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18-month long L train shutdown sparks retail worries

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has announced that it will shut down the portion of the L train that runs between 14 Street in Chelsea and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg for 18 months. The plan, which will close down one of the most crowded train lines in the city, is expected to kick in as soon as 2019.

The plan was revealed after months of uncertainty. The closure, which MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast said “cannot be avoided or delayed,” is meant to give way to repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

“While the MTA always looks to avoid service disruptions, there is no question that repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel are critical and cannot be avoided or delayed,” Prendergast said.

Last May, the MTA revealed two possible scenarios for the L train shutdown. The options were to either close the tunnel entirely for 18 months or close one track at a time for around three years.

John Horowitz, vice president and regional manager of Marcus & Millichap’s Brooklyn office, told Real Estate Weekly that he thinks the looming repairs will have an effect on rents, both on the residential and commercial side, mostly in the prime areas closest to subway stations. However, he remains optimistic.

“The only reason I’m not as pessimistic as others, is that so many more companies are moving to Brooklyn from Manhattan, so it will be easier to work and live in Brooklyn simultaneously,” said Horowitz. “So for them, it won’t have as much effect.”

Horowitz’s firm does a lot of business in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick, where he said prices have increased exponentially in the past few years. Though buyers are talking a lot about the shutdown news, “it hasn’t permeated to owners yet,” he said.

He thinks rents will have to adjust slightly downward, as well as prices.

“I want to see which plan they go with,” he said. “If I had a retail vacancy right now, I’d do whatever I could to get a tenant in there and give concessions.”

According to the MTA, they organized four community meetings in Canarsie, Williamsburg, Bushwick and the 14th Street corridor of Manhattan before deciding on what route to take. Most of the people that will be affected by the shutdown favored the shorter closure.

“Throughout our extensive outreach process and review, it became clear that the 18-month closure was the best construction option and offered the least amount of pain to customers for the shortest period of time,” said NYC Transit President Veronique Hakim.

The plan has raised concerns in City Hall. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he will have “serious conversations” with the MTA about how to provide alternatives to 300,000 riders.

“The amount of time that they have projected – the 18 months – is a very big concern for me and for the City government. We’re going to have some very serious conversations about the MTA, about whether it has to take that long and how it’s going to be handled,” he said. “By the time it happens, one – small but important factors – we’ll have the citywide ferry service in place, so that’ll be helpful, but we’re going to need a lot more than that, obviously. So I want to press the MTA to show us that 300,000 riders really will have good and consistent alternatives. And we’re certainly going to look at what we have to do in terms of the bridge as part of that.”

A seven mile-long portion of the The Canarsie Tunnel was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. This caused damage to the tracks, signal cables, bench walls, power cables and lighting within the structure. The repairs are meant to restore the structural integrity of the tunnel.

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