By PATRICK MCGEEHAN
Times Square may be the place hardened New Yorkers go out of their way to avoid, but its importance as a magnet for commerce as well as tourists has risen rapidly in the last few years, according to a study to be released this week.
The Times Square district directly and indirectly contributes one-tenth of all of the jobs in the city and $1 of every $9 of economic activity, says the study, which was commissioned by the Times Square Alliance, the de facto chamber of commerce for the district. That amounts to $110 billion in annual economic activity — about equal to the output of Portland, Ore. — emanating from the district, which the report defines as roughly a block on each side of Broadway between 40th and 53rd Streets.
How could so much of the economy of the nation’s biggest city depend on an area that occupies less than 1 percent of its land?
Just look up, says Tim Tompkins, the president of the alliance. Not at the 230 electronic signs that have long been the hallmark of Times Square, but at the buildings that many of them adorn.
They are not just hotels, but also giant office towers that house companies where tens of thousands of lawyers, accountants, editors and bond traders work. Those companies buy goods and services from other businesses throughout the city and employ people who take their pay home to apartments and houses in other boroughs.
In all, about 170,000 people work in the district, and most of them — 61 percent — live in northern Manhattan, another borough of the city or the suburbs. The rest live in Manhattan below 110th Street. But the money earned and spent in Times Square supports 215,000 jobs elsewhere in the city, according to the study, conducted by HR&A Advisors.
“What’s significant about Times Square is that it has become more diversified,” Mr. Tompkins said. “Certainly we’ve become a major commercial office district. Until I saw that we have 29 million square feet of office space, I didn’t realize just how much. Before, we were an entertainment and hotel district.”
Of course, the Times Square area has been cleaning up its act for much of the last two decades. But Mr. Tompkins said the study showed that the transformation was nearly complete. In addition, he said, it proves the value of tourism as a main component of the city’s strategy to develop its economy.
“In the same way that we were a postcard for why not to come to New York City 20 or maybe 30 years ago,’’ Mr. Tompkins said, “we are a powerful advertisement for how appealing the city is now.”
Rosemary Scanlon, an economist who has lived in the city since 1969, said the numbers seemed plausible because the area was filled with tourists. Ms. Scanlon, the interim dean of the Schack Institute of Real Estate of New York University two blocks from Times Square, said that earlier studies had shown that people who came to the city for Broadway shows and museums stayed two nights or more, on average, and spent significant sums while in the city.
She said the effects of the transformative power of redevelopment may be most visible west of Times Square, where Larry Silverstein and other developers have built luxury apartment towers in places where no market for them previously existed. (The study gives Times Square credit for spawning all of that construction.)
But the most convincing evidence Ms. Scanlon offered was the newfound respect paid by New Yorkers. “I’m hearing people saying, I know this sounds nuts, but I had some out-of-town visitors and I took them to Times Square,” she said. “I find myself saying, I want to walk you down there and I want you to see this.”