- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

Metrorail riders by early next year could be shopping at Tower Records by the Tracks or Shady Grove Station Sunglass Hut.

Metro is seeking retailers to own and operate businesses in 12 Metrorail stations, including Metro Center, Glenmont and Rosslyn, as part of a pilot program.

Officials from the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority put the application on its Web site Sunday and will accept proposals until July 31, said Gary Malasky, managing director of property development at Metro.

Stores and kiosks could be in the stations by early next year, he said. If enough business owners and consumers are interested, the program could be expanded to more stations.

“We’re doing the 12 first. It that gets up and running and everybody is happy about them, then we could expand it,” Mr. Malasky said.

Metro officials already have some business ideas in mind, such as florists, shoe shiners or a music and movie store. But they are open to other suggestions, he said. They are not accepting applications for food, drink or tobacco vendors. Metro officials will decide on those businesses at another time.

No one has turned in the 102-page application yet, Mr. Malasky said, but Metro has received calls from interested retailers.

People have expressed a lot of interest,” said Mr. Malasky, who declined to be more specific. “We just want convenience for our customers — businesses that would make things easier for them. One of the exciting things about this is what people are going to suggest to us.”

Mr. Malasky also said the revenue will help keep fares down.

“This isn’t for a specific purpose. This is just so we don’t have to raise fares,” he said.

Officials with the Metro Office of Property Development will make recommendations to the Metro board by fall, Mr. Malasky said. The board will make the final decisions.

Once an applicant has been given a location, he must install the business himself. He can own and operate the business for a contract period of five years. During that time, the business owner would have to pay a monthly or an annual fee.

Metro officials could not speculate on an average fee per location or the annual revenue Metro could earn. They will be able to calculate revenue once all bids are turned in, Mr. Malasky said.

Each station’s space will determine the location and type of retail outlets it may house. Stores or kiosks could be placed anywhere on the station property, but typically they would be placed outside the fare gates, Mr. Malasky said.

Stores likely would be at end-of-the-line stations, such as Shady Grove, that have at least 1,000 to 2,000 square feet available. Gallery Place-Chinatown, Metro Center and other urban stations likely would house kiosk shops that could sell small items such as sunglasses or cell phones.

“Our first goal is to be a transit system, and we need to leave enough space for our customers to move around,” he said. “This is not going to be a shopping mall. There isn’t room for that. It’s just going to be small stores and kiosks. And each site is different. So, literally, we need to look at each individual location and see what space is there.”

The original Metro architects didn’t consider shopping when designing the subway system, which opened in 1976, according to Edward J. Riley, chief architect of Metro.

“They pretty much just focused on getting people on and off trains, not getting them into retail stores. I don’t think they even anticipated that you could have retail in the system,” Mr. Riley said.

Designers did leave space for retail in the College Park station garage when it was built last year. Mr. Malasky estimated that a store there could take up to as much as 4,000 square feet.

The other 11 stations were chosen based on traffic and variety of location.

“It’s a demonstration program, so we wanted it to spread around all the jurisdictions. We were looking at just a variety of stations to validate the concept and see how it works,” he said.

Metro officials looked at retail’s success in other city transits systems, such as the New York City subway. Businesses have operated in the system since it opened in the early 1900s, said Roco Krulic, director of real estate for the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

About 4.75 million people ride the New York subway on the average weekday, compared with Metro’s 750,000 average weekday rail ridership. But the $7 million a year in revenue the subway brings in highlights the potential gains for the Metrorail.

“It’s extremely successful, not just in the revenue, but for passenger services,” Mr. Krulic said. “It’s more of an amenity than anything. Our customers like it as an additional element of safety and security. There’s a presence in the system. I think that’s generally well accepted.”

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