Silicon Alley U

Not So Fast With That Brooklyn Tech Campus! Transit Workers Protest Selling MTA’s Former HQ to NYU

The MTA pays $1/year in rent for 370 Jay Street and $23 million/year in rent for 2 Broadway.
nyucampus1 Not So Fast With That Brooklyn Tech Campus! Transit Workers Protest Selling MTAs Former HQ to NYU

NYU's proposal for 370 Jay St.

During the press conference naming NYU the second place winner in the city’s tech campus competition, Mayor Bloomberg began his speech by snarking about the number of people who stood behind him. “You can always tell whether something is important by whether people want to participate in the announcement,” he said with a smile, pointing out that “nobody” angled for a spot on a podium when he wanted to ban smoking in public places.

But not everyone is behind El Bloombito’s tech-forward agenda. At a Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board meeting in Midtown last night, NY1 reports that members of the Transport Workers Union demanded that the board vote down the “all-but-done deal” to hand over the MTA’s former headquarters at 370 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn to NYU.

“Before the MTA gets into the business of using its public assets that belong to New York City transit riders to create an epicenter of technology in academia, the MTA should use that public asset to create an epicenter of excellent transit service in New York City,” said TWU President John Samuelsen.

NY1 says the MTA only pays $1 in rent for 370 Jay St. in Brooklyn, as opposed to $23 million a year for its new headquarters at 2 Broadway in Manhattan, where the agency moved about a decade ago. The TWU proposed that to save costs, the MTA should move back to 370 Jay and another MTA building in Brooklyn and sublease 2 Broadway. But the board wouldn’t budge. MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota pointed out that under the MTA’s lease terms with the city, they had to return the property because it wasn’t in use. (Kind of a Catch-22 there, huh?) In fact, the entirety of NYU’s $50 million deal with the MTA for the space will go towards moving communications equipment to the basement.

One might have guessed that a nostalgic attachment to 370 Jay would rear its head by watching NYC Transit president Tom Prendergast’s history lesson during the presser, which starts at about 22:40. “I have to be honest, seeing it leave the MTA family is kind of bittersweet for me,” said Mr. Prendergast. “You’d have to recall, 30 years ago it was in much better shape . . . Believe it or not, it was  once a very functional office building and the centerpiece of New York transit.”

The Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), NYU’s proposed applied science research institute that will take over 370 Jay, describes itself as “a consortium of world-class universities and the foremost international tech companies to address the needs of cities.” Perhaps union workers–and New Yorkers!–would feel better if one of the needs addressed was “a better transportation system.”

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com