LOWER MANHATTAN — A new entrance to the Fulton Street subway station — which will eventually be part of a completely renovated transit center, complete with air conditioning — opened on a sweltering Monday afternoon.
Politicians applauded as the gateway opened on William and Fulton streets — even as they sweated through their business suits at the opening ceremony.
The new entrance promises to ease congestion and features restored works of art.
"We're open for business!" said Michael Horodniceanu, president of Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction.
"This is an opportunity to have not just a transit station but also a great public space."
The new entrance at 135 William St. is just one piece of the much larger $1.4 billion Fulton Street Transit Center, which is scheduled to open in 2014 — and which, Horodniceanu hastened to point out, will have air conditioning. But, like Penn Station and Grand Central, the air conditioning is likely to be limited to the central waiting areas or retail spaces, not the train platforms or most entrances to the terminal.
The new transit center, frequently referred to as a Grand Central for lower Manhattan, will feature a glass-domed building at the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway and underground connections between 10 subway lines and the World Trade Center PATH train.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the spacious new William Street entrance is a good first step in replacing the old Fulton station, which was dark, overcrowded and difficult to navigate.
"Progress is now clearly visible," he said.
The MTA is opening the new station in phases, as each piece is ready. The next milestone will be the opening by Sept. 11 of the southbound R platform at Cortlandt Street, which has been closed for repairs for several years.
The new William Street entrance that opened Monday is the first in the city to be lined with translucent, brick-shaped glass tiles, designed to give the station a distinctive look.
The gleaming entrance also gets a touch of history from a restored black metal gate and a mural of New York Harbor, both once part of the 1913 McAlpin Hotel at Herald Square.
"These beautiful works could not have a better home than right here," said Sandra Bloodworth, director of the MTA's Arts for Transit program, which restored the artwork.
Those who regularly use the Fulton Street station were thrilled to see the new entrance open Monday afternoon.
"I'm very excited for the neighborhood," said Suzanne Schry, 66, who lives nearby in Southbridge Towers.
Schry said the other 2/3 and A/C entrance across William Street is too narrow and is frequently jammed with straphangers, making it difficult to get in or out of the station. The new entrance should ease the crush, she said.
"I'm so impressed," Schry said of the MTA's handiwork. "It looks beautiful."
Sandra Gomez, 55, a Lower East Side resident, said the new entrance makes up for the inconvenience of the construction on the station, which frequently diverts trains from Fulton Street on the weekends.
"I love the trains," Gomez said, "so this is wonderful."