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City to Unlock $1.4M for Midtown Streetscape Improvements

By Alan Neuhauser | August 14, 2013 8:36am
 Travelers wait for a ride at the Seventh Avenue taxi stand outside Penn Station Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. The city's Department of Transportation is reportedly exploring adding a rain cover to the stand.
Travelers wait for a ride at the Seventh Avenue taxi stand outside Penn Station Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. The city's Department of Transportation is reportedly exploring adding a rain cover to the stand.
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DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

MIDTOWN — A city cash stash frozen for more than a decade could finally be used to spruce up streets around Penn Station, DNAinfo New York has learned.

The Department of Transportation is exploring using as much as $1.4 million to add a rain cover to the Seventh Avenue taxi stand outside Penn Station and upgrade street signs in the area, said Dan Biederman, president of the 34th Street Partnership, a local business improvement district that has been working with the DOT to determine how to use the funds.

"It's been very frustrating for us, because the money's just sitting there. But now we're finally getting somewhere," Biederman said.

The funds came from Vornado Realty Trust, which coughed up the cash in 2001 in exchange for being allowed to erect larger billboards — some as tall as five stories — around Penn Station.

The money was meant to be used to improve the area's streetscape, by installing planters or improving street signs, but instead sat unused while city agencies decided what to do with it.

"Everybody was unsure whether the decision-maker was DOT or City Planning," said Biederman, who acknowledged that "some of it is probably our fault — we didn't know how to have the money extracted."

He added: "To date, I still don't think there's been a clear path to spending those funds."

The DOT and City Planning confirmed that they are engaged in talks with the 34th Street Partnership about using the funds, but did not elaborate on details of the conversations, how much money is available, or what may have contributed to the 12-year delay in using the cash.

"DOT and DCP are working closely together to evaluate the funding and potential streetscape enhancements for the area. DOT also is in touch with the 34th Street Partnership to discuss possible future improvements," the DOT said in a statement.

The agencies and the 34th Street Partnership are "a couple weeks or months away from rough agreement" on a plan, Biederman said, adding discussions have centered on the taxi stand and street signs.

The potential proposals include adding weather protection for people waiting at the taxi stand, which is staffed by 34th Street Partnership employees, and replacing certain street signs with ones that better reflect the neighborhood's history. Both features would be designed in-house by the partnership, Biederman said.

"The stand works very well when it's open, which is most of the time. The thing it lacks is some cover from the weather," Biederman said. "People come out of Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road, and they're unfamiliar with the city, they've got luggage and they've got to stand there and it's pouring. It's not ideal."