As retail businesses in the New York City subway system struggle to rebound from the COVID-19 lockdown, the MTA is planning to temporarily turn some vacant storefronts into art spaces.
“We’re releasing a limited solicitation for vacant units very soon,” Jamie Torres-Springer, the transit agency’s head of construction and development, said Monday at a meeting of the MTA’s board. “We plan to activate the spaces with uses that improve the travel experience, such as art installations or other socially beneficial uses for the city.”
There are roughly 200 retail spaces available within the NYC Transit subway system. Of those, 57 storefronts are currently open and operating—up from 50 in April.
Twenty units are currently under construction, Torres-Springer said, and about 100 still open for rent.
But some spaces are “uniquely challenging” to fill, he said, and make good candidates for other uses.
“These are not necessarily going to generate revenue for the MTA,” Torres-Springer told the board.
Retail problems on the transit system predate the pandemic. In 2019, the agency told the Daily News that 40% of the subway system’s retail spaces were empty or shuttered.
But with occupancy now at less than a third of capacity, the MTA has taken steps to secure the retail tenants it has.
Last month, the MTA extended a pandemic-era rental assistance program for commercial tenants through 2025.
The program now limits retail tenants’ rent to 30% of an agreed-upon rate or 10% of a shop’s gross sales — whichever is higher. And if a shop meets its 2019 revenue levels for three consecutive months, they are no longer eligible for assistance.
In April, 20 of 50 subway retailers were taking advantage of the program. As of last month, 18 of the subway system’s 53 retailers were receiving assistance.
Torres-Springer did not provide a timeline Monday for the conversion of vacant retail into art space.
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