Port Authority Tower Finally Close to Construction?

Among the bevy of projects currently rising in Midtown West, the redevelopment of the Port Authority bus terminal is one of the key projects that will help improve the neighborhood.

PANYNJ Tower is the building with the spire on the left: image from Lehrer LLC

The Port Authority bus terminal is known as one of the grimiest spots in Midtown–the structure itself is massive, hulking, and unattractive, and the surrounding area continues to host a rather large number of homeless people. The new New York Times Tower is across the street from the PA bus terminal, and the contrast could not be more stark; gleaming skyscraper versus decrepit, dank, and oppressive low-rise monolith.

Fortunately, the bus terminal should stop languishing shortly. Already, new Times-Square style signage has been installed along the Northeastern corner of the terminal, brightening the structure and bringing vibrancy into what’s already (essentially) an extension of Times Square. The next step is much more important though, and involves the construction of a new skyscraper.

Vornado will be the developer of the new building, which is expected to be roughly 850 feet tall. Resting atop the Northern portion of the bus terminal, the tower will contain 42 floors of offices. Some renderings have also included an architectural element that could push the building’s height past 1,000 feet.

The latest news is that the Port Authority has extended their agreement with Vornado to build the project by several months (Port Authority Press Release), and given the project’s backing by Chinese developers (Big Beijing Developer Backs Bus Terminal Project, via Crains), prospects for construction are indeed looking up–although no progress is occurring right this moment.

The new building will hopefully help to improve the bus terminal. Appearance goes a long way, and even though the new tower’s main impact on the bus terminal will be visual, the monolithic (short, stout, broad) presence of the terminal should be somewhat remedied with the rise of the new building. Adding a gleaming new office building is probably the best way of rehabbing the terminal’s image, although the terminal’s interiors need a complete overhaul as well.

The (now modified) design was originally chosen from three entries: Image via the NY Times

While the new building will create 1.2 million square feet of new office space, there will still be an ample amount of room left on top for more structures. One of my biggest problems with the Port Authority (and most government agencies in New York) is their ability to let space that could be something simply languish. The new tower will only take up a portion of the terminal’s northeastern roof–there is more than enough room for further significant development atop the bus terminal, and the PA needs to take advantage of that opportunity.

Rents in New York City are astronomical, particularly in Manhattan. Given that government exists to serve the people, the city of New York has a responsibility to maximize residential space on land that it and its associated agencies owns. The city should be working with private companies to encourage as much residential development as possible in Manhattan, especially on city-owned property. The best way to lower rents for everyone is to saturate the market with as many units as possible, and Manhattan could surely absorb several hundred thousand units before prices even began to approach levels typical of elsewhere in the country.

The plan for the PA bus terminal tower is great by itself, but if the neighborhood and actual New Yorkers are to truly benefit from the terminal’s revitalization, the city should seek to maximize residential development above the rest of the terminal–which is slated to remain empty even after the redevelopment. There are few remaining opportunities for large-scale development of new residential space, and it is ridiculous that with rents once again recovering to pre-bust levels, government-owned space is simply allowed to remain empty.

TFC Horizon