FiDi Tower Owner Hopes to Displace Food Vendors with Street Furniture

The owners of 140 Broadway want to install planters and benches where these six food vending trucks now dish out breakfasts and lunches by the hundreds each weekday. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jan. 22, 2018

UPDATE 2/4/18: The Landmarks Preservation Commission has listed the Feb 6 scheduled hearing on the 140 Broadway proposal as "laid over."

UPDATE 1/24/18: At Community Board 1's monthly full board meeting on Jan. 23, a representative from The Street Vendor Project and a vendor who sells outside 140 Broadway spoke out against the owners' plan to displace the vendors with street furniture on Department of Transportation property. As a result, the board's resolution on the owners' proposal before the Landmarks Commission opposes the street furniture, saying it would not be in keeping with the plaza's original design.

The expansive privately owned public space outside 140 Broadway has some popular features. One is the giant Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi that serves as a backdrop for countless tourist photos. Another is the row of well-liked food carts along Broadway where nearby workers and passersby line up daily for a wide selection of quick and inexpensive meals.

Now the owners of the 51-story landmark Brown Brothers Harriman building and its plaza are seeking Landmarks Preservation Commission approval of a plan to renovate and redesign their plaza, between Cedar and Liberty Streets. Along with that proposal is a separate request to the city’s Department of Transportation to install planters and benches on the public sidewalk along Broadway. It is a plan meant, in part, to get rid of the vendors.

The building’s representatives claim that the food carts are “hemming in” the plaza and blocking what they say is the historic interconnection of public plazas from One Chase Plaza to the east, through 140 Broadway and into Zuccotti Park to the west.

Where the vendors now dish out egg-and-cheese sandwiches and plates of chicken and rice would be five city benches and four large black planters.

“It’s a way to add more seating and more planting into the plaza space and better activate the space,” said NV5 landscape architect Jackson Wandres, in a presentation this month to Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee. “Most importantly it recreates that original visual connection to the plaza, across Broadway to Zuccotti Park.”

To make sure that vendors don’t set up on the plaza’s Cedar Street side, the designers have also proposed putting lighted stanchions along the building’s property line. Wandres maintained that once they have clearly staked out the division between private and public property it will be clear that there is not enough legal space (12 feet from curb to property line) for a vendor to set up a cart.

Last year, according to The Street Vendor Project, an advocacy group with the Urban Justice Center, the building managers, Hines Property Management, installed a bike rack on the Cedar Street side to make it difficult for a vendor to legally place his cart on the sidewalk. In 2013, the Street Vendors Project fought and lost against a Citi Bike station on the Liberty Street side of the plaza that they said had been requested by the building’s management in order to displace vendors.

Wandress said that once the vendors are removed from Broadway there would be no more space for them anywhere around the building’s property.  

Other available spaces for vendors Downtown are sparse. “In Lower Manhattan almost every street is closed to vendors or the sidewalks are too narrow,” said Street Vendors Project director Sean Basinski.

The Trib showed the plans to several vendors and reactions ranged from resignation to fears for their livelihood.

Aziz Rabhi, 43, said he would be out of a job after 10 years in the same spot. “Every cart here have two or three people working in it—all with families. It’s not easy,” he said.

“Why do they need to put the furniture here?” he added, then pointed across Broadway to Zuccotti Park. “They have the park over there.”

Sixty-year-old Musthafa Tharuvayi, who has been vending outside 140 Broadway for the past 13 years, said it takes two years to get established in a new location and, anyway, it would be difficult to find another spot, or another way to make money. “I don’t know any other job,” he said. “This 60-year-old guy, where do I go?”

Just then a former customer who had left the area two years ago approached the cart window. “I just came back. I have to say hello to you,” the man said, greeting Tharuvayi with a big smile.

“Each building,” Tharuvayi said, “someone in [every] office knows me.”

A DOT spokesperson said the agency is studying the street furniture proposal, but would not say how, if at all, the vendors’ presence would affect its decision.

“DOT is currently engaging in preliminary conversations with the consultant, however all approvals will be subject to a public review process,” the DOT said in a statement.

Matthew Shapiro, a staff attorney for the Street Vendors Project, said he anticipates that the vendors will protest the proposal at future public hearings.

This is evidence of a larger theme throughout the city,” Shapiro said. “Its vendors not being treated as legitimate stakeholders or legitimate small business owners and seeing them as a nuisance or a problem to be fixed. We see this everywhere.”

The overall plan for the plaza calls for a design that more closely resembles its original look in 1968. Six round planters with seating and trees would replace the long granite benches on the south side of the plaza. A seventh and larger round bench with trees and plantings would also serve as a new (and much diminished) memorial to Harry Helmsley, the building’s developer. The new design proposes to remove Helmsley’s large polished granite monument and inscribe his name and a saying about him in the seat back of the new planter. According to Wandres, the new plan will more than quadruple the plaza’s seating.

The CB1 committee recommended that the Landmarks Commission, who will hear the presentation on Feb. 6, approve the plan. But it rejected the lighted stanchions that are meant to indicate the building’s property line on the Cedar Street side. “We shouldn’t be messing with landmarks to keep the food vendors out,” committee chair Roger Byrom said. The full board will vote on the resolution at its meeting Tuesday evening, Jan. 23.

Requests for comment from Hines Property Management, and Union Investment, the German-based owners of 140 Broadway, were not returned.


Workers depend on these vendors

The last thing this city needs is more furniture on the street (bad enough the CitiBike racks take up sidewalk space). The people who work in the surrounding buildings depend on these vendors when they don't have the time to wait on line in deli's or other eating establishments. The people that want the furniture are probably the ones who eat at Capital Grille as often as most people eat at McDonald's. The vendors are also an easy way for tourists to grab breakfast or even lunch while they're walking around. It's bad enough that small businesses have been forced out from Tribeca down to Wall Street because of the greed of Landlords, but street vendors go back to when immigrants who came here from Ellis Island sold goods on pushcarts on the Lower East Side. I hope this idea goes the way of the subway token. — SHERRI ROSEN

Vendors' threatened eviction is "depressing and enfuriating"

Apparently the building owners and their complicit landscape architect wish to transform Downtown New York into an upscale suburban mall.

It's depressing and infuriatiating to read that the food cart vendors in our commercial downtown are being threatening with eviction. We need these affordable alternatives to expensive and time-consuming restaurants and cafés. People who have to work late or on night shift certainly need quick and cheap options to keep them going. It's also reassuring if you are walking home or to work at night to have food cart vendors in the vicinity in this otherwise deserted neighborhood.

This is a city where the huge variety of foods and prices and ways of getting fed needs to be fostered, not zoned out of upscale neighborhoods. 

Have the owners of the buildings who want to ban the vendors even given a thought to the effect it will have on all their families. — CAROLE ASHLEY