By: Vivian Lee | The New York Times
The glass-and-steel prism called Fulton Center began life as a public-transit labyrinth, a spaghetti-bowl tangle of dimly-lit corridors, narrow switchbacks and baffling signage cobbled together out of five subway stations built in the early 1900s.
A century later, and more than a decade after part of the Lower Manhattan subway complex was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the nine subway lines that converge on Fulton Street and Broadway have been knit together anew. New Yorkers, accustomed to thinking of transit hubs like Penn Station and Times Square as places to suffer through, will find on Monday morning a kind of Crystal Palace, crowned by a dome that funnels daylight two stories below ground.
Even with ballooning budgets and repeated delays, Fulton Center was the kind of megaproject designed to inspire hyperbole, and it did: “Forget the Grand Central clock,” said Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, at Fulton Center’s opening on Sunday afternoon. “They’re going to come here.”
She and the other politicians and transit officials who spoke at the opening reminded the crowd of the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, when dust and debris entombed the surrounding streets. As daylight streamed through the oculus’s “Sky-Reflector Net,” the speakers all came to the same point, most succinctly summarized by Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York.
“This station,” he said, “is a metaphor for a revitalized downtown.”
Around Fulton Street, the scaffolding and cranes that chopped up lower Manhattan have come down. The National September 11 Memorial Museum opened in May. The skyscraper at 1 World Trade Center welcomed its first tenants last week. Up to 300,000 passengers a day are expected to pass through Fulton Center.
But like the others, Fulton Center was never intended simply to restore: with retailers like Tom Ford claiming space in the World Trade Center and a food court drawing buzz in nearby Brookfield Place, officials envision the new building as downtown’s answer to Grand Central Terminal.
A classical guitarist serenaded the opening-event guests. Burberry ads flashed across large screens. About the only humble touch was the greeting Monica Williams, a supervisor at the complex, had written on the information booth’s whiteboard for Monday: “Have a nice day.”
“It is a big job,” she said, smiling. “A big challenge.”
But the bigger challenge was building it.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s architects and construction workers had to resolve century-old rivalries among the nine subway lines around Fulton Street, the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, Z and R. Their stations originally belonged to three competing subway companies.
“It was a nightmare, and you never knew what direction you were headed,” recalled Michael Horodniceanu, the transit authority’s president of capital construction. Now, he said, “We expect it to become the new paradigm for stations.”
The builders smoothed out connections, diminishing the bobbing-and-weaving that had made navigation at Fulton Center an ordeal. Now, among other changes, the A and C lines run a few flights of stairs down from the 4 and the 5. Passengers can reach the 4 and 5 trains from any point along the platform, rather than from the three doors they squeezed through before. And the entire complex is accessible to the disabled.
They threaded a 350-foot-long pedestrian passageway under Dey Street to link Fulton Center with the R and, sometime next year, the World Trade Center PATH train complex, designed as a companion hub. Once the World Trade Center’s complex opens and the Cortlandt Street station is rebuilt, passengers will also find the E and 1 lines through the passageway.
At the end of the new passageway, they brought back something old: ceramic tile art by Margie Hughto that was originally installed at the Cortlandt Street R station in 1997.
They encircled the central hub with shops and kiosks.
Next door, they preserved and built a new foundation for the historic Corbin Building, which will hold more than 36,000 square feet of office space.
The scale of the project was such that the transit authority felt the need to distribute a fact sheet. There are, for instance, 1,950 fire alarms in the building, which used 60,000 square feet of granite. More than 50 screens carry maps and service updates, digital art and advertisements, including one for a Burberry watch that displays the correct time when it appears onscreen.
What went unmentioned in the fact sheet were the major setbacks along the way: cost overruns, delays and a corresponding downgrade in ambitions, problems that have plagued other transit authority projects in recent years. The dome was scaled back, a planned direct connection between the R and the E lines scuttled. What was supposed to open in 2007 at a cost of $750 million took seven more years and totaled $1.4 billion.
So it was perhaps understandable that a handful of impatient passengers tried to cut into the station on their way from the A train to the 4 on Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Horodniceanu beamed. “Tell them to come back at 5 a.m.,” he called.