Campaign mounts to move MSG (somewhere), build new Penn Station (somehow, with some money)

The notion of tearing down Madison Square Garden right after it got $1 billion in renovations and building a new one in an unknown location just so Penn Station can have some skylights if anyone comes up with money for it may be, on the surface, a little nuts, but it’s sure getting lots of high-profile supporters. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and the local community board have both endorsed terminating MSG’s use permit to the city property where it stands. The New York Times editorial page, as noted earlier, has also jumped on the bandwagon. And yesterday, the heads of the Municipal Art Society and the Regional Plan Association, the two civic groups behind the proposal, took to the Daily News op-ed pageto tout the idea, saying that limiting MSG’s permit renewal to ten years “would provide the time, attention and focus required to find a new and strategic site for the Garden, allowing the city to have both a splendid modern arena and a great train station.”

On the one hand, there’s nothing actually wrong with keeping the permit renewal to ten years: If MSG’s owners can be talked into building elsewhere by then, fine, and if not, the city can always just give them another renewal in 2023. But while the MAS and RPA no doubt see themselves as righting a historic wrong — the demolition of this to make way for the current MSG — and more space for a nicer train station is no doubt a good idea, has anybody actually stopped to think about how much it would cost to clear space for an arena (which would need to be near a transit hub as the current MSG is, and so on expensive land), build it, and then build a new Penn Station on the current site? There’s something to be said for already existing infrastructure: It may be imperfect, but at least it’s already paid for.

The hope here is that the ten-year permit renewal is being pursued mostly as a negotiating ploy: We don’t know what the city may want to do in the future, or what MSG may want to do, but let’s at least limit the length of the permit so the city can keep its options open. The fear is that this will end up a self-justifying project, where the city ends up having to spend millions (or billions) of dollars to “help MSG relocate” just so that commuters can have a nicer place to get off their trains in the morning. We already narrowly dodged that bullet once, but bad projects never seem to die.

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6 comments on “Campaign mounts to move MSG (somewhere), build new Penn Station (somehow, with some money)

  1. It is hard to imagine that this is anything but an effort to try and pressure the Dolans into agreeing to “something”. Let’s hope thats the elimination of their tax exemption(s), not something vastly more expensive for the city.

    On a similar note, Neil, assuming the land lease is fairly standard, why would the city have to compensate MSG for not renewing it? If they had an undertaking (in writing) from the city that the renewal would be forthcoming, then maybe so. But if they spent $1bn in renovations in the belief that a renewal would be forthcoming without actually seeking any commitment from the city on that front first, well, they wouldn’t be the first leasehold tenant to be very disappointed when seeking a renewal, would they?

  2. Another goofy “movement” by the type folks who helped bring NYC to it’s knees in the 70’s, they’ll nevere learn.

  3. “There’s something to be said for already existing infrastructure: It may be imperfect, but at least it’s already paid for.”

    And that’s the rub. Penn Station’s underground infrastructure- the tracks, platforms, and stairs, haven’t changed since 1910, and have always been inadequate.

    The Times and the politicians seem to think that building a new glorious head house on the site will fix the station’s problems, while atoning for the demolition of the original masterpiece. But a new building above-ground does nothing to fix the station’s real shortfalls at track level. And those shortfalls- the dangerously narrow platforms, the crowded staircases, and the byzantine track and switch layout- cannot be fixed unless the Garden and it’s underground supports are gone.

    At some point in the future, there will be another rail tunnel under the Hudson, so it’s likely any Penn Station infrastructure improvements will be able to piggyback on that project, as the station now is close to capacity and may not be able to cope with any increased traffic. With so many agencies potentially involved (Amtrak, MTA, NJ, NYC, Federal DOT, etc) there may be an air of cooperation, so hopefully the Dolans will play nice.

  4. You seem to miss the general thrust of the argument for a new Penn Station. Currently, about 400,000 riders per day pass through Penn Station, which was originally designed to accommodate less than half that number. A revamping of the station is quite inevitable if NYC aims to remain globally competitive with cities such as London and Hong Kong, each of which have vastly superior rail systems in place. This, coupled with the general consensus among public safety experts that Penn Station’s labyrinth-like layout is confusing and dangerous, leads one to conclude that billions spent now on a new Penn Station will save tens of billions down the road. Madison Square Garden has seen various reincarnations over the years, and its due for a move.

  5. “Moving” MSG is being proposed not because of “skylights”, but because the arena on top of Penn Station requires below-ground supports that prevent the kind of track and platform expansion necessary to properly accomodate the traffic going through the station, both today and in the future. Yes, there’s an element of atonement for destroying a great piece of historical architecture, but also, they simply can’t expand the tracks as long as the arena is there — Stringer’s point. Surely, the wisdom of building out Penn Station is up for debate, especially given that MSG is already there. But it boils down to whether that extremely valuable Midtown space is best used with a station that’s widely acknowledged to be inadequate underneath a 60-year-old-and-renovated arena, or an up-to-date station that cost billions to renovate, and no arena in Midtown at all. Could the Dolans build their own arena over a pier on the Hudson, in the Bronx, or at Willets Point? Probably! But that brings us back to your (apparent) point that MSG already exists and is there. There’s no easy answer.

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