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Old Posted Oct 12, 2010, 3:25 AM
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Hotel, big retail eyed for Moynihan Station
Lifting the veil on vision for future Amtrak station in Eighth Avenue post office building, state raises prospect of a hotel on upper floor, and a shopping center.

Down this hallway, which once led to offices, may eventually lead to hotel rooms.

A model of the entire building, which sits on eight acres and spans two city blocks.

By Jeremy Smerd
October 11, 2010

A marble hallway where a tiny jail housed postal thieves; expansive rooms obstructed by dingy drop-ceilings; and wide hallways overlooking the inner courtyard of the James A. Farley Post Office—this now-obsolete but prime Manhattan real estate could be transformed into a boutique hotel that will occupy the top floors of what will eventually become Moynihan train station.

The Related Cos. and Vornado Realty Trust, the two developers working with the Moynihan Station Development Corp. to turn the bottom two floors of the six-story post office into a new Amtrak station, envision a 200-room boutique hotel on the eastern half of the building, which has grand facade facing Eighth Avenue, said Fred Bartoli, project manager on the Moynihan Station Development Corp. That group is a subsidiary of the state's Empire State Development Corp.

Mr. Bartoli was among several ESDC staffers giving New Yorkers an inside glimpse of the future of Moynihan Station on Oct. 9. The tours were part of Open House New York's annual weekend event showcasing the city's architecture marvels. An actual boutique hotel in the space is many years away, but that is so far the most likely use of the space, Mr. Bartoli said.

The national landmark sits on an eight-acre site that spans two square city blocks between West 31st and West 33rd streets. The Beaux Arts facade actually contains two buildings bisected by a breezeway that will eventually be opened up to allow taxi passage.

The eastern half of the building envelopes an inner courtyard covered with a copper-plated roof. Designers say the roof will be replaced with a glass dome covering a train hall similar to Grand Central Terminal's main concourse.

The western half of the building is likely to contain retail shops with big-box stores on the upper floors of the six-story building. Those floors are now empty. All that remain are covered catwalks with slots in the walls.

Postal managers used the slots to spy on their employees, some of whom may have been tempted to steal the mail or read a postcard or two, according to the tour guides.

It could be at least a decade, however, before a boutique hotel or retail stores come to fruition. While construction on the $267 million first phase begins this month, the downturn in the real estate market has put the private-public development of the station's later phases on hold. The first phase entails linking the Farley building to expanded Penn Station platforms, giving passengers another exit on the final third of tracks that run from Penn station underneath the post office.

“That will really help alleviate congestion at Penn Station,” said Bronson Fox, a vice president of development at the Moynihan Station Development Corp., who also spoke on the tour.

ESDC is in talks with the developers to sell 2.5 million square feet of air rights. The money would combine with government funding to develop the post office into a train station. The private developers would then pay to renovate the remaining floors. What the developers will do with the air rights remains a source of speculation. Vornado could transform a neighboring site into a tower rivaling One Penn Plaza. The site on the northeast corner of Eighth Avenue and West 33rd Street is currently home to a one-story Duane Reade.

For now, the post office is largely unused and off limits to the public. The exception is the main foyer on Eighth Avenue, which still serves as a neighborhood post office and will continue to be used as a retail post office once the station is built.

The jail that once housed postal thieves has been taken down. All that remain are the marks on the floor outlining the footprint of the tiny cells. Signs along the wide corridors announcing the building as a “fallout shelter” speak of an earlier era when the building teemed with thousands of workers who sorted the mail, designed stamps (some of which were kept in a vault in the basement) and, until five years ago, shipped the mail on the trains below ground.

Much of that work is now outsourced. And though the future of the U.S. Postal Service is uncertain in the Internet era, the agency's famous motto inscribed on the building's facade will remain in perpetuity:

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
NEW YORK heals.

“Office buildings are our factories – whether for tech, creative or traditional industries we must continue to grow our modern factories to create new jobs,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer.
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