NYU study: Relocating MSG would cost $5B, give it a rest already

Certain sectors of the New York City policy world (the Municipal Art Society, the New York Times editorial board) have been calling for a while for the relocation of Madison Square Garden, so that a new, grand Penn Station could be built in its place. (The old, grand Penn Station was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the current Madison Square Garden, the fourth building to bear that name.) NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management released a study last week of how much it would cost to do this, and came up with … do I hear $5 billion?

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 8.23.17 AMThis isn’t really all that surprising: A billion and a half for a new MSG sounds about right given that just renovating the old one cost a billion, and acquiring new land could easily cost half that in this market. (The Rudin report looks at the price of buying up the annex to the Farley post office building across the street Morgan post office annex a couple of blocks to the southwest, but other sites would be priced similarly, if you could even find any.) And almost $3 billion for building a new Penn Station is already the price tag established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his plans (which would leave MSG intact but build lots of new stuff under it).

It’s also important to consider the political context, with Cuomo’s plan to expand Penn Station with MSG in place (to be paid for by some as-yet-unidentified private developer — applications were due two weeks ago, but if any have been revealed it’s news to me) going up against the MAS and Regional Plan Association’s insistence that MSG really needs to be kicked out. Given that Rudin director Mitchell Moss has already endorsed Cuomo’s plan, and his report’s conclusion is “It’s time to move on,” it’s easy to see some political gamesmanship going on here.

Still, this whole mess is a reminder that as easy as it is to envision redesigning your city to undo past mistakes (tearing down one of the greatest public spaces ever, building a kind-of-ugly sports arena in its place), there’s something to be said for actually existing architecture, both in that it’s already paid for, and in that the city has grown up around it to accommodate it. Not to say that nothing should ever get built or torn down, but it’s important to look at the true costs of doing so, and whether the money could be better spent mitigating the effects of your last mistakes.

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13 comments on “NYU study: Relocating MSG would cost $5B, give it a rest already

  1. Neil: What role (if any) do you think the possibility of a “new” Penn Station played in the Dolan’s decision to spend a billion dollars on an upgrade to an arena that probably couldn’t make much more money than it did before no matter how much was spent on it?

    Was that ‘investment’ about anything other than making it more expensive for the city/Transit Authority to move them out?

  2. Nah, if anything I think it was in anticipation of competing with the new arenas in Brooklyn and Newark. It might not make much more money, but at least it wouldn’t make any less.

    However, it’s probably a bad idea to speculate about anything that James Dolan does. For all we know, Isiah Thomas was just complaining about wanting nicer men’s rooms.

  3. I am confused. If 3 billion “for building a new Penn Station is already the price tag established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his plans (which would leave MSG intact but build lots of new stuff under it).” Then why it would be the same 3 billion price without MSG there? Wouldn’t moving the MSG change the price tag considerably? I haven’t read the whole Rudin report so maybe you can explain it to me.

  4. Building a new station is pretty much building a new station, whether it’s aboveground or underground. Yes, a new aboveground building would add to the cost, but you’d be able to avoid the cost of building around the support structures that hold up MSG, so it could easily be a wash or close to it.

  5. Maybe it’s diminished expectations at work, or numbness to New York’s quasi-governmental dysfunction, but $5 billion for a new MSG and a new Penn Station seems like a good deal compared to the $4 billion the Port Authority shelled out for a glorified subway stop.

  6. No, no, no — the $4 billion one is a glorified commuter rail stop. The glorified subway stops cost $2 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively.

  7. The author is confused …as he should be because all of this is a gigantic waste of TP dollars and a giveaway to the developers. Rudins study discusses the purchase of the MOrgan Annex to move MSG.. Not the Farley Annex which the state already owns and was the original spot that they wanted to put MSG back in 2007 before that plan collapsed. It would not cost 5 billion to move MSG across the street to the Farley Annex..which also sits above the tracks it would however probably limit the amount of space they could use of the retail portion of the Moynihan Train Hall which is going in the Courtyard of the Farley Post Office. The annex sits behind the original structure giving the appearance that the building fills the super lock but it’s two structures.

    1. Sorry, you’re correct — I read too quickly, and missed which post office annex they were talking about. But though the Farley Annex is already controlled by the state, putting the Garden there would preclude selling the development rights to that building, which the state estimates would be worth $500 million. So there’s a cost wherever you put it.

      1. I agree 100% but moving the garden to the Farley Annex is the only plausible option….and is mysteriously not being discussed anymore probably because the rail advocates don’t want it interfering with the fake station / train hall they are going to build in a building not designed for that purpose.

      2. I suspect it’s not being discussed (by Rudin, at least) because Cuomo is counting on the money from Farley development rights to fund his $3B Penn Station redo.

  8. I’m confused. Of course a new train station will be expensive. But it’s also desperately needed. Rebuilding the existing station under MSG will only be cheaper if you are building a greatly inferior station. It’s not enough for it to be new, it also has to be good. The current Penn. Station was new once too, and it sucked then as well.

    So if you have to spend the money for a good station regardless, then that cost is irrelevant.

    Which leaves the cost of a new area. And why should the taxpayers care one bit about how much the Dolans have to pay for that?

    A development partnership to build a new train station is not a bad idea, but the important thing is to make sure that the design and usability of the new station does not suffer for it.

  9. I would love nothing more than a new Penn Station. (Actually I’d love nothing more than rebuilding the old Penn Station, which doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda.) I’m not sure it’s as desperately needed as about a dozen other transit priorities, though.


    (I didn’t write the headline, but I stand behind the rest of it.)

  10. On reading the piece, I was hopeful that the renowned architecture critic was the same Vincent Scully as he who has been calling Dodger games for decades. The have a similar turn of phrase, but alas.

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