I spoke with Stephen McBride of SJM Partners and Doug Slayton of Slayton Equities about their companies’ joint venture to overhaul the commercial spaces in the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal. The Port Authority, the station’s owner, is simultaneously planning an overhaul of the bus terminal and passenger spaces. The renovation is long overdue and the commercial uses will surely fill a retail void in neighborhood. The question for this blogger is whether it will improve the dismal streetscape around the station, which has been a source of urban blight for decades.
Much of the story has already been reported in the N.Y. Times and DNA Info. SJM and Slayton plan to create spaces for a 15,000 square-foot supermarket; 15,000 square-foot fitness club (Blink, a subsidiary of Equinox); 30,000 square-foot Marshall’s department store; 10,000 square-foot restaurant; and numerous smaller retail spaces. While the essential shape of the concrete structure will not change, the developers will install an entirely new curtain wall around the perimeter, replacing dirty and faded siding with more attractive glass.
The developers are actively seeking local proprietors for the restaurant space and smaller shops. But smaller businesses are understandably reluctant to commit to the spaces until the renovation has proceeded a little further.
The Port Authority plans to add bus lanes to ease congestion. On Fort Washington Avenue the authority will create a new structure to house mechanical equipment on the western side of the street, which may serve to block some of the noise from the highway below. (It may also displace the skateboarders and bikers.)
Renovations are expected to begin this spring and conclude at the end of 2013. McBride and Slayton are enthusiastic and confident about the project and, after speaking with them, its hard not to share their optimism.
The missing link in the project seems to be efforts to improve the streetscape. The northern and southern borders of the site feature very narrow sidewalks that cannot be widened without narrowing 178th and 179th Streets, which is not likely to happen. This may restrict pedestrian circulation around the structure. Nor are there plans at the moment to landscape the Fort Washington side of the station, which features a somewhat bleak façade, soot-covered sidewalk and few amenities for pedestrians. Hopefully the Port Authority will work on the streetscapes. Whatever the result, however, the renovated station is likely to be a huge benefit to the community.