City Planning Recommends 15-Year MSG, but With a Catch

RPA welcomes the City Planning Commission’s vote on May 22 recommending that Madison Square Garden be allowed to occupy its site above Penn Station for 15 more years. A time-limited term, rather than the permit in perpetuity that the Garden had sought, sets the stage for the eventual overhaul of Penn Station and the relocation of the arena to a more appropriate site in Manhattan.

This is a remarkable development in a review process that just a few months ago seemed poised to end up with an infinite permit for the Garden at its current location. It reflects a recognition on the part of policy makers that our city and region need to address significant issues regarding the nation’s busiest transit station. 
But there is a catch in the Planning Commission’s recommendation: They have included a loophole that would allow the Garden to obtain a permit in perpetuity by negotiating a side deal with the railroads that operate in Penn Station. Such an agreement would only require the signoff of the planning department, avoiding any public review.
“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,” Robert D. Yaro, president of Regional Plan Association, said after the vote.
The Alliance for a New Penn Station, a coalition co-founded by RPA and Municipal Art Society, is urging 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.
New York and the region deserve a world-class Penn Station and a world-class sports and entertainment arena in Manhattan. Currently, we have neither, but we have a unique opportunity this year to reshape this vital civic space. 
If you are interested in getting involved in this effort, you can show support by offering to speak at public hearings and talking about the topic on social media -- follow @regionalplan and #newPenn on Twitter. You also can write a letter to the editor of local media and sign a petition.