th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.

UESider October 28, 2011 - 7:49 pm

My money is on later SAS phases being cancelled in lieu of MetroNorth extension to Fulton St. With jobs returning to FiDi, thousands more will make that commute everyday.

They need a good terminus downtown…

Motorcyclist October 29, 2011 - 11:56 am

Previous commenter is correct…3 stories is a huge waste of potential. Apple store on top is a great magnet and idea…

South Ferry Shuttle October 29, 2011 - 1:08 pm

Anyone who takes especially the 4/5 and A/C trains from Fulton Street during peak hours can see how the trains are routinely delayed due to passenger unloading and loading. If the Fulton Street circulation improvements near the platforms can reduce the dwell time of the trains, it will reduce these routine delays.

Overall, if a few minutes are saved per passenger due to minimizing train dwell time and due to better intra-line circulation and connections to the street, this will be worthwhile solely from a transit perspective IMO, separate from the benefits of creating what should be a signature public space in an area that could benefit from having another one.

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