Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Times Square debacle

KILLING TIMES SQUARE

by STEVE CUOZZO
The New York Post
September 2, 2009

Is Mayor Bloomberg determined to destroy Times Square?

Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan can believe, if they wish, the praise for their ruinous redesign of the city's most iconic space. There was plenty of it at last week's ribbon-cutting for the "final" touches of the reconfiguration, which closed Broadway to vehicular traffic and installed ugly pedestrian plazas in the "bowtie" between 42nd and 47th streets.

But Bloomberg, who's vowed to "evaluate" things by year's end to decide whether to make the redesign permanent, should heed what most prominent New Yorkers are saying, publicly and privately, about the emasculation of the Crossroads of the World.

The remapping's had a horrific impact on drivers forced to use gridlocked Ninth Avenue and on bus riders who've found their routes (like the M6) inconveniently diverted---and that's before the heavy-traffic season starts after Labor Day.

But the gravest damage will be economic. It already has started, according to executives of two Times Square restaurants who told me on a not-for-attribution basis that business has been down since the plazas were set up after Memorial Day---a fact that's counterintuitive until you realize that a horde of milling, idling tourists can chase away purposeful strollers looking for a place to eat.

In fact, leading businesspeople are alarmed over the damage the scheme threatens to do to Times Square's office buildings, stores, hotels, restaurants and theaters---all industries reeling from the recession.

Bloomberg never got over Albany's nixing of his congestion-pricing scheme. He's used Sadik-Khan---a bicycles-uber-alles ideologue---to thin traffic by other means and without a whiff of oversight.

The hideous results are worthier of a provincial town than of a great city. Among other charmless results: Her little-used bike lanes have forced cars to park in the middle of streets and avenues.

But the Times Square redo is in a class all its own. With a wink from Bloomberg, she forced down the public's throat an unconscionable tampering with the chemistry of the city's most iconic place, with results already visibly disastrous.

On "The Late Show" the other night, David Letterman and guest Donald Trump had some fun with the mess. Letterman said the plazas had turned "the greatest street in the world" into "a petting zoo" and "encouraged [tourists] to bring coolers and sit in the intersection." He noted, accurately, that Times Square is "supposed to be vibrant and alive with the hum of the city and now...it's people in lawn chairs just sitting everywhere." Trump called the redesign "awful."

Both were playing it for laughs---partly. But Letterman and Trump are powerful players in the city's life and commerce. Their comic banter embraced both men's genuine revulsion for Sadik-Khan's autocratic fiats---a reaction that's privately shared by innumerable real-estate, retail, hotel-industry and Broadway executives unwilling to cross Bloomberg publicly.

In a conversation I had with Trump after the broadcast, he was even more emphatic. "It's not Broadway any more," Trump said. "It's no longer Times Square. I love the mayor, but I feel this is an experiment that should be reversed." Among other specifics, Trump raged against changing the "100-year fabric of Broadway." And the redesign is "terrible for retail," he said.

Most Times Square property owners are similarly appalled. One of them termed the reconfiguration "ugly" and "bizarre." (An exception: SL Green, which owns 1515 Broadway and says it "fully supports" the scheme.)

And "terrible for retail" isn't only Trump's view. Cushman & Wakefield retail broker Bradley Mendelson, who negotiated leases for many of Times Square's largest stores (including Toys 'R' Us and the new American Eagle Outfitters), calls it "anti-retail."

"It took basically narrow sidewalks and created a sidewalk 10 times wider. What this does is disperse the crowd and move pedestrians away from storefronts," he said. "I don't see those people in the chairs shopping."

CB Richard Ellis superbroker Mary Ann Tighe may know Times Square's economics better than anyone. She negotiated the deal that brought Conde Nast to Broadway and 42nd Street, among other things.

And while she respects the city's effort to make the area more navigable, she's not at all sold: "Who is benefiting? The people who are benefiting are tourists. The people who inhabit Times Square on a daily basis are not benefitting. It does not help them get to work. We've added another level of complexity to an already extraordinarily complicated environment."

It isn't too late for the mayor to slap down Sadik-Khan, whose shameless ambition to make a splash suggests she has her eye on a bigger job on a bigger stage---the Obama administration, perhaps?

With one stroke, he could give New Yorkers back the Times Square we deserve.

Another critique of the new Times Square.

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14 Comments:

At 10:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You and Mary need to fly out there right away, Rob!

 
At 8:49 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Now you're using Fox News as a source. Fair and balanced I guess.

 
At 9:24 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You attack the source but have no comment on the substance of the column? Hard for a bike guy to believe that closing Times Square to traffic is not universally popular and successful.

 
At 10:04 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

I attacked the source? Rob - you're rubbing off on me! Yuck!

"But Bloomberg, who's vowed to "evaluate" things by year's end to decide whether to make the redesign permanent, should heed what most prominent New Yorkers are saying, publicly and privately, about the emasculation of the Crossroads of the World."

Here's my comment. Letterman, Trump, and the rest of the "prominent New Yorkers" get ONE VOTE each, just like everyone else. If everyone loves it but Trump - screw Trump.

 
At 10:45 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"I attacked the source? Rob - you're rubbing off on me! Yuck!"

What does this mean? Face it, Murph, being cute and clever is not your thing, though it's not clear what is.

It's not just Trump and Letterman. Cuozzo talked to other people, restaurant owners and retailers. This is the sort of thing you get when you put bike nuts in charge of your traffic.

 
At 12:11 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

Name those other people.

Oh yeah, they were "Not for attribution". Cuozzo's source is your favorite boogeyman - "Anonymous".

 
At 4:52 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Cuozzo talked to Cushman & Wakefield retail broker Bradley Mendelson and CB Richard Ellis broker, Mary Ann Tighe.

 
At 6:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This wouldn't seem like crackpot carnut religious nonsense if you had any figures on sales, customer satisfaction, actually foot traffic in the stores or evidence in any form quantitative or qualitative data. All you really have is what one real estate broker guesses is how retailers might have an issue. In her position, she should have more to go on than hypotheticals.

 
At 11:05 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, there were two brokers cited, both specializing in retail property. The City of New York is supposedly going to have the numbers when the experiment is evaluated at the end of the year. Cuozzo says he also talked to a number of business owners in area, but they asked for anonymity.

 
At 12:44 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data"

 
At 1:39 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course the column is based on anecdote. What else would it be based on?

 
At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that a tourist sitting there in a lawnchair is more likely to support local retail than a car zipping by is.

 
At 5:28 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

It's sort of interesting, here is an article talking about how tourists don't spend money, on the blog talking about how we need to keep the streets from being screwed up for traffic so free spending tourists - the lifeblood of the economy - can make it into town in their rental cars.

I guess they only spend money in SF, NYC tourists are probably cyclists from SF, who are well known freeloading cheapskates.

 
At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All those people in NYC's plaza were probably planted there by the SFBC.

 

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