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 deliver a pre-emptive strike against any plans that would involve bulldozing residential and commercial blocks in the area to make way for a replacement station.
At a town hall-style meeting on April 18, the Metro Baptist Church on West 40th Street — immediately west of the current Port Authority Bus Terminal — was filled to the brim with neighborhood residents, activists, and business owners voicing their concerns about the plan to build a new terminal on the West Side.
“Our message is, ‘Do no harm,’” said Dale Corvino, who lives on West 43rd Street and is a member of Community Board 4.
Worries about the impact of a new, and larger, terminal in the neighborhood intensified 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.
Although nobody — least of all its operators — disagreed about the fact that the decades-old bus terminal is an outdated mess in need of replacement, the residents said they were mostly worried about the prospect of eminent domain, the controversial process through which the city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.
The authority recently launched a design competition to solicit proposals for the terminal, but not before it released a set of concepts meant to illustrate possible replacement scenarios — some of which included taking over property west of the current station, which sits on Eighth Avenue between West 40th and West 42nd Streets.
“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.
The Port Authority officials at the meeting emphasized that the agency would work hard to avoid any scenario that would replace 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 about minimizing 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 Capizzi Pizza on Ninth Avenue, between West 40th and West 41st Streets.
“It’s inevitable, the fix is in, guys. This thing is done already, don’t fool yourself,” he told his 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 located on the block 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,” said Metro Baptist Pastor Scott Stearman. “It’s so important to the neighborhood, so we want to encourage looking at land that the Port Authority already owns.”
He added, “We know that the Port Authority needs to be revitalized — there’s no question. We just don’t think it needs to be these blocks.”
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 design 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.