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Retail giant wants out of MTA transit center lease, blames crime for scaring away tenants

by Staff

The retail giant that runs the Fulton Transit Center in Lower Manhattan wants out of its deal with the MTA – blaming crime for scaring tenants away from the shopping space.

Westfield Fulton Center claims the subway hub has been overrun by homeless people, street hustlers and vandalism because of a lack of adequate security, according to court papers — as one shop manager told The Post even a tip jar was stolen multiple times.

Assaults and employee intimidation have become more and more common at the glass-and-steel building on the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway, which the MTA initially pitched as comparable in stature to Rockefeller Center or Grand Central Station, the company claimed.

The retail giant that runs the Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan wants out of its management lease — and it’s citing crime and a dispute over construction fees as the reasons why. Robert Miller

“Few businesses want to open and operate a store where their employees and customers regularly would experience theft, property damage, bodily harm, or threats thereof,” the company said in a March 8 response to an MTA lawsuit demanding the company stay on as managers.

“As the safety and security of Fulton Transit Center continued to degrade, it became nearly impossible to attract ‘high quality’ subtenants, existing ones declined to renew their leases and some surrendered their leases early, and the remaining existing subtenants have begged Westfield for help,” it continued.

“Many of the subtenants confirmed that Fulton Transit Center’s security issues were the sole reason they left the space.”

Plus, it claims the MTA is still on the hook for a $13.2 million award granted to Westfield by an arbitrator in 2022 to compensate the company for shoddy and unfinished construction work at the subway hub.

An MTA spokesperson declined to comment on the litigation, but said in a statement that “we have full confidence in the NYPD, which has surged officers into the subway, to ensure safety across the transit system, including at Fulton Center.”

But in its lawsuit — filed last month in Manhattan federal court — the MTA said it would “face irreparable injury” if Westfield abandoned the building, which opened in 2014.

Tenants say the center needs more security guards. Robert Miller
The 10-year-old building has been managed by Westfield Fulton Center, a subsidiary of a massive international real estate firm. Robert Miller

The 20-year lease — signed in May of that year — requires Westfield to manage and operate the Fulton Center, the lawsuit said. And it’s not allowed to back out over crime concerns.

“The Lease contains three provisions that permit Westfield to terminate the Lease, none of which applies to Westfield’s circumstances,” the suit read.

The agency asked the court to force Westfield to stay — and if it leaves anyway, declare it in breach of the agreement. Westfield is a subsidiary of the mammoth Paris-based commercial real estate company Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.

The gleaming, $1.4 billion transit hub a few blocks south of City Hall was a centerpiece of the Big Apple’s plan to revitalize the area in the wake of 9/11, which wiped out a significant amount of public transit infrastructure, the lawsuit said.

The center — which connects five underground stations and a web of nine subway lines — sees up to 300,000 straphangers pass through each day, according to the MTA.

But as the city continues to struggle with a series of troubling crimes in its transit system, Westfield claims the MTA hasn’t kept up its end of the security bargain.

Some tenants said more homeless people are shuffling around the center, especially at night. And there aren’t enough guards to keep up. Robert Miller

Some tenants agreed, telling The Post that the place desperately needs more guards.

“It’s difficult — there’s only one security officer on duty,” the manager of Gong Cha, a bubble tea shop, told The Post on Tuesday. “We should have more security. One definitely is not enough. We should have two or three.”

The manager — who did not want to be identified — said the business’ tip jar was stolen three times in six months. And the now-shuttered Haagen Dazs next door had been robbed “every several weeks.”

“It used to happen a lot,” the manager said. “They couldn’t make any money.”

Subway crime soared 20% in the first two months of 2024 compared to the same time last year, according to city data.

That increase was mostly driven by big jumps in grand larcenies, felony assaults and robberies, NYPD statistics showed.

The now-shuttered Haagen Dazs was robbed every several weeks, neighboring businesses said. Robert Miller
The station is busiest in Lower Manhattan. Robert Miller

Gov. Kathy Hochul addressed the soaring transit anxiety by recetly deploying 750 National Guard troops and 250 New York State Police and MTA officers, meant to help the Big Apple “solve this crisis.”

“These brazen heinous attacks on our subway system will not be tolerated,” Hochul said during the announcement from the MTA’s Transit Rail Control Center in Midtown, pointing to the recent random slashing of a train conductor and other acts of violence.

The governor’s decision to announce a five-point plan to fight transit crime came the day after Mayor Eric Adams said the NYPD would be checking bags and adding cops to the underground beat.

Westfield accused the MTA of selling the center as a Rockefeller Center-type attraction, but never followed through on the security. Robert Miller
More than 300,000 people use the building every day, the MTA said. Robert Miller

Crime is also up in the NYPD’s First Precinct, which encompasses the Fulton Center, rising about 2.3% year-to-date compared to 2023, according to CompStat statistics.

Felony assaults jumped to 23 this year, a 21% increase, the data show.

Meanwhile, there have been 43 burglaries — a 53% leap — and misdemeanor assault is up 22% for a total of 60, according to the stats. Data for the center specifically weren’t readily available.

Westfield claims in court papers that it’s spent nearly $700,000 repairing damage from vandalism and arson at the Fulton Center.

Nia, a shift leader at Birch Coffee, told The Post that she’s seeing more homeless people shuffling through lately — especially at night.

Cops wait at Gong Cha, a bubble tea place in the center. Robert Miller

“They come in and take bags of beans and the little mints,” she said. “Two weeks ago, they took a bag of beans and tried to return it at one of our other locations for cash. But we don’t do cash returns.”

Workers don’t keep a tip jar on the counter, either — when someone drops some extra cash, the baristas put it away until the end of the day, she added.

Leroy Smith, the assistant general manager at Krispy Kreme, said shady characters pass by, but flee when he “gives them the eye.”

“They come around and see if anybody is watching,” Smith said.

“When they see me, they change their minds. I don’t play that.”

“They go … but we have to be vigilant,” he added. “None of us here are superheroes. But we do what we can.”

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