The developer of a Manhattan skyrise plans to spend $220 million on improvements in and around Grand Central Terminal that could one day help shave an extra few minutes off the commutes of thousands of Long Island Rail Road riders.
The planned upgrades by SL Green Realty Corp. -- the Manhattan builder behind the proposed 63-story 1 Vanderbilt Ave. -- include a spacious "transit hall" at street level where future East Side Access commuters can wait for their trains, and new hallways, stairs and escalators inside Grand Central that will give LIRR riders direct paths to subway connections and to 43rd Street.
"It's going to shorten their commutes significantly and, I think, improve the quality of their commutes greatly," SL Green Managing Director Robert Schiffer said. "It's more direct routes through less congested, more modern spaces."
SL Green agreed to make and fund the improvements as a condition of the rezoning approval necessary for the proposed 1 Vanderbilt Ave. building, which will stand in the shadow of Grand Central and house 8,000 workers. The New York City Council approved the application Wednesday.
"This plan . . . allows for there to be increased development right next to one of the region's most important transit hubs. And it allows for the developer to earn their rights by fixing our transit system," Democratic City Councilman Daniel Garadonick said Wednesday. "The MTA has a huge budget gap and we have immediate needs for mass transit. This simply could not wait."
Although the developer is spending most of the $220 million to open up extra space in Grand Central's congested 4, 5, and 6 subway station, about a third of the money will go directly toward improvements for East Side Access -- the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's $11 billion megaproject to link the LIRR to Grand Central by 2022.
While East Side Access aims to shorten the commutes of about 60,000 customers, the MTA's plan would have required LIRR riders looking to transfer to the subway to come up from a new concourse to Grand Central's dining course, only to go back down again into the subway.
By knocking down walls, extending hallways and building new stairs and escalators, SL Green's plan will allow LIRR riders to directly access the subway system one level away.
"Without the opportunity that comes from new construction, this exit would have been impossible or too expensive to tackle with the existing buildings in place," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said of the new street level access point at 1 Vanderbilt Ave. "This is a great example of how private investment can improve the system for our current and future customers."
The developer also plans to build a 4,000-square-foot transit hall at 43rd and Vanderbilt to create a spacious, glass-enclosed, street-level waiting area for LIRR commuters, complete with a digital train departure board and direct path down to the railroad's customer concourse 140 feet below.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally, of Stony Brook, said developer-funded infrastructure improvements, such as those proposed by SL Green, have become increasingly essential as the authority struggles to find the money for its proposed $32 billion capital program, which has a $14 billion deficit.
"These are essential improvements. And if the developer did not step up to do them, the MTA would have had to," Pally said.