Port Authority Commits to Building Bus Terminal in Hell’s Kitchen

The Port Authority is committed to replacing its 66-year-old bus terminal at Eighth Ave. (btw. W. 40th & W. 42nd Sts.) with a new station located nearby on the West Side. Chelsea Now file photo by Zach Williams.

The Port Authority is committed to replacing its 66-year-old bus terminal at Eighth Ave. (btw. W. 40th & W. 42nd Sts.) with a new station located nearby on the West Side. Chelsea Now file photo by Zach Williams.

BY YANNIC RACK | The Port Authority is moving ahead with its plans to build a new bus terminal in Hell’s Kitchen, thwarting hopes by local residents and Community Board 4 (CB4) that the agency might erect a new commuter station across the river in New Jersey instead — and thereby steer clear of displacing longtime residents and businesses in the West Side neighborhood.

At a meeting last month, the agency’s board of commissioners voted to replace the “aging and outmoded current facility” with a brand-new terminal, whatever its cost, but did not specify the new facility’s exact location.

“By committing to build a much-needed 21st century bus terminal on the West Side of Manhattan, with the understanding that no bus terminal will be built in New Jersey, we are making a crucial investment in our region’s economic growth,” Port Authority chairman John Degnan said in a statement afterwards.

“This is a vital service for the many thousands of riders who rely on this critical link for their daily commute for decades to come.”

A design competition for the new terminal, which is projected to cost around $10 million, was launched on Fri., Mar. 11. The Port Authority expects to receive final submissions in late summer, and announce a winner by the early fall.

Although there are no definitive plans yet, a majority of members of a Port Authority working group agreed at a board meeting last October that the terminal would be best located between Ninth and 11th Aves., west of the current station.

But locals fear the project could displace longtime tenants and businesses, and destroy a vibrant part of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare.

“In order to accomplish what they’re looking to accomplish, there’ll be disruption no matter what — regardless of the design,” said CB4 chair Delores Rubin.

“We need to remind them that this is still a neighborhood. And there are ways to create a best-in-class terminal while not obliterating an entire community.”

Proposals for the project are supposed to be based on five broad concepts that the Port Authority drew up last year, which include rebuilding and expanding the current terminal (on Eighth Ave. btw. W. 40th and W. 42nd Sts.) as well as razing it completely to erect a sprawling new complex.

Although the concepts differ in size and configuration, all of them would require taking over private property on Ninth Ave., between W. 39th and W. 41st Sts. — which the community board and residents of the area are vehemently opposed to.

“Eminent domain is really at the forefront of everyone’s mind. That’s scaring folks, particularly those who might be displaced by the expansion,” said Bennett Baumer, an organizer with Hell’s Kitchen based legal services group Housing Conservation Coordinators who works with the West Side Neighborhood Alliance.

Members of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance discussed the potential impact of the project at their monthly meeting last week. Photo courtesy West Side Neighborhood Alliance.

Members of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance discussed the potential impact of the project at their monthly meeting last week. Photo courtesy West Side Neighborhood Alliance.

At their monthly meeting on Thurs., Mar. 31, Baumer said the group’s members mostly struggled with the fact that, so far, the future look and impact of the terminal is still up in the air.

“It’s all a big question mark at this point,” he said. “Pretty much all of our members live within a few blocks of the terminal, so this will potentially impact their livelihoods.”

Local elected officials have also expressed concern over the prospect of eminent domain, the controversial process through which government takes over private property to make way for projects that are considered important for the public.

“Clearly, the current Port Authority Bus Terminal is obsolete,” said City Councilmember Corey Johnson, whose district covers the area. “But I am opposed to any plan that displaces Hell’s Kitchen residents, institutions or businesses through eminent domain.

Degnan, the Port Authority chair, recently told Crain’s New York that the agency would try to forgo eminent domain, but some are worried that the seizure of property will likely be part of any design proposals since it was not excluded at the outset.

“The Port will strive to have the smallest possible impact on adjacent properties that we don’t already own,” Degnan was quoted as saying. “I’m very hopeful that if eminent domain is necessary — and I’m not convinced it is — it will be insignificant.”

Rubin said the initial plans from the agency released last fall were worrying enough, and that CB4 has repeatedly sent letters to the Port Authority asking them to prioritize reducing the impact a new terminal will have on Hell’s Kitchen.

“That really set off some alarms,” she said of the building scenarios. “There still was the hope, after that initial idea, that there was an opportunity for the Port Authority to consider having some type of facility in New Jersey.

“It’s very obvious now that they are committed to staying on the West Side and in our district,” she added. “We were not surprised per se, but certainly disappointed that it was so definitive.”

The already crowded current terminal will only become more packed in coming years — as many as 270,000 daily passengers are expected to pass through the station by 2020, up from around 220,000 today.

Locals are worried that a new Port Authority Bus Terminal along Ninth Ave. will divide their neighborhood and displace longtime tenants from the area. Chelsea Now file photo by Zach Williams.

Locals are worried that a new Port Authority Bus Terminal along Ninth Ave. will divide their neighborhood and displace longtime tenants from the area. Chelsea Now file photo by Zach Williams.

Rubin agreed that it was time to update the station, which is generally considered an eyesore, but said that the most important issue now was to involve the community early on. 

“One of the biggest concerns is that decisions will be made without consulting the community,” she said. “We need to be involved, so we can alert them to the fact that this is not just a terminal for commuters to come in — this is a community, a neighborhood with long established businesses and residents.”

CB4 is planning a public forum later this month to discuss issues around the future terminal with all relevant stakeholders, and Rubin said she hoped the Port Authority would participate, so it can get a head start on addressing the community’s concerns.

A letter addressed to Degnan was scheduled to appear on the agenda of CB4’s Wed., Apr. 6 monthly full board meeting. Once again calling for involving the community, it notes “some puzzlement, since the Port Authority has neither solicited public input nor kept the public informed about the content or the release date of the [design] competition despite repeated requests by the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen community, this board, and our elected state and city representatives.”

It also notes that the area encompassed by the agency’s guiding proposals includes 183 apartments and 28 businesses, as well as neighborhood institutions such as Metro Baptist Church.

“This board believes that it is crucial to preserve the homes, businesses, and institutions in this area in order to maintain our neighborhood character,” the letter concludes. “We look forward to working with you to ensure that the selected design takes the appropriate measures to help us achieve this goal.”

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