Rushing to the defense of nearly 160 displaced small businesses, New York officials on Tuesday requested a federal investigation of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, over plans for a massive transit hub that will anchor the new World Trade Center.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) filed the request with the Transportation Department's inspector general, accusing the MTA of negligence. The authority plans to displace the businesses to make room for the Fulton Street Transit Center -- a $750 million project that will join six existing subway stations and 12 subway lines.
The construction is federally funded, which under the Uniform Act of 1970 requires the MTA to provide relocation and advisory services to those being displaced. But, Stringer contends, "Nothing has been done to help these small businesses."
"The MTA and their subcontractors have not taken the time to meet with the businesses and understand their space and monetary needs," said Eric Pugatch, director of communications for the borough president's office. "They have not done their due diligence when it comes to providing pretty fundamental services."
The MTA has publicly defended its actions, saying that it has complied with the law and provided local businesses with appropriate compensation.
In order for construction to be completed on time in late 2008, affected businesses must vacate no later than July 31 of this year. Some shops have already gone out of business. Others are planning to stay in the neighborhood, but are struggling with finding appropriately sized offices and affordable rent.
"The market for small-space real estate has tightened considerably," said Arthur Castle, owner of Arthur Castle Consulting, which has been located on the corner of nearby Reade Street and Broadway for more than 20 years. Like many small businesses in the area, he stayed put even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and saw the local economy recover.
Many businesses that stayed and were crucial to that revival are now being forced out, according to Nadler. "As lower Manhattan gets back on its feet, local businesses that have been here for years need to be included and protected," he said in a statement. "All they are asking for -- and the very least that they deserve -- is assistance in their relocation efforts."
Castle, who also chairs the Ground Zero Small Business Association, insists that the project can work, if the appropriate steps are taken. "You can have transit improvement, and at the same time take care of people you are putting at a disadvantage," he said.
He suggests the MTA pay for renovations, dividing larger spaces to accommodate the roughly 100 displaced small offices. Another 40 to 50 retail businesses, however, would still need storefronts.
The investigation request has been received by the Department of Transportation, but has not yet been reviewed.