New York City probably won’t evict MSG in 2023, but it sure would be fun if they tried

Madison Square Garden’s 10-year extension of its operating permit — designed ostensibly to give the arena time to find a new home that’s not atop Penn Station — is halfway over with no sign of the Garden departing, leaving the possibility that New York City might have to evict the New York Knicks and Rangers come 2023. What would that actually look like? I did a deepish dive for Gothamist, and came up with this:

“We cannot think of other examples of special permits for building use with expiration dates,” Department of Buildings spokesperson Andrew Rudansky tells Gothamist. “Hypothetically, if a building’s special permit expired, causing the use of that building to be contrary to zoning, the Department may take enforcement actions to compel the owners to return the building to a previous Code and zoning-complaint use.”

The typical enforcement actions available to the DOB, Rudansky explains, include imposing civil penalties or fines. In cases of more routine violations, the department maintains a Padlock Unit that, true to its name, is authorized to padlock a premises and issue criminal charges against anyone who enters. (Cue visions of the Rangers being hauled off to The Tombs in full uniform and pads.)

To be clear, everyone I spoke to was pretty firm that they don’t expect this to happen: Lots of people may want the Garden gone to make way for a new above-ground Penn Station (either modern or retro), but that doesn’t mean anyone on the city council wants to be the target of headlines about forcing the Knicks and Rangers to leave town. (Not that they would leave town, since they’re the centerpieces of a New York–based cable network; the levels of gamesmanship here go all the way down.) But the threat of being able to shutter the garden if they wanted to has to be a part of negotiations for MSG to relocate, if those ever get started. (Neither council officials nor MSG officials would so much as tell me whether talks have even taken place.)

The concern here, obviously, is that MSG will come back with, “It’s going to cost us around $2 billion to acquire land and build a new arena, and we’re going to need city help with that, plus we need to be able to take our $50 million a year tax exemption to any new site,” and that the council will feel obligated to listen to make the Garden leave quietly. Not that they would be obligated to listen — they do have the hammer here of applying padlocks — but the fear of nasty tabloid headlines could end up putting New Yorkers on the hook for billions of dollars in new arena costs, which would be an extremely bittersweet way of undoing the city’s original sin.


14 comments on “New York City probably won’t evict MSG in 2023, but it sure would be fun if they tried

  1. Tear down MSG.

    In its place put the most uninspiring yet functional train station as Penn Station 3.0.

    Allow the Dolans if they want to pitch in financially and make the new MSG on top of the new Penn Station because Manhattan is a borough of skyscrapers so skyscraper arena is doable.

    New Penn Station, new MSG, and I still get to laugh at mooks crying over the long gone Penn Station 1.0.

    Problem solved for all involved. Get Queen+Adam Lambert to open. #($* & get off the pot NYC.

    • “Allow the Dolans if they want to pitch in financially and make the new MSG on top of the new Penn Station because Manhattan is a borough of skyscrapers so skyscraper arena is doable.”

      Load-in for concerts would be a bitch and a half.

      • In retrospect thinking of all the equipment & staging Queen had for their concerts in the 80s…and getting all that up to an arena on top of a train station….yeah you make a fair point.

  2. They can use Barclays for basketball and hockey games, at least until they get a new, tax-paying arena. The Islanders should be at Belmont Park by then. Or, since I think MSG is involved in the Belmont Park arena project in some way (because the Islanders are on MSG+ and MSG wants to keep the Islanders in NY to fill time on a channel?) maybe they can work out sharing Belmont Park like the Rams and Chargers are planning to do in LA!

  3. This would be fabulous. But, as you say, it is far more likely that some accommodation will be reached.

    The Dolans would of course claim that they invested $1bn in garden renovations just a few years ago (and had to evict the Liberty and everything) and would have to be made whole should they be required to relocate… and the city should counter with “You knew you had a ten year extension, if you made incompetent business decisions based on a short term extension, it’s not our problem”

    Neil, is there anything preventing the city from just issuing another 5 or 10 year extension to push this problem further down the road?

    • They could totally do that. They could even go year-to-year, or let the permit expire but hold off on the padlocks while they negotiate.

      The thing is, ideally you’d want talks to be going on right now, since it’d take five years to plan and build a new arena. And there’s no sign that’s happening, though it’s certainly possible everyone is just being really secretive about it.

      • I see.

        It would be nice to see the city/authority use the money the Dolan’s have spent as leverage against them… you know, like actually extracting some cash from them instead of essentially giving them the air rights above the station. But maybe that’s just crazy talk.

        Is there any other obvious deadline besides the expiry of the extension?

        • Nope — the operating permit extension is the only element that’s in the control of the city. The tax break, and plans for Penn Station overall, are controlled by the state, which on its best day treats New York City with something between disdain and contempt. (Though that may potentially change depending on how next month’s elections go.)

  4. Maybe they can move Madison Square Garden to Madison Square where it originally was. And maybe someone can figure out why the old Penn Train Station failed and what is it different now so a new one will succeed.

    Imagine what kind of subsidies the Dolans will get for moving. Makes the current subsidies they got from the Carey administration look like a drop in the bucket

    • It wasn’t Penn Station that failed, it was the Penn Central railroad. Fortunately the LIRR and NJ Transit are less likely to go out of business.

    • The form guide suggests the Knicks and Rangers should follow the Giants and Jets to New Jersey (I guess Newark rather than the Meadowlands, but either way works).

      Islanders?

      Aren’t they going back to the place they said they’d never go (at least temporarily) back to?

      And the guy who caused (most of) this just expired. Time, man.

      • Belmont is really far from the Knicks’ and Rangers’ existing fan bases, as is Newark. Plus then you’d have three teams in one arena, which wouldn’t leave much room for concerts, and MSG is already booked to the gills.

        On the other hand, I guess the Meadowlands Arena still exists, and transit there is getting easier. It would be weird not to have any indoor sports and concert venues in the center of the city, but I guess fans would deal, like they have with the Jets and Giants.

        • That was meant to be very much tongue in cheek, though I guess it wasn’t ‘enough’…

          As I recall, the Yankees once suggested they would leave without a new (and mostly publicly funded) building too. Shame. I always thought the New York Yankees of Yonkers (or maybe Rahway) had a nice ring to it.

          Bronx Bombers, Yonkers Yanks. It all works in this world of artificial constructs (including of late, ticket demand)