Vornado wants to clean up “crack alley” around One Penn Plaza

Landlord asks city for permission to close public plazas at night to deter unseemly activity

Steve Roth at One Penn Plaza as Mr. Clean (Credit: Getty Images and Mr. Clean)
Steve Roth at One Penn Plaza as Mr. Clean (Credit: Getty Images and Mr. Clean)

A host of undesirables engaging in lewd behavior are proving a major headache for the Penn Station area’s largest landlord.

Vornado Realty Trust is undertaking a $200 million renovation of One Penn Plaza, and wants the city’s help in fixing what’s become known as “crack alley,” public documents show.

“You need to do something about the vagrants, bums, crackheads, crack-whores, scallywags, ne’er-do-wells, drunks, drug addicts, knife-fights, fist fights, bi**ch-slapping, and yelling sessions that are beginning to take place – again – in what has come to be known as ‘crack-alley’ and ‘crack-head park’ on both sides of” One Penn Plaza, one of the building’s tenants wrote in a work order, which Vornado attached to an application it filed with the city.

Vornado has asked the Department of City Planning for authorization to shut down two through-block public plazas that bookend either side of the 57-story, 2.5 million-square-foot One Penn office tower during nighttime hours.

“The combination of some emotionally disturbed individuals as well as drug addicted individuals looking for a place to sit, sleep, or transact drug deals makes the relative seclusion of certain areas of the through block plazas attractive locations,” representatives for the real estate investment trust wrote in an application to the city.

Vornado declined to comment. The REIT is looking to overhaul its two properties adjacent to Penn Station – the office buildings at One and Two Penn Plaza – by combining them into a connected 4.4 million-square-foot megacampus.

The firm’s chairman and CEO Steve Roth described the repositioning of the Penn Plaza area, where it controls over 9 million square feet, as the company’s “big Kahuna.”

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The project includes an overhaul of the 1970s-era One Penn building, which would see Vornado upgrade public spaces, add additional retail and put in a new entrance to Penn Station from One Penn’s north plaza on 34th Street.

But the company says the neighborhood draws some unwanted elements.

Three blocks to the north, there’s a needle-exchange program on West 37th Street – the only authorized program in Manhattan between the Lower East Side and 123rd Street in Harlem. There’s a methadone clinic nearby on West 35th Street. And at night, the Port Authority Bus Terminal tries to clear out its homeless population, which “results in streams of displaced people heading down Eighth Avenue toward Penn Station,” according to Vornado.

Vornado said that between late September and late December 2017, private security responded to 145 calls, more than half of which were for emotionally disturbed persons or drug use. About 40 percent of the time the police came in or 911 was called.

And the landlord said vagrants harass and physically threaten security staff and maintenance workers, which makes it difficult to clean the place. Some maintenance workers have to wear special gloves in order to not get pricked by syringes.

Vornado wants permission from the city to close the eastern public plaza from midnight to 5 a.m. in the morning and the western plaza from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. from April through October and 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. for the rest of the year.

“Eliminating these areas from the realm of ‘24/7 hangouts’ by closing them at night,” Vornado’s representatives wrote, “will enable the plazas to be opened every morning clean of debris and safe from the overnighters who lurk there and will reduce the options in the district for nighttime drug dealing and other illicit activities, thereby improving the overall level of security in the neighborhood.”