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Macy’s Eyes Herald Square Makeover

Macy’s Herald Square construction plans entail a redesign of the 34th Street facade and an overhaul of the infrastructure, according to sources.

Macy's

NEW YORK — Macy’s Herald Square is about to get a facelift.

According to sources, construction plans entail a redesign of the 34th Street facade and entrances, and a long-overdue overhaul of the infrastructure, from the electrical work to the bathrooms. Work could start this year, and in the years ahead, could progress to selling floors, depending on the economy and business.

In the height of the recession, Macy’s officials cut the capital budget and pulled the plug on much work that was to be implemented at Herald Square. Macy’s total annual capital expenditure budget is not yet back to the historical highs of $800 million, but executives said it would be by 2012.

Reviving the Herald Square project is a result of improving business and the need to upgrade the aging real estate, as well as the desire to keep up with the competition. Lord & Taylor has renovations in progress on the main and 10th floors of its Fifth Avenue flagship. Last year, Saks Fifth Avenue completed renovations of its designer and cosmetics floors, and Bloomingdale’s 59th Street unveiled a new B-Way for cosmetics and fragrance along with other renovations on its main floor after years of extensive renovations touching most of the flagship’s selling floors.

In addition, the 34th Street corridor has seen an influx of competitor retailers — from H&M and Victoria’s Secret to J.C. Penney — and the area’s biggest landlord, Vornado, is reportedly proposing major improvements to the subways in the neighborhood, making the underground network less of a hassle for pedestrians to get through. Vornado hopes that in exchange for its transit improvements, the city will allow it to develop the Hotel Pennsylvania site opposite Madison Square Garden.

Macy’s Herald Square gets more traffic than any other store in the city, ranks among the world’s most trafficked shopping destinations and, ironically, is also one of the most criticized. A redo of the facade would do wonders to elevate Macy’s image and ease the flow of traffic. The main floor is often crowded and difficult to navigate, partly due to the flagship comprising separate buildings on the Seventh Avenue and Broadway sides, and partly because of the huge crowds. The real estate takes a beating with 25,000 to 35,000 shoppers daily, on average, and up to 75,000 traipsing through on peak holiday days. Macy’s Herald Square, still considered the world’s largest store, has more than 2 million gross square feet and serves as headquarters for much of the Macy’s management. Macy’s moved to the site in 1902.

“As you know, we are always improving Herald Square and have continuous remodeling projects in various departments. There is nothing more specific to report at this time,” said Jim Sluzewski, Macy’s corporate spokesman.

Previously, Macy’s Inc. chairman, chief executive officer and president Terry Lundgren, when asked if Macy’s Herald Square was slated for a big overhaul on a scale recently seen at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street, responded: “We are not doing a major renovation in 2010. There could be one down the pike.”

Infrastructure is a big concern. Over the decades, there have been a string of fires — almost all of minor consequence, but they were disruptive to shopping and created lots of drama in the area. In February, Macy’s Herald Square had to be partially evacuated after an electrical fire in the building’s lower level, but no shoppers or employees were injured. Still, 60 firefighters manning 12 units — rescue squads, fire engines and ladder companies — were called to the scene for an all-hands fire that started in an electrical vault, according to the New York City Fire Department.

The incident marked the second time in about two months Macy’s had a fire. On Dec. 20, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, hundreds of shoppers were evacuated from the flagship due to an escalator fire. No one was injured.

Macy’s Herald Square has national landmark status and still has its original wood escalators, installed in 1902.