Appellation Rail

Question for Big Apple Trivia Buffs: What does New York have only six of, although it might be due for a seventh?

The answer was the focus of a discussion at the January 22 meeting of Community Board 1, where Transportation Committee Reggie Thomasnoted that, “Pace University’s assistant vice present of government and community relations, Vanessa Herman came and presented about renaming a subway station for Pace.”

“Specifically, they talked about Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station, as well as the Fulton Street station,” he continued. “They realized that renaming Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall station is likely not going to fly with this board, and they are probably right about that. But they did request an increase in signage within the station itself.”

“Alternatively, they asked us to consider a co-naming of Fulton Street station as Fulton Street/Pace University,” Mr. Thomas noted. “We expressed our initial concern that renaming Fulton Street competes with the World Trade Center and the South Street Seaport, and a host of other destinations. We underscored that concern, but we said that we supported an increase an signage in both stations.”

Currently, there are six subway stations co-named for institutions of higher learning. Four are in Manhattan (Eighth Street/NYU, 68th Street/Hunter College, 116th Street/Columbia University, and 137th Street/City College), with one more each in Brooklyn and the Bronx (Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College and Bedford Park Boulevard/Lehman College, respectively).

There are no clear guidelines for renaming additional subway stations after universities, but the request on some level makes intuitive sense. Pace University is undergoing a renaissance, in which the onetime commuter college has begun to attract students from around the nation and the world. The undergraduate population at its Lower Manhattan campus has more than doubled since the start of the 21st century, as it has built several large new dormitories and its academic reputation has soared.

Nor is Pace unique in asking to be recognized in a way that puts it on par with more-established nearby universities. In Massachusetts, both Northeastern and Boston University have stops on the local subway named for them, which has promoted Emerson College to petition that the adjacent Boylston Station be renamed for the Back Bay institution. This initiative draws on local precedent: In 2010, another Boston subway station was renamed for the nearby Tufts University Medical Center, but only after that university agreed to pay $150,000 not only to refurbish the station itself, but also update subway maps throughout the system.

In this context, cost emerges one determinative criterion in proposals to rename subway stations. Although the six New York colleges and universities that are honored by having subway stops named for them paid nothing for the privilege when those decisions were made, nearly a century ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which oversees the subway system, now aggressively seeks to monetize the attention of its captive clientele. In the early 2000s, it launched an initiative to sell naming rights to subways stations. Since then, the only taker has been the real estate firm Forest City Ratner, which agreed in 2009 to pay $200,000 a year (through 2039) for the convergence of subway stops at Atlantic Avenue, Pacific Street, and Flatbush Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn to be given an additional name: Barclays, in a nod to the new sports arena located above those stops, which was erected by that developer.

More recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo (who controls the MTA) announced in 2017 a program under which donors or sponsors could “adopt” a subway station (in exchange for $600,000) and get credit for amenities such as free WiFi access or improved maintenance and cleaning.

The MTA’s criteria for this program (which envisions corporate partners, rather than non-profit entities, such as universities) say that the agency will, “consider applications to sell the naming rights to a particular station as long as the new name contributes to and does not diminish our customers’ ability to navigate the system easily.” The same rules stipulate that the MTA will consider such requests only from entities that have a, ‘geographic, historic, or other connection to a station’ proposed for renaming.”

Pace University appears to meet all of these criteria. But if they agree to participate in the program unveiled by Governor Cuomo two years ago, they will be the first taker.
Matthew Fenton

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