The Crossroads of the World has never been more popular. And that is becoming a problem.
More people than ever are packing into Times Square — from across the world, the country and the rest of New York City.
Eager to dip into such a bounty of wallets, international retailers are jostling for space, paying rents that are second only to Fifth Avenue. Pulsing, color-splashed digital billboards have grown from the size of basketball courts to football-field proportions. Attendance at Broadway shows topped 13 million last year for the first time.
With all this going for it, why are so many landlords, office tenants and theater owners worried about the future of Times Square?
The same reason that retailers and advertisers lust after a Times Square location is the same reason that others now find it unbearable: the crowds.
Some office workers and corporate clients complain bitterly of having to navigate thick and sometimes unyielding knots of tourists in various hot spots — including a giant video billboard outside the “Good Morning America” studios and a digital wraparound sign at the Marriott Marquis Hotel — just to get in and out of office buildings. A 30-minute lunch is nearly impossible because restaurants are jammed with visitors.
Howard S. Fiddle, vice chairman at the real estate services company CBRE, said, “It’s so successful as a tourist destination that people say it’s too congested for New Yorkers to conduct business.”
Few landlords are willing to talk about the issue publicly for fear of turning their concerns into reality. But companies are dealing with the problem in small and large ways.
A skyscraper at 1540 Broadway, for instance, offers an eighth-floor cafeteria and a gym so employees of several companies, such as Viacom and Pillsbury, do not have to step outside.
The pitch from real estate brokers for renovated office space in the former headquarters of The New York Times Company, on 43rd Street, just outside the most congested parts of the neighborhood, is simple: You get all of the benefits of the transportation network without the negative of the crowds.
The latest crowd surge in Times Square began in 2009, after the city closed a stretch of Broadway between 42nd and 47th Streets, creating a series of public plazas and nearly doubling the amount of pedestrian space. As a result, the number of pedestrians in Times Square has jumped to as high as 480,000 a day, from about 350,000 before 2009.
“Foot traffic has increased,” said Jeffrey S. Katz, who owns several buildings in Times Square. “The retail is doing great; hotels are doing great. The plazas just exploded the rents. It’s beyond even my imagination.