It’s a good time to be Grand Central Terminal. Currently being feted by politicians and rededicated for another century, the Terminal is celebrating its centennial today with a full slate of musical performances, celebrity appearances and a whole slate of fun and games. For such an iconic building and an important part of New York City’s transit infrastructure, the grand building deserves the accolades.
While not everyone may want to celebrate the landmark, over the past century, the building has seen a lot. It has lived through the age of the railroads, the rise of the car, rapid growth in Midtown, two World Wars, a New York City collapse and, more recently, a city revitalized. It has served as the grounds for many a romantic encounter. It has become such a sought-after destination that an Apple Store has taken up prime real estate and a Shake Shack may one day arrive in its lower level food court. No longer just a launching point for travelers from the north, the building is a destination unto itself.
Yet, for all the talk of 100 years, it’s not where Grand Central has been that counts; rather, it’s where it’s going. The next 10 years for the Terminal will set the stage for the next 100 and beyond. Under and around Grand Central, there is a lot happening that will impact the future of Midtown. An effort to rezone and up-build the area has taken off, and Grand Central will be the focal point. Along with investments in the Terminal, the city wants to improve the subway infrastructure in Midtown East as well, and I’ll have more on that next week.
Underneath, East Side Access is lumbering to completion. It’s a flawed project, with rampant cost overruns and an extended timeline well beyond its original projected completion date. It suffers from the same problems that the ARC Tunnel had — namely, that it’s about 15 stories underground — but will serve to bring around 160,000 daily LIRR riders into Midtown East.
Recently, The Wall Street Journal’s Ted Mann took a tour of the construction site and wiggled some choice words out of Michael Horodniceanu’s mouth. The head of the MTA’s Capital Construction unit spoke about the project:
“There’s no doubt in my mind that people will use it,” Horodniceanu said, walking through what was once a rail yard for trains on the existing lower level of Grand Central. The space is now on its way to becoming a concourse for travelers heading down to the unfinished platforms below…
“It’s always hard when you have a project that is, in many ways, visionary to accomplish it,” he said. “People, they want to know what’s on their plate tomorrow night when they have supper. They don’t want to know what’s going to be here in 2020 or 2019.”
Holding court with a group of reporters, Horodniceanu conjured a favorite image: Some future archaeologist uncovering the tunnel boring machine his crew buried into rock after completion of their tunnels, somewhere near 37th Street. In the meantime, he said, the station he and his workers are building would be destined to become as much a part of the city’s fabric as the grand edifice up at street level.
“After 200 years of Grand Central, they’re going to be able to see two pieces: the original Grand Central and what we’re building now,” he said.
By the end of the decade, when East Side Access work is completed, it may be tough to reconcile that experience with the one we know at Grand Central today. Tracks feed off of the main concourse or a lower level, and access is easy. In the future, it will take a few minutes longer to get down the tracks, and soaring historic ceilings will be a part of the ride but not the first sight for many. As the city grows, though, it may not matter. We need more rail capacity, and a Long Island connection to the East Side is long overdue.
Here’s to the next 100 years, no matter how imperfect.