Alliance for a New Penn Station Strongly Urges City Council to Consider Time-Limited Permit for MSG, Warns of Loophole

The Alliance for a New Penn Station today called on the New York City Council to grant Madison Square Garden a 10-year permit to occupy the arena’s current site and remove a loophole that would allow a backroom deal to decide the future of Penn Station and MSG. Taken together, these actions would send a clear signal that the City Council understands how important it is to the future of New York City to create a world-class Penn Station and a world-class sports and entertainment arena.

Madison Square Garden’s 50-year special permit to operate an arena on its current site expired in January. In December 2012, Madison Square Garden filed an application to continue to operate an arena on this site in perpetuity. Renewing the permit could permanently block any attempt to improve the failing transit hub, freezing the station in time and making it impossible to safely and properly manage growth or capitalize on the benefits of that growth. With transit ridership continuing to grow, the disadvantages of permitting such a use in perpetuity are profound.

The Alliance also calls on the Council to remove a loophole in the City Planning Commission’s May 22 recommendation for a 15-year renewal that could allow MSG to occupy its current site above the country’s busiest rail station permanently. 

A provision contained in the CPC’s recommendation would allow MSG to obtain a permit in perpetuity by striking a deal with the railroads that operate within Penn Station. This agreement would only require the signoff of the Planning Department, avoiding any public review of a deal that could permanently saddle our city and region with an overcrowded, grim transit hub.

Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Art Society, and Robert D. Yaro, President of Regional Plan Association, testified at the hearing today in City Council chambers. The full City Council is expected to vote on the permit in the coming weeks.

Mr. Cipolla said, “The New York City Council holds the future of Penn Station – and the countless people who use it – in its hands. We strongly urge the members to show leadership on this incredibly important issue by restricting the permit to 10 years and removing the loophole.”

Mr. Yaro said, “This is a crucial moment for the city and the region. We have a unique opportunity to transform a dismal public space into something worthy of New York, while vastly enhancing Midtown’s economic vitality and improving the commutes of hundreds of thousands of people every day. A 10-year permit, with no loophole, is in the best interest of all New Yorkers.”

Background

The Alliance for a New Penn Station believes New York City has a truly unique opportunity this year to take action to re-envision Penn Station.

To accommodate the incredible growth in transit expected in the New York region, the Alliance has recommended that the MSG permit be restricted to a 10-year renewal, which will give the city and state the opportunity to develop plans for a new station and arena. A 10-year permit also will catalyze the public and private sectors to act now and work together to find a solution.

This request is now going through the city’s land use review process with a final decision expected by the City Council in the coming weeks.  

In March, the Municipal Art Society and the Regional Plan Association formed the Alliance for a New Penn Station. Together they are building a coalition to represent the millions of people who use Penn Station every year and the extraordinary economic potential of a new, state-of-the-art train station and arena and advocating for a 10-year term for the special permit. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Community Board 5 recommended that the permit be restricted to a 10-year term.

In April, MAS launched the Design Challenge for a New Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, meant to provoke ideas and describe the extraordinary potential for New York City of a new Penn Station and MSG. The designs by the four firms – Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP, and SOM were unveiled on May 29 and can be found at www.mas.org/newpenn

On May 22, the Alliance welcomed the decision by the City Planning Commission to grant Madison Square Garden a 15-year permit to occupy the arena’s current site, opening the way for the eventual creation of both a world-class Penn Station and a world-class sports and entertainment arena. But the Alliance remains deeply concerned that a provision contained in the commission’s recommendation would allow MSG to obtain a permit in perpetuity by striking a deal with the railroads that operate within Penn Station. Such a potentially fatal loophole would only require the signoff of the planning department, avoiding any public review of a deal that could permanently saddle our city and region with an overcrowded, grim transit hub.

The Alliance also contends that a shorter permit – for 10 years – would be a more effective catalyst for the public and private sector to focus on launching a project of this magnitude.

“The Alliance will continue its campaign against this loophole which is a backroom deal that cuts the public and the City Council out of decision about the future of Penn Station,” Mr. Cipolla said. The Alliance will also continue to work toward a tighter permit timeframe of 10 years.

City Planning Chair Amanda Burden said on the morning of the CPC vote: “This is a moment in time that could – and should – have historic consequences for the City. This is the moment for civic and governmental leadership to come together and undertake a comprehensive planning process and funding plan with the goal of building a new arena on another site and the full redevelopment of Penn Station into a modern train facility with improved track capacity and public amenities.

“This is the time to focus energy, vigilance, vision leadership, and political leverage. It must involve City, State and Federal governments who must work jointly with Madison Square Garden and the railroads, in partnership with civic organization, and other stakeholders,” the commissioner continued. “With clear coordination, realistic planning and reliable funding - with public and political will – such a project is not only possible, but there is no more important initiative to consider for the future of the region, the city and Midtown Manhattan.”

On May 29, MAS unveiled four thought-provoking and compelling designs from the top architectural firms in New York, giving citizens and members of the public and private sector a sense of the possibilities for Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.

This week, MAS released a video featuring Penn Station commuters that was designed to encourage the public to get involved in the process. 

The Alliance for a New Penn Station continues to grow. The next step in the public process is today’s public hearing at the New York City Council, followed by a vote of the full City Council where the final decision on the permit will be achieved.

“A site which should be an economic development anchor for Midtown and Hudson Yards is instead a serious challenge to the global competitiveness and economic health of New York City,” Mr. Cipolla said.  “New York City deserves a world-class train station and truly dynamic arena,” “but if the City Council approves the Garden’s special permit with the loophole intact New York City will have neither.”