Metro-North revenue growing as more shops, eateries in place at Grand Central

The famous opalescent clock keeps time at the The famous opalescent clock keeps time at the center of the main concourse in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. (Jan. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Booze carts, state-of-the-art digital displays and the arrival of a popular Apple Store turned Grand Central Terminal into an economic engine for Metro-North last year as the commuter rail set a record for revenue that doesn't come from ticket sales.

Metro-North raked in $51.4 million in so-called nonpassenger revenue last year, the largest total in the railroad's 30-year history -- much of it from the midtown Manhattan train station, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.

"Part of the goal of the centennial was increasing activity at Grand Central, which has happened," Metro-North President Howard Permut told board members at a Monday meeting at MTA headquarters. "We're going to keep pushing that trend."

Even before the centennial buzz caught hold, the push was on to make more money within Grand Central's fabled marble hallways.

Apple took up residence on the East Balcony in December 2011.

As leases expired, Metro-North took the opportunity to raise rents and bring in other new tenants.

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"We've been collecting higher rents as a lot of the older leases are turning over," said Marjorie Anders, a Metro-North spokeswoman.

Tenant rents at Grand Central jumped 14.2 percent last year to $23.76 million, up nearly $3 million from 2011, Anders said.

The terminal now boasts 68 shops as well as nearly three dozen dining options, from the Chirping Chicken to Michael Jordan's The Steakhouse N.Y.C. and the Oyster Bar and Restaurant.

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Four electronic displays that produce revolving ads every 15 seconds brought in more than $4.1 million in revenue last year, twice what they generated in 2011, officials said. They replaced four static, backlit ad displays that had adorned the terminal.

Total ad revenues from across the Metro-North system, including billboards, brought in $15.9 million last year, also a record.

And then there are the popular portable commissary sales carts -- also known as booze carts -- which sell both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. The carts, sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola, brought in $6.7 million last year.

Grand Central's contributions weren't enough to head off recent ticket price hikes for Metro-North riders, which went into effect last month. On average, fares increased by 8.2 percent to 9.3 percent, as Metro-North's parent agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, tries to raise revenue by 7.5 percent at each of its bus, subway and rail systems.

The agency is trying to close a $450 million gap in its $12.6 billion budget.

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The $51.4 million nonpassenger total was just a fraction of the $587.5 million in fare-box revenue generated by some 83 million riders last year. The ridership total was the second-highest in Metro-North's history and was on pace to be even higher had superstorm Sandy not disrupted traffic. The Oct. 29 storm shut down the system for several days and cost Metro-North an estimated 1.8 million riders.

Metro-North will be staging a number of events throughout the year to celebrate Grand Central's centennial. In recent weeks, the terminal has been host to poetry readings and lectures touching upon the station's storied past. Next month, the terminal will display some of the rail cars and trains that have coursed through in the past 100 years.

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