By Hilary Russ
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday called on the private sector to help improve New York City's aging subway system, saying business and civic organizations could each contribute $250,000 to join a "partnership council" and clean up dirty, decrepit areas.
He said firms including BlackRock, Estee Lauder and Blackstone already agreed to contribute the funds, and that companies could "adopt a station" to help fund cleaning, art or even wireless internet service for additional contributions up to $600,000.
Such an approach could open the door to subway stations branded with corporate names.
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"We want to bring the private sector in as a full partner," Cuomo told the Association for a Better New York in a breakfast speech.
On Tuesday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota laid out an $836 million plan to immediately fix the more than century-old subway system's biggest operational problems, including repairing 1,300 signals by the end of 2018.
The MTA is a state authority that operates the subway, buses, two commuter railroads and bridges and tunnels. Cuomo appoints the chairman, vice-chairman and several board members.
Cuomo said the state would commit to paying 50 percent of that repair program and that he was making the money available immediately. He has been in a war of words with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over subway funding.
The program to adopt subway stations is still "in development," Lhota told reporters after Cuomo spoke.
Similar programs were in place in Europe, Lhota said. Private contributions have also been used for major facelifts and maintenance in New York City parks, but that program has been controversial because it has led to greater improvements in wealthier, more popular urban green spaces like Manhattan's Central Park.
To avoid that pitfall, the MTA could require a company to sponsor stations in outlying areas if it also wants to sponsor central Manhattan stations, Lhota said. Naming rights for stations were being considered, Lhota said.
Separately, Cuomo acknowledged that after 2020, tolls from the Thruway Authority would be used to finish financing the state's new $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge, a public-private partnership, which will be named after his father, the late former Governor Mario Cuomo.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Daniel Bases and Phil Berlowitz)