Second Avenue from 93rd to 97th streets is lined with pizzerias, supermarkets, locksmiths and hardware stores, all in the shadow of high-rise apartment buildings.
But it’s plans for below ground — the construction of the long-stalled Second Avenue Subway line — that has merchants concerned these days.
“The overall project is great,” Hector Munoz, owner of the gourmet food store Zeytinia, at Second Avenue and East 94th Street, said at an April 30 public hearing about land acquisition relating to plans for the new T train to run along Second Avenue.
But local residents and business owners, including Munoz, have questions: Who will need to relocated and when? How long will construction keep customers away from businesses like Munoz’s? Will he have to close shop permanently?
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority did not immediately have firm answers.
“These people won’t be relocating for a year, quite frankly,” Roco Krsulic, director of real estate for the MTA, said in a phone interview.
“The worst thing we could do is advise people to move then find that wouldn’t be necessary,” added Krsulic, who was not at the April 30 hearing.
The MTA wants to acquire six properties — including a lumberyard and some residential buildings — through condemnation to build the 96th Street station. The pattern could be repeated along the 16 stations planned for the train route, which will stretch from 125th Street in Harlem to Hanover Square in Lower Manhattan.
The MTA is “in the real estate business,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, a public transportation advocacy group. “They’re also a planning business.”
And planning is not simple.
Krsulic said that business owners would be compensated for their “fixtures” — built-in items that cannot be easily moved.
Building owners would be bought out, but the prices likely would be decided in court. Tenants would be relocated, but the terms are far from certain, and also could end up in a judge’s hands.
While the MTA will do its best to move tenants to new homes in the same neighborhood, Krsulic said, “We can’t move someone from a $1,000-a-month apartment to a $5,000-a-month apartment.”
Concerns over the relocation plans marks one of the latest chapters in the Second Avenue Subway saga, which dates back 87 years. The Great Depression and the 1970s fiscal crisis were among the factors that derailed the project, designed to relieve overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue lines.
Last year, the Federal Transit Administration approved the design of the first phase of the route.
The $17 billion project will be built in four phases. The first, to be completed by 2013, will run from 72nd to 105th streets, with a tunnel connection to 63rd Street. The Second Avenue Subway is expected to be completed by 2020 — a century after the project was proposed.
“I think it’s great,” said Bill Henderson, executive director of the New York City Transit Riders Council, which represents commuters’ interests to the MTA. “It’s been on the drawing board for far too long.”
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, D-Manhattan, believes the Second Avenue Subway is a “good thing,” but has concerns about how the project is being handled.
“I think the line of communication is very poor,” said Mark-Viverito, who said she and other local politicians were not told about the April 30 meeting. She found out at the last minute and arrived late.
Meanwhile, Munoz fears he will lose his sidewalk cafe to construction — and may have to close shop and seek a new space. “A good 30 percent to 40 percent of the business could be lost,” he said.
Salih Bashir, owner of Kebap G, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Second Ave., between 94th and 95th streets, expressed similar concerns.
“I wish we could come to a compromise,” said Bashir, who has not decided whether he will move. “They really should care about the small businesses.”
“At the end of the day,” Munoz interjected, “we’re the backbone of the community.”
“Absolutely,” Bashir agreed.