MSG gets 15-year permit extension, nobody happy

The New York City Planning Commission approved a 15-year operating permit extension for Madison Square Garden yesterday, rejecting MSG’s request for a permit to remain atop Penn Station in perpetuity. And to hear planning commission director Amanda Burden talk, she wants the Garden gone once its 15 years are up:

“The best possible outcome would be a relocated Madison Square Garden,” said city Planning Commission chairwoman Amanda Burden…

“What a 15-year period can do is create an opportunity for city, state, and federal government agencies to reach an agreement with Penn Station and the railroads for a comprehensive plan to relocate the arena,” she said.

“There is no more important initiative for the region.”

Since Burden is appointed by the mayor, this is presumably an endorsement by Mayor Bloomberg of the plan to move The World’s Most Famous Arena (Except For The Ones With The Same Name That Went Before It Somewhere Else) and make way for a new above-ground Penn Station. And so the city planning groups that came up with that plan are … hopping mad?

“This would essentially allow four people in a room to decide for themselves what is best for commuters, the future of the area and the vitality of the city— requiring only a rubber-stamp approval from planners without further public review or City Council oversight,” said Robert Yaro, the president of the Regional Plan Association and co-founder of the Alliance for a New Penn Station, in a statement.

That would be a reference to this loophole, which would allow MSG to remain in perpetuity if it works out a deal with the railroads to upgrade the underground Penn Station. Or as Mayor Bloomberg explained to Capital New York (if you’re lenient about the definition of “explained”): “Because you’re right above this mass transit location and if you needed to do something for the greater good of the city, leaving the city in the position of being able to do something down the road. Doesn’t mean they’re gonna do it. But we would be derelict in our duty, I think, to take that away.”

Clearly something weird is going on here, since Bloomberg’s office has now created an out for the Garden to stay put as long as it wants at the same time as its city planning chief is saying that the Garden needs to get out of the way, because progress. The city council still needs to vote on this, so hopefully by the time of those hearings we’ll be able to figure out who’s on what side here — perhaps most importantly, the person who’s likely to be mayor when plans for 15 years from now actually get decided.


4 comments on “MSG gets 15-year permit extension, nobody happy

  1. Just why would officials seek a new arena for the Knicks/Liberty/Rangers when Manhattan’s current Madison Square Garden is getting renovations of reportedly over 900 million dollars? To be polite, this is both insane and pathetic!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. What are the issues with locating that arena on top of a train station? To me, in NYC, that seems like a wise use of precious acreage.

    It’s not a solution you’d use in Miami, but in LA/Chicago/SF, it seems logical to me.

  3. Mike: One of the issues is that growth/expansion of the station is limited/made impossible by the building on top of it. I’m not a New Yorker, but I understand that capacity at Penn Stn is an issue right now. It is likely to become a bigger issue in future… until it’s a “real mess”. Of course, for anyone with an architectural inclination, it’s a real mess even when it’s completely empty.

    Some believe the destruction of the “last” Penn station to have been the catalyst for preservation of New York architecture. Those of us old enough to remember NY’s economic collapse in the 1970s may also recall that there were calls for Grand Central to follow Penn Station into oblivion. Instead, they preserved and restored that fantastic building… perhaps in no small part because of what many believe to have been the great error of allowing Penn Stn to be destroyed.

  4. What Ms. Burden did not say, so far as I can tell, is that an 8 or 10 year extension would have given MSG, the city and the gov’ts time to find a new location and plan a move as well.

    Chris: Some believe that the main reason the Dolans were willing to pump money into MSG wasn’t that it was aging or ‘unable’ to generate competitive revenues as it was. Rather, that absent recent hefty expenditure, there might be no legitimate reason for the city to extend their lease… put another way, maybe that $900m investment was all about extending their stay at the present site, not about improving fan experience or revenue generation.

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