NY Daily News
By Caroline Chen
After years of delays, a major renovation of the George Washington Bridge Bus Station is set to begin this month, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey says.
Community leaders in Washington Heights are anxious for the $180 million project to begin, hoping it will create local jobs and provide much-needed community arts space.
The renovation of the 49-year-old bus terminal will revamp the station’s interior, adding 100,000 square-feet of retail space.
The Port Authority has confirmed leases with Marshalls, Blink Gym, Fine Fare Supermarkets and Gateway News.
At the moment, the terminal is an empty shell. While the station still functions as a bus depot, all the stores moved out more than a year ago in anticipation of construction, leaving only faded signs and dusty floors.
Maria Lizardo, the assistant executive director for programs at the Northern Manhattan Development Corp., said she hopes the stores will hire locally.
“We don’t see this just as getting the eyesore out of the community,” she said. “We must make sure that it’s a hub for local employment.”
The unemployment rate in Washington Heights remains at about 14%, far above the citywide average of 9.5%, she said.
The project will create 746 jobs, counting construction contracts along with permanent employment, Port Authority representatives told business owners and community leaders at a recent meeting convened by the Washington Heights and Inwood Chamber of Commerce.
Community Board 12, which covers Washington Heights and Inwood, has asked the Port Authority to urge the businesses to hire locally. The Port Authority cannot impose or enforce hiring targets, according to CB 12 Chairwoman Pamela Palanque-North.
The Port Authority has made no promises so far, though a spokesman told the Daily News that “hiring locally is a priority on all Port Authority projects.”
Uptown residents are also hoping that the new station will have a community space for performing arts. Washington Heights has a vibrant arts community, but the artists have few options when it comes to performing or exhibiting their work.
“That location there is key,” said Sandra García-Betancourt, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, who envisions a gallery and a small theater. “We would get a lot of traffic there, and the art would keep the place beautiful, alive and vibrant.”
In negotiations a few years ago, the Port Authority agreed to create a community space, García-Betancourt said. However, that space was not mentioned when Port Authority representatives presented their plans for the new station at the recent Chamber of Commerce meeting.
The Port Authority does plan to have a community space, said spokesman Christopher Valens, though he would not give any specifics about the size of the space.
Construction was slated to start last January, but work was delayed by financial difficulties and changing developers.
Now that the renovations are finally set to begin, community stakeholders want assurances from the Port Authority, and say they have been frustrated by the lack of communication.
“I think they give good lip service,” Lizardo said. “But I’m not really sure they will follow up.”