Loophole in MSG Deal Could Override City Recommendation

The Alliance for a New Penn Station welcomes the decision by the City Planning Commission to grant Madison Square Garden a 15-year permit to occupy the arena’s current site, setting the stage for the eventual creation of both a world-class Penn Station and a world-class sports and entertainment arena. But we are deeply concerned that a loophole in the commission’s recommendation could still allow Madison Square Garden to occupy its current site above the country’s busiest rail station in perpetuity.

Today’s City Planning Commission vote to grant Madison Square Garden a 15-year permit to operate at its current location reflects a recognition that our city and region need to address significant issues regarding the nation’s busiest transit station. But a provision contained in the commission’s recommendation would allow Madison Square Garden to obtain a permit in perpetuity by striking a deal with the railroads that operate within Penn Station. Such an 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.

“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 D. Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association and co-founder of the Alliance for a New Penn Station.

“It seems like a step backward into the dark old days, and contradicts the open planning process the Bloomberg administration has championed,” said Vin Cipolla, President, Municipal Art Society and co-founder of the Alliance for a New Penn Station.

It also stands in contrast to the recommendations by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who in March called on the city to grant Madison Square Garden a 10-year permit and create a comprehensive plan for economic development and transit in West Midtown. Madison Square Garden’s benefits “cannot overshadow the physical constraints it places on the city’s infrastructure,” Borough President Stringer said in his finding. “Failure to account for Penn Station’s current and future needs could have devastating effects and enervate New York’s ability to compete with world cities.”

We strongly urge the City Council to respond with a solution that doesn’t permanently condemn the city to a dismal Penn Station when it takes up Madison Square Garden’s permit application next month.

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

To accommodate the incredible growth in transit expected in the NYC 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 – vs. a longer period of time – also will catalyze the public and private sectors to act now on finding a solution.

“Penn Station serves as the gateway to our city and our region,” said Yaro. “Unfortunately, our gateway is miserably cramped and outdated. Rather than draw people to the neighborhood and spur economic activity like many modern transportation hubs including our own Grand Central Terminal, the station only draws people who absolutely have to be there. This has created a dead zone within an otherwise burgeoning and vibrant West Midtown.”

“A site that 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,” Cipolla said. “A new Penn Station and a new arena will be an economic engine for New York City – creating thousands of jobs, unlocking billions of dollars in additional private investment, making millions of commutes a year faster and more comfortable, and reaffirming our sense that New York City can take on big projects and get them done.”

The Alliance for a New Penn Station is a consortium of civic groups, business leaders and individuals who believe it is vital to New York’s future to re-envision Penn Station and build a modern, top-tier sports and entertainment arena in Manhattan.