WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Northern Manhattan's elected officials and community groups blasted the Port Authority Friday for its handling of the ongoing George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal renovations, saying the agency had offered a "closet"-sized amount of requested community space in the new building.
Officials and locals have been asking for 10,000 square feet of space in the renovated terminal, where community groups would be able to hold art exhibits and have meetings. But the best offer they've received from the Port Authority is about 300 feet of space, which some uptowners called unacceptable.
"They propose a 300-400 square-foot closet, basically," state Sen. Adriano Espaillat said Friday afternoon. "We reject that. We feel the the community should have a vested interest in this project and there should be a community space right here."
Several officials and residents gathered across the street from the bus terminal on Friday, where they accused the Port Authority of ignoring the will of the community during the run-up to the oft-delayed renovation by refusing to give space for civic functions, blocking access to a subway entrance and refusing to pay for a traffic study.
"This bus station has been waiting for the promised renovation for over half a decade and when it finally begins, our community is left out entirely," City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said. "Port Authority: we do not want another slumlord in our community, so we demand you to do your part."
Rodriguez, Espaillat, Assembly members Gabriela Rosa and Denny Farrell, Community Board 12 Chairman George Fernandez and representatives from several local groups said they have repeatedly asked the Port Authority for community space, an effort to reach out to minority-owned and woman-owned businesses in the area, a study on the effect that the construction will have on traffic in the area and a commitment to ensure that jobs created in the 120,000 square feet of new retail space will pay a living wage.
"These are simple things that aren't back breakers," Espaillat said.
The groups said that they have made the requests numerous times over the past four years, and CB12 passed a resolution on it in February 2012.
The Port Authority responded by offering 250 square feet of space in 2012, but have upped their offer to include space in a mechanical room on Wadsworth Avenue, one block east of the terminal.
Community leaders said the offer was unacceptable, especially since they say the renovation will cause traffic congestion, eliminate second-floor space that was used for job fairs and community functions. The redevelopment also potentially eliminates the ability of residents on Broadway to reach the A train at Fort Washington by crossing through the terminal, much of which will be turned into retail space for Marshalls, Blink Fitness, Fine Fair and others.
Port Authority officials said Friday they would work with neighborhood representatives to address the concerns.
"The Port Authority has met with local elected officials and will continue to do so, and we are committed to addressing their concerns," spokeswoman Erica Dumas said. "We view this redevelopment bus facility as not only a transportation project but an economic engine that will attract [minority- and women-owned business] participation and propel job growth in the Washington Heights community."