Retail giant Westfield says crime at MTA’s Fulton Transit Center is forcing it out

The real estate company managing retail at Manhattan’s busy Fulton Transit Center says rampant crime and mayhem has gone unchecked for years, forcing it to break its lease with the MTA.

Westfield, which runs malls and shopping centers around the world, moved last month to abandon the subway hub only 10 years into its 20-year deal at the downtown facility. The decision prompted the MTA to file suit in Manhattan Federal Court, seeking to prevent the company from pulling out.

Westfield responded Friday that the transit agency “has not properly maintained public safety and security” at the station, giving it a basis to terminate the lease. The company submitted photos, incident reports and correspondence with the MTA that provide a behind the scenes look at a prominent corporation expressing alarm about transit crime.

Westfield’s filings came the same week Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered 750 National Guard soldiers and 250 state police officers to check bags in subway stations to put commuters at ease.

“For years, Westfield has repeatedly notified the MTA about the unsafe conditions and the very slow and difficult permitting process at Fulton Center. Such conditions coupled with the unprecedented global pandemic and macro political and economic environment continue to directly impact the significant financial and operational difficulties Westfield faces,” Westfield attorney Hyura Choi wrote in a Feb. 12 letter to the MTA filed in the case. “Multiple tenants have left, citing concerns about safety and security, and additional tenants have expressed a desire to leave, remaining only due to significant economic incentives Westfield has offered (to its financial detriment) simply to keep spaces occupied and help save these local businesses.”

Businesses that bailed on the center after reporting “break-ins, theft and vandalism, assault and harassment” included Wetzel Pretzels, Pressed Juicery, Matto Espresso and Häagen-Dazs, according to the letter.

A Westfield attorney declined to comment.

“While we are unable to comment on specific pending litigation, we have full confidence in the NYPD, which has surged officers into the subway, to ensure safety across the transit system, including at Fulton Center,” MTA spokesperson Joana Flores said in an email.

The dispute comes as the Paris-based company has told investors it plans a “radical reduction” of its malls in the United States, according to The Wall Street Journal. Malls have been dying across the United States for more than a decade due to changes in shopping habits.

Westfield’s legal filings do not dwell on the larger economic forces fueling malls’ decline. Instead, company attorneys described “homeless encampments, unauthorized vendors, assaults, vandalism, employee intimidation and harassment” that they said had driven out tenants.

Photos submitted by the company showed a security guard with a bloody nose, broken retail display windows and homeless people sleeping in the station. The company said it had spent $690,000 repairing “vandalism and arson” at Fulton Center. Westfield argued that the MTA was obligated by the terms of the lease to maintain safety and security, but that meetings with the agency, the NYPD and mayor’s office had not yielded an improvement.

The station opened in 2014 at a cost of $1.4 billion — nearly twice its original budget — connecting nine subway lines. It was heralded as a major milestone in the restoration of Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of 9/11. But Westfield says conditions at Fulton Center have deteriorated since 2020.

NYPD data shows major felonies in the transit system are down 13% in the last 28 days compared to the same period last year, leading NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell to argue that a recent surge of police officers into the transit system is working. However, so far this year major felonies in transit are up 13% year through March 3 compared to last year, according to the NYPD.

This year, there have been three murders in the subway system. A conductor was also slashed in the neck while peering out from a train car in a Brooklyn station.

Notably, Westfield’s scathing criticism of conditions at Fulton Center do not extend to the luxury mall it operates in the Oculus at the One World Trade Center PATH station. That transit hub, which is owned by the Port Authority, is connected to the MTA’s Fulton Center by a tunnel, but also directly connects to the MTA’s E and 1 trains.

During a visit Monday to Fulton Center, Gothamist noticed some kiosks were empty. An eviction notice was posted on a space once occupied by Häagen Dazs ice cream. An advertisement for retail leases was plastered along the station’s top floor.

But other shops — including a flower stand and Freedom Wine Cellar — were open and appeared to be busy.

Stephen Nessen contributed reporting.

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