MTA halts a Manhattan hotel project, and the lawsuits fly

Transit agency issued stop-work order to allow for elevator construction

50 Trinity Place and Andy Byford
50 Trinity Place and Andy Byford

Work has ceased at a hotel tower on Trinity Place because, according to a new lawsuit, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is trying to “strong-arm and suffocate” the developer.

Peter Zen’s FIT Investment Corp. claims the MTA wrongfully issued a stop-work order at 50 Trinity Place, where FIT is building a 173-key hotel. The agency allegedly halted work earlier this month to enable another developer, Trinity Place Holdings, to work on an elevator at the Rector Street subway station.

Trinity Place Holdings is building a 90-unit condo tower 42 Trinity Place (also known as 77 Greenwich Street) and agreed to build the elevator to secure approval for its project.

According to FIT’s complaint, the MTA on January 13 ordered work stopped, arguing that Trinity Place Holdings’ contractor needed access to the street and sidewalk in front of 50 Trinity Place for the elevator’s installation.

The MTA pointed to the state’s public authorities law, which allows the agency to occupy city streets for construction purposes. FIT alleges that the law doesn’t apply because a private developer — not the MTA — is paying for and constructing the elevator.

“The purpose of the [public authorities] bill was not for the MTA to be permitted to upend existing development projects by cutting in line and ‘occupying’ the street and sidewalk,” the lawsuit states. “That could not possibly be within the meaning of the statute because it would lead to perverse, unfair and improper results.”

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At the center of the tiff is a construction fence in front of 50 Trinity. FIT claims the MTA repeatedly pressured it to relocate the fence and even threatened to move the fence itself. In a counter complaint filed Tuesday against FIT’s general contractor, the Rinaldi Group, the MTA alleged that the construction fence is “unlawfully placed on the premises required for the elevator project.”

“We’re working hard to make as much of the subway system accessible as possible,” a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement. The spokesperson declined to comment further on the lawsuit.

According to FIT, moving the fence would violate the city’s building code and result in fines, violations and a stop-work order from the Department of Buildings.

“Unfortunately, and as Department of Buildings would subsequently confirm, even MTA is not above the requirements of the New York City building code,” the lawsuit states.

Andy Byford, president of New York City Transit, the MTA’s subway and bus division, has made adding elevators a priority for the subway system. At public appearances he has repeatedly warned New Yorkers not to delay accessibility projects with picayune objections.

“We’re not advocating some sort of undemocratic, crashing through neighborhoods and just installing things that people do not want, but what we do not have time for is a protracted debate about each and every one of the things that we need to do,” he said in December 2018, Streetsblog reported.