West siders demand a voice in Port Authority bus terminal talks



The southeast entrance to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Eighth Avenue. Photo: Alex Mierjeski.

City officials from Hell’s Kitchen will hold a special meeting with commissioners from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on Friday over the expansion of Manhattan’s bus terminal, marking a new chapter in a controversial initiative to accommodate commuter growth in Midtown.

The closed-door meeting will be the first step in an effort to resume talks concerning the building of a new terminal west of the current structure on Eighth Avenue. The plans, many of which involve demolishing portions of the surrounding neighborhood, alarmed community members and politicians who said they were not consulted. Talks stuttered to a halt in August.

“We’re hoping that this is a good, candid discussion that allows for everyone to think about more not only creative and solution-based possibilities for the bus terminal, but also to find a way not to dislocate those in our community who have businesses and homes,” said Delores Rubin, chair of Community Board 4, which encompasses Hell’s Kitchen.

Under the current proposals, some 283 apartments and 30 businesses, many of which occupy historic 19th century buildings, would be torn down for construction, according to a Community Board 4 town hall presentation.

The upcoming meeting will require more transparency from the Port Authority, which admitted it should have been more open with the public regarding initial designs for the project. The expansion requires a land-use approval process by several city officials, including city councilman Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and U.S. Rep Jerrold Nadler — all of whom vowed to block the request.

“The lack of public input is a problem, and the Port Authority continuing to move forward without consideration for how it will affect the public it is meant to serve, and by narrowly confining the alternatives that it is looking at — it’s a problem,” said Daniel Schwarz, a spokesman for Nadler’s office.

Metro Baptist Church on West 40th Street, provides dozens of services to the Hell’s Kitchen community. Photo: Alex Mierjeski.

Tiffany Henkel, who works near the bus terminal, said locals have been left out of the discussion. “No one from Port Authority contacted us — it’s an illegitimate process” said Henkel, who, alongside her duties as a pastor at Metro Baptist Church on West 40th Street serves as the executive director of the Rauchenbusch Metro Ministries, a nonprofit that offers educational services and other community growth initiatives in Hell’s Kitchen.

Others say the new terminal would irrevocably change the fabric of the neighborhood. The block of 40th Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues, according to Scott Stearman, who shares the Metro Baptist pulpit with Henkel, houses nearly a dozen non-profits serving the community. “There’s simply no way to replace what we have here,” he said.

Stearman estimates that Metro Baptist helps between 10,000 and 15,000 people annually. Services at the church include a food pantry that feeds around 800 per month, a winter clothing drive, after-school programs, and classes for domestic abuse victims and veterans.

Businesses owners like Vincent Dimino, who owns the 100-year-old Sea Breeze Fish Market, are among those pressing for alternatives to a new terminal in Manhattan. “It would put me and fourteen of my people out of a job,” said Dimino.

With buses frequently clogging streets blocks from the actual terminal, some business owners also recognize the need for a new terminal. “We’re constantly telling buses to shut their engines off,” said Peter Meskouris, who owns Hookah King lounge, across from an overfill lot for idling buses.

Sea Breeze fish market, a century-old neighborhood staple, is one of the many businesses threatened by a new bus terminal. Photo: Alex Mierjeski.

Port Authority estimates that 220,000 passengers and more than 7,000 buses pass through the terminal on a typical weekday. The bustling hub is expected to see as much as a 40 percent increase in peak-hour bus traffic by 2040.

But some businesses see profits in a new terminal. “For us, that would mean more commuters, which could be pretty good,” said Leigh Ann Heildelberg, a bartender at Blue Ruin.

Commuters from New Jersey, the majority of whom come by bus, support a new terminal, though they remain leery of alternate routes in the interim. A new rail system, for example, would only complicate their commute. “You get on public transit and get to your destination,” said Jack Gordon, a Midtown lawyer who commutes from Roseland, N.J., “[not to] get close to your destination and then get on public transit again.”

The plans for a new terminal remain tabled for now, until Friday’s meeting. Port Authority declined to comment on the status of the new terminal.

“Everybody wants progress, but no one wants it in their backyard,” said Stearman. “Slapping a new bus terminal here seems crazy.”