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Grand Central BID readies for $30M in capital projects.

Imagine crossing the street at a gently curving dip, not stepping into a massive puddle and being able to walk in the relative safety of a clearly marked wider cross walk.

Imagine having a place to sit for a few moments to eat your lunch, and then having separate containers to dispose of the newspapers, the bag and the soda can.

Imaging walking towards Grand Central Station after working late one evening -- or if you're lucky after dinner and a Broadway show--and having comforting pools of light in the middle of the block.

Imagine catching a bit of shade under a leafy tree in the summer and watching the leaves turn on 43rd Street in the fall.

Imagine having a cappuccino after work at a glass walled cafe under the Park Avenue viaduct, and walking there on a wide pedestrian plaza.

While area owners agree that streets are cleaner and safer thanks to the Grand Central Partnership's Safety Patrols and white uniformed Clean Team, it is the $30 million in capital projects and esthetics details that will create the feeling of a special place around Grand Central Terminal and the 53 blocks which comprise the Business Improvement District (BID).

The BID is to large -- encompassing some 80 acres, it is in fact bigger than the downtown area of San Francisco -- that GCP planners were able to agree with the city on a demonstration area which will then be approved as a total concept instead of one block at a time. This demonstration are will run crosstown from 43 Street and Fifth Avenue to Vanderbit Avenue, and then south to 42 Street.

Unlike what was expected to be encountered, Arthur Rosenblatt, vice president of the Partnership who is in charge of the capital projects, said the city administrators, particularly those in the Department of Transportation, were extremely cooperative.

"They listened and responded," he said, " and we didn't have to wait six months to hear about it."

They may have also been impressed that the GCP presented full-color completely detailed drawings that designated among other things, the placement of every tree and every light post and traffic sign for the entire area.

The agreement by the various city agencies to approve the demonstration area also gave the BID's planners the ability to quickly show the more than 200 business members what has been developed over hundreds of planning sessions.

"There is an anxiety on the fringes to start," said Rosenblatt. But once the demonstration area is approved, he explained, it is those on the fringes of the BID who are most likely to see the fruits of their special assessments the fastest. This is because it is easier for the construction crews to work outside of the more central areas that have the greatest traffic, he said. The outer edge renovation will also provide an envelope of improvements to define the GCP, much like string hung from street poles defines the residential area of an orthodox Jewish eruv.

Rosenblatt, who was the moving force behind the expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the construction of the Temple of Dendur and the newest major halls, is bringing the sensitive eyes of an artist to the battleground of the city streets.

He describes the soon-to-be-installed GCP granite curbstones as "rosier" than those now found selectively around the Terminal. The curbstones and the other details, he said, will give the BID a signature and identity much like that of Rockefeller Center.

"We want to make it the preferred business area," he said, "just as 34th Street is the preferred retail area."

In fact, the GCP, the new 34th Street Partnership, as well as the Bryant Park BID, share presidents and offices in what has become the nerve center of Midtown's move to reclaim the streets for the people. On the day of a reporter's visit, Rosenblatt raced down to Bryant Park to verify the location of a gas connection that was needed for a concessionaire who had insisted upon it in his contract. The connection was not where one city map said it should be. Rosenblatt said it is discrepancies like this that have led to a most high technology and resourceful solution.

A large piece of the district GCP's underground utilities has been programmed into a computer by Vollmer Associates in a massive and detailed undertaking to create a consolidated program of underground utilities that cost $100,000. Rosenblatt described the results as akin to something out of "The Incredible Voyage" and called it the "best organized and most comprehensive archaeological records" of the city's underground systems. He said there had even been a proposal for a color video system but felt it would be too costly.

The system they use can create a printout of a "slice" of midtown underground at five feet or 10 feet, or whatever the researcher needs. While it is not perfect in every way, Rosenblatt says, the computerized information will still be a time and money saver since not as many test probes will have to be made before construction.

BID owners may have access to the sysstem whenever renovation and construction are contemplated and Rosenblatt expects that the information will also become part of the research materials available at the new Science Industry and Business Library.

A New Streetscape

A lot of time has been spent by the Partnership on planning the little details that will give the pedestrians and drivers a sense of being somewhere exceptional. All the street signs will be revamped to include internationally known symbols as a nod to the district's thousands of tourists.

Signage will also be grouped to be read by those need the instructions. Drivers will not be confronted with a dazzling array of distracting signs strung from every streetpole, and only those hanging overhead will give traffic instructions. Signposts at the curb will explain parking and stopping rules while other signage is being developed for pedestrians.

Soon, according to the plan, the bleak and cluttered urban streetscape will give way to softening foliage in street-friendly planters and tree grates, unbroken sidewalks, street furniture made for relaxing on a sunny day, and trash cans with additional places to separate recyclables. Rosenblatt said this will be not only environmentally sounder, but neater.

"It gave us an idea of how difficult it is to re-invent the trash can," he added.

Proposed doll house-sized model bus shelters, newsstands, and a phone booth are on display in the BID offices as is a scale model of the Grand Central district. This comes complete with tiny people and traffic tolerant trees in place, and holds center court beneath a mural of the 34th Street Partnership. A glass enclosed model of the Park Avenue Viaduct has been enlarged to show the detail of the proposed glass-walled cafe, and the new pedestrian plazas and restored light fixtures which will compliment Pershing Square.

The viaduct itself will be lit by carefully restored -- and in some cases replicated -- cast iron lamp stanchions that date from 1919. These were removed to storage when the roadway was rebuilt in the 1980's and had to be found by the GCP. Rosenblatt said the fixtures are classic urban artifacts with details unavailable today and include embossed foliage at the base. The replacement bulbs themselves are state-of-the-art and will be able to light not only the viaduct above, but Park Avenue and the pedestrian plaza below. One lone demonstration light has already been replaced on the West side of the viaduct.

The Grand Central Partnership's most visible feat last year, was to, dramatically light Grand Central Station from the tops of neighboring buildings. At a cost of $50,000 per year in electricity for the 185 bulbs, it is ironic that Grand Central Terminal itself does not pay into the Partnerships' $6 million plus assessment fund, although Rosenblatt is quick to explain that the terminal is the symbol of the neighborhood. The lighting was designed to brighten the entire area as well as to create a sense of daylight on the Beaux Arts design.

Bonds For Sale

The BID has already sold $32.3 million in bonds in a controversial move to raise the money up-front for all the capital improvements and expects to repay the bondholders out of future property assessments. A spokesman for the Partnership, Bruce Cohen, said Harrison Goldin, in his capacity as New York City Comptroller, approved the original offering when he was on the Board of Estimate.

The offering, which was rated higher than New York City bonds, was needed to raise $30 million while the extra $2.3 million must sit in an escrow account to ensure the next payment to bondholders, Cohen explained. The bond offering affected New York City's ceiling on borrowing and some City Council people and other elected officials are beginning moves to curtail the independent activity of all BIDs.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:business improvement district
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Apr 22, 1992
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