NYT to MSG: Get lost, we wanna rebuild our underground train station

This is really weird: The New York Times has an editorial today calling for New York City to refuse to renew Madison Square Garden’s lease zoning permit on the land atop Penn Station, which apparently expired in January. The argument: MSG is “bulky” and “drumlike” and is in the way of a grand renovation of Penn Station that nobody really wants to spend the money on anymore, but anyway, “The Garden has moved twice since its original location in Madison Square. It can move again.”

The Times does note in passing that MSG’s owners just spent about $1 billion on renovating the arena, and that “of course makes them less eager to move” — and then suggests that they instead be given a new 10-year lease, “and use the time to find a new home for the Garden.” Because it totally makes sense to tear down a building that just got $1 billion in upgrades so you can tear down something else and spend another $1 billion on a new one.

This smells like the Times is carrying water for someone, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out who. Old-time rail terminal fans who are holding out hope for the Moynihan Station plan? Developers hoping to revive some plan to do a giant development project on the site? And in any case, if you want the city to lean on MSG over something, why no mention of that perpetual property tax exemption they’re still getting? Very, very weird…

MSG renovations on for 2011, sending Liberty into three-year exile

The on-again, off-again renovations to Madison Square Garden are back on again, slated to begin next summer and be completed by Fall 2013, a full year later than at last report. By limiting work to the summer, MSG will be able to avoid disruptions to the New York Knicks and Rangers schedules, but as I wrote on the Village Voice website yesterday, the New York Liberty WNBA franchise won’t be so lucky:

This won’t be the first time that the Liberty will be forced to relocate: The orange-teal-and-black were displaced to Radio City Music Hall for part of their 2004 season so that George W. Bush could be re-coronated on their home court. But there’s a big difference between shifting a few home games 20 blocks north and completely pulling up shop for three seasons…

As for future summers, it’s as yet unclear where Maddie will be parking her doghouse. Newark’s Prudential Center, as the Times suggested, is the most accessible big arena to city Liberty fans, and would if nothing else lead to a rise in the average Kinsey number among PATH ridership. (It could also make for a nice low-cost option for hoops fans in one of the tristate area’s most impoverished cities; Liberty games at the Garden are already distinct from Knicks games for drawing a large number of African-American teens of all genders.) And with MSG renovations slated to last through 2013, there’s even the possibility of a one-season stay in Brooklyn, given that Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards is still — officially, at least supposed to be complete by late 2012. Liberty officials didn’t immediately return calls seeking more info on the team’s plans.

The renovation itself, which will essentially end up gutting the Garden and building a new seating bowl inside the existing shell, are now estimated to cost between $775 million and $850 million, all of which will be paid for by MSG’s corporate owners. MSG’s corporate owners who already get an $11 million a year tax break from the city of New York, mind you, but it’s still a pleasant change to see a sports team not asking for new subsidies on top of the ones they’ve already received.

MSG reno pushed back to 2012

Cablevision rebooted its $500 million renovation plans for Madison Square Garden today, saying they’ll now be completed by summer 2012, instead of summer 2011 as was announced last year. Of course, given that the renovations were originally supposed to start this summer and the New York Liberty have their season opener at MSG this Sunday, this shouldn’t come as any surprise; in fact, given that the MSG reno needs to happen entirely during the summers to avoid inconveniencing the Knicks and Rangers, 2012 might be ambitious as well. If and when it happens, the reno job would add floor-level suites (suiteholders would have to emerge into regular seats to actually see the game) and expanded concessions areas, accomplished by both moving current team offices to adjacent buildings and moving the upper part of the seating bowl forward.

Still no details, meanwhile, about how the renovation would be financed, though MSG exec Hank Ratner promised it would involve no public money, quipping, “We all know how anomalous that is today.” Except, presumably, for the tax break that won’t die.

NYC council: Enough with the MSG tax break already

It’s spring, and the New York City council’s thoughts turn to the property tax exemption enjoyed by Madison Square Garden, owner of the Knicks, Rangers, and Liberty, which now costs the city a whopping $14 million a year. Councilmember Eric Gioia became the latest city official to demand the tax break’s repeal over the weekend, calling it “questionable at any time – and unjustifiable in these difficult economic times,” and saying of the Garden owners, “Frankly, if I were them, I’d be embarrassed in accepting it or requesting it.”

The MSG tax exemption has a long and weird history. Way back in 1982, then-mayor Ed Koch proposed letting the arena’s owners out of paying property taxes to fund Garden renovations, in exchange for the teams staying put in town. Koch said at the time (as has since reiterated) that he thought the tax break would expire after 10 years; when the legislation was actually written, however, it read that the exemption would continue in perpetuity until such time as “one or both of said teams
shall cease to play their home games in said property.” (There was some talk during the 2004-05 hockey lockout that the Rangers had violated this clause, but no one tried seriously to enforce it.) The total city cost of the tax break over time is now approaching $300 million.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg has long been a critic of the tax exemption, dating back to when Cablevision, which owns MSG, successfully fought off the mayor’s plans for a new Jets stadium nearby. The council jumped in as opponents last year, ultimately voting to repeal the tax break – but the state legislature, which actually has say over the provision, wouldn’t play along. (State assembly leader Sheldon Silver, you may recall, was one of Cablevision’s main allies in the Jets stadium battle.)

So for now, expect the stalemate to continue. Which means the issue will continue to be ripe for press conferences by city officials, especially those running for higher office – Gioia, you’ll note, is in the race to become the city’s next public advocate. (Yes, that’s an actual elected position in New York. It’s complicated.)