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MTA wants vendors to transform vacant storefronts at major subway hubs

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The mezzanine at the Port Authority subway stop could be the first to see a transformation

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As part of its ongoing quest to make its 472 subway stations more appealing to modern commuters—and make some money in the process—the MTA is looking for vendors to transform vacant or outmoded retail spaces at several subway hubs throughout the transit system.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the MTA has issued a request for proposals for vendors to take over vacant spots at the 42nd Street-Port Authority Bus Terminal hub, and will eventually issue RFPs for 47-50th Streets–Rockefeller Center, and Times Square-42nd Street, all to come before the end of 2019.

According to a video posted to the MTA’s YouTube channel, the Port Authority hub has 14 different retail spaces that together take up about 8,800 square feet of space. The MTA’s RFP is seeking a vendor who will oversee those storefronts—similar to what’s happening at Turnstyle Underground Market at 59th Street-Columbus Circle—and could reimagine them as they see fit. The video calls Turnstyle and the Fulton Center in lower Manhattan the “new benchmarks” of what MTA retail can look like.

And there’s certainly an opportunity for enterprising retailers: The Port Authority hub sees 100,000 riders passing through every weekend—and, in combination with the Times Square hub, it has close to 65 million riders per year.

Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer, told WSJ that the ideal vendors wouldn’t just be ones found at a “run-of-the-mill, midrange, suburban shopping center”—local proprietors are encouraged to apply. (Still, Turnstyle has a Starbucks, and the Fulton Center has a Dunkin’ Donuts.) He also noted that the MTA hopes to increase the revenue generated at its retail spaces, which comes to about $80 million per year (half of that comes from Grand Central Terminal).

Earlier this year, the agency announced that it would also look into filling some its subterranean retail spaces with vending machines in response to a decline in rider spending at human-run stands hawking newspapers, magazines, and candy.