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Steve Roth Reportedly Pushed To Scuttle Plans For Fifth Avenue Busway

Victoria's Secret on Fifth Avenue, boarded up in July 2020

New York City’s plans to prioritize buses along the city's priciest retail strip lost its urgency just days after the head of Vornado reportedly met with the mayor and told him it was a bad idea.

Vornado founder, Chairman and CEO Steven Roth spoke with Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month, not long before the mayor’s transportation commissioner Hank Gutman told staff to reconsider the proposal, The New York Times reports. The city has said the plan is now officially on hold until after the December holidays — which coincides with the end of de Blasio's term. Gutman said the city didn't want to “interfere” with the holiday shopping season.

“It was a concern raised by various stakeholders, and we try to be responsible and listen to stakeholders," he said, per StreetsBlog. “All of us are deeply committed to not do anything that interferes with this being a very successful recovery holiday for merchants on Fifth Avenue.”

A slideshow presentation from Vorndo obtained by the Times states that “express buses traveling at faster rates create anxiety for pedestrians and bikers and make the avenue more dangerous.” The document, which the publication reports was being passed around City Hall, is dated Oct. 7 and further states that “Fifth Avenue tourists are especially at risk.”

Vornado has significant skin in the game when it comes to Fifth Avenue retail foot traffic. The company owns more than 2.4M SF in street retail, per its website, concentrated in areas with “high foot traffic” areas like Fifth and Madison avenues.

Rents along Fifth Avenue have suffered badly in recent years, a trend that was already well underway before the coronavirus pandemic. Values in these prime retail strips have taken a hit as a result — which Vornado knows all too well. In August, the firm announced it would sell five poorly performing properties in prime New York City retail neighborhoods, taking a multimillion-dollar loss as a result.