Residents Riled by Eminent Domain Scenario for Bus Terminal Revamp
BY YANNIC RACK | Hundreds of Hell’s Kitchen residents dreading the arrival of a new bus terminal that could obliterate parts of their neighborhood gave an earful to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey this week, in an attempt to prevent any plans that would involve bulldozing residential and commercial blocks to make way for a replacement station.
A town hall-style meeting held on the evening of Mon., Apr. 18, was filled to capacity with neighborhood residents, activists and business owners voicing their concerns. The Metro Baptist Church was an appropriate host for the spirited discussion: its location at 410 W. 40th St., just west of the current Port Authority Bus Terminal, makes it a potential casualty of plans to widen the facility’s footprint in the neighborhood.
Although nobody (not even its operators) disagreed about the fact that the decades-old bus terminal is an outdated mess in need of replacement, the residents said they were mostly worried about the prospect of eminent domain — the controversial process through which the city or state can take over private property to make way for important public projects.
“Our message is, ‘Do no harm,’ ” said Dale Corvino, who lives on W. 43rd St. and is a member of Community Board 4 (CB4).
The Port Authority recently launched a design competition to solicit proposals for the station, but not before it released a set of concepts that were meant to illustrate possible replacement scenarios — some of which included taking over property west of the current station (on Eighth Ave. btw. W. 40th & W. 42nd Sts.).
Worries about the impact of a new, and larger, terminal in the neighborhood have started to peak in recent weeks, after the Port Authority announced at its board meeting last month that it was committed to building a much-needed replacement in Manhattan — rather than New Jersey, which, unsurprisingly, seemed to be the more popular option with Manhattanites.
“You have the perfect solution…the light should have gone on and somebody should have said, ‘Why don’t we move the bus terminal out to the Meadowlands Sports Complex and then build a light rail into Manhattan?’ ” suggested Bob Minor, one of the speakers at the event and a co-chair of the HK 50-51 Block Association, to thundering applause.
“We don’t want to throw the community under the bus — or the bus garage, in this case,” said state Senator Brad Hoylman, who organized the town hall together with Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and CB4.
“I think we can all agree that the current Port Authority Bus Terminal is obsolete,” said District 3 City Councilmember Corey Johnson. “We need a plan that will right-size the terminal…what I am not in favor of is any plan that displaces Hell’s Kitchen residents, institutions or businesses. We need a plan that takes into consideration this neighborhood.”
The Port Authority officials at the meeting emphasized that the agency would work hard to avoid any scenario that would displace longtime residents.
“We’re going to use Port Authority property wherever possible, I can’t emphasize that enough,” said Mark Muriello, the agency’s Deputy Director of Tunnels, Bridges and Terminals.
“We’re not looking to overrun the neighborhood — we want to integrate the neighborhood,” he added.
The current terminal serves more than 230,000 passengers daily, which is already more than it was built for in 1950. The Port Authority estimates that number will increase to 270,000 by 2020, and could reach 337,000 after another 20 years — clearly demonstrating the need for an expanded facility.
But the community was not convinced of the agency’s assurances to minimize its impact, with some going so far as to declare the whole discussion as over before it even started.
“The Port Authority is a horrible neighbor. The back end of Ninth Avenue is their dumping ground,” said Joe Calcagno, who owns the Capizzi pizzeria around the corner (547 Ninth Ave., btw. W. 40th & W. 41st Sts.).
“It’s inevitable, the fix is in, guys. This thing is done already, don’t fool yourself,” he told his fellow neighbors.
Most of the other speakers were more hopeful that they could still avert a doomsday scenario, and many spoke to the value of the neighborhood, which has lived with the bus terminal for decades. During the meeting, buses were parked on the street outside, waiting for their turn to pick up passengers inside the station.
This block alone, a microcosm of the Hell’s Kitchen South neighborhood, is home to a row of handsome residential buildings and a range of long-standing community organizations, including the Clinton Housing Development Company and The Dwelling Place, a women’s shelter.
The Metro Baptist Church itself, which has been on the street since 1985, houses a teen center and an after-school program, and has a roof garden that helps feed up to 800 people every month through a food pantry.
“From the roof, where we have a farm, to the basement, where we have a food pantry, it’s a very vibrant building. It’s so important to the neighborhood, so we want to encourage looking at land that the Port Authority already owns,” said Metro Baptist pastor Scott Stearman. “We know that the Port Authority needs to be revitalized — there’s no question,” he added. “We just don’t think it needs to be these blocks.”
“My family has lived in Hell’s Kitchen for six generations,” said Michelle O’Connell Diaz. “This neighborhood has always been about community, and gradually everyone is being pushed out and displaced. But there’s so many great things on this block still, despite everything that’s been torn down.”
Another resident offered some advice to the Port Authority, which he said had made things difficult by being a bad neighbor to the community for so many years. “If you want to make people feel better about you, be better neighbors,” said CB4 member David Solnick. “Don’t be the guy who leaves his car jacked up in the front yard.”
The locals won’t have to wait long to find out whether or not the concerns raised at the town hall will have any impact on the eventual design: the Port Authority expects to announce the winner of its competition in the fall.
For anyone attending the event, one thing was clear, however.
“We certainly heard tonight that the community draws the line at eminent domain,” Hoylman said.