It’s now been two days since the $1.4 billion Fulton St. Transit Center opened, and in New York, that’s an eternity. Instagram has filled up with photos of the Fulton oculus, the subway system’s newest attraction, and reviews running the gamut are coming in. I offered a first look on Sunday night with photos and a skeptical essay on the way New York and, more importantly, the federal government spends its transit dollars. Tonight, let’s run through what this thing really is.
What is the Fulton Street Transit Center?
Located on Broadway between John and Fulton Street, the Transit Center is a fully ADA-compliant, multi-story building that sits atop the massive Fulton St. subway station. The $1.4 billion rehab project involved reimagining the underground areas that were a confusing tangle of dimly-lit ramps that traversed multiple train lines built by a variety of private entities at varying depths. The new Transit Center untangles this mess as best it can and provides a much smoother transfer between the 4/5 and the A/C, the key choke point in the station.
Right now, the Transit Center itself is devoid of another other than empty space, but it has 30,000 square feet of retail space that will begin to fill up in early 2015. Space ranges from 200-700 square feet all the way up to one space of 8000 square feet and one space of 10,000 square feet. Westfield is working on leasing the retail spots and hopes to attract a restaurant for one the spaces and a big-name anchor tenant (such as Apple) for the other big spot. Retail kiosks will fill some of the floor space as well, and Westfield is in charge of maintenance and cleanliness. Essentially, the headhouse is a mall.
You’re the saying this isn’t the big white thing near 1 World Trade Center that looks like a porcupine?
No, sorry. That’s Santiago Calatrava’s $4 billion World Trade Center PATH Hub, a project offering even less bang for the buck than this one that also happens to feature extensive retail space.
So who designed and built this thing?
As the Port Authority went with a troubled starchitect for its project, the MTA used three architects of record: Grimshaw, Page Ayres Cowley, and HDR Daniel Frankfurt. The project was originally supposed to be completed seven years ago, but after engineering work proved more difficult and original designs too expensive, the MTA had to redesign the project on the go. These three firms led that effort.
Why didn’t the MTA build a 25-story mixed use building to better capitalize on the demand for real estate in New York City
That is literally the multi-million-dollar question. At a time when space is going for record dollar values and the MTA has to maximize its revenue potential, it had an opportunity to build up. Instead, the building is relatively short with only parts of four floor reserved for retail use. Together with the Corbin Building the MTA is realizing revenue streams of only 60,000 square feet for commercial and retail use.
What exactly is the Corbin Building?
Located next to the Fulton St. Transit Center, the 1888 Corbin Building was constructed as a proto-skyscraper for one-time LIRR President Austin Corbin. The building includes Guastavino tile structural floor arches visible from an escalator and a variety of terra cotta elements popular in the late 19th century. At the time, it was built in one year, a stark contrast to the 12 years it took modern crews to complete the Fulton St. project. The MTA had to spend a lot of time carefully underpinning the Corbin Building to install the necessary escalators and crews found a stock trade records from the 1880s during the work.
Westfield, the company in charge of renting out the retail space in the main Transit Center building, is also tasked with finding takers for the office space in the Corbin Building. The building contains approximately 30,000 square feet. A few years ago, I saw the inside, and it’s an interestingly narrow space that’s sure to attract tenants rather quickly.
How is this the “Station of the Future”?
The MTA is calling this the subway station of the future, and that’s because of the technology involved. With 340 security cameras, it’s one of the most watched stations in the subway system, and it features numerous video ad boards, 16 On The Go kiosks and other information screens. All in all, the building now has 52 digital displays, two jumbo screens (one that’s 32×18 and another 24×16) and ads as far as the eye can see. The MTA can always take control of these screens in the event of an emergency, and the screens split time with an MTA Arts & Design digital video.
Tell me about this oculus.
Towering 110 feet above street level, the 53-foot diameter glass oculus is the main draw. It serves to bring daylight down into the depths of the subway and features the art installation called “Sky Reflector Night.” Designed by James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimsahw Architects and Arup, the 4000-pound cable net includes 952 alumninum panels that each geometrically unique. It will instantly become an icon of New York City.
Forget Manhattanhenge. I'd like to know what day and time the sun will pass directly over the Fulton St. oculus.
— Second Ave. Sagas (@2AvSagas) November 10, 2014
What about the station? I still have to walk up and down stairs. What gives?
In a rather amusing/oblivious bit from The Post, Steve Cuozzo issued my favorite critique of the Transit Center to date. Instantly forgetting how dismal the old station was, Cuozzo had this say: “No matter how it’s prettied up, there’s simply no way to shorten the long trek from the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 East Side lines under Broadway to the J and Z lines several blocks west. And you’ll still climb stairs.”
Of course you’ll still climb stairs! The MTA didn’t invent a time machine to head back to the early 1900s in order to force the BMT, IND and IRT to design a better station experience. The A and C trains are still a few stories below the 4 and 5 and the 2 and 3. The BMT trains that run underneath Nassau St. still bisect the the passageway that would otherwise connect the 2 and 3 to the 4 and 5 via a walkway above the A and C. It ain’t perfect, but it’s much easier to navigate.
How many people are going to use this?
That’s a good question. The MTA materials all claim 300,000 per day, but current entries at Fulton St. are only in the 65,000 range. Will an additional 235,000 subway riders per day use this station as a transfer point? That seems awfully high to me. For comparison, Times Square, the most popular subway station by no small amount, sees 200,000 entries per day.
I’ve heard of a new concourse under Dey St. What is it?
The Dey St. Concourse is an out-of-system walkway that connects the R at Cortlandt St. to the rest of the Fulton St. Transit Center. When work on the PATH Hub is completed the walkway will run from Brookfield Place near the Hudson River underneath the WTC site via the Calatrava station with out-of-system connections to the E and 1 trains. (Thus, the empty bullets in this photo.)
Did you say out-of-system transfer? What gives?
This is a major point of criticism: There is no free transfer between the R at Cortlandt St. and any of the trains at Fulton St. It’s an out-of-system connection that requires a swipe, and the MTA offered a few reasons. First, the Dey St. Concourse work was tricky as the MTA had to shore up very old buildings that lined Dey St. They had very little margin for error and couldn’t add more space to the corridor. They didn’t want to go through placing a barrier down the middle of it similar to the way the 53rd St.-3rd Avenue station is designed and claim they would lose $2 million annually by creating a new free transfer where one did not previously exist. Plus, all of the Fulton St. train lines connect to the R at Canal St., Borough Hall or Jay St.-MetroTech.
Who paid for this?
Although September 11 is beginning to feel like a different era in city history, federal post-9/11 funds built the Transit Center. Of The $1.4 billion, $847 came from Lower Manhattan Recovery Grants, $130 million came from the MTA in local funds, and $423 million came from the FTA’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the single largest FTA award under the ARRA program.
Was it all worth it?
I’ll leave that one up to you to decide.