A New Penn Station for New York

This month, Regional Plan Association and Municipal Art Society together launched a public campaign to overhaul Penn Station and reconsider the location of Madison Square Garden.

As two of the region’s most esteemed civic groups on urban planning and design issues, we are calling on leaders of our city and region to seize a unique opportunity this year to envision substantial changes to Penn Station, where overcrowded and grim public areas have plagued hundreds of thousands of daily commuters for nearly five decades.

Madison Square Garden's special land-use permit, granted in 1963 for 50 years, expired in January and is being reviewed this spring by city officials. Under standard practice, a new permit would give the owners of the Garden rights to the site on top of Penn Station in perpetuity. This could permanently block any attempt to improve the transit hub, saddling future generations with a failed Penn Station.

Penn Station can't be moved because it is linked to a vast network of tracks and other infrastructure that run below the station. Yet its location beneath Madison Square Garden means it would be nearly impossible to bring substantial light, air and space into the existing facility.

RPA and MAS also believe that New York deserves a world-class sports and entertainment arena. Madison Square Garden is among the country’s oldest professional basketball or hockey stadium currently in operation. The building’s façade, architecture and freight-loading facilities are severely dated. The arena, which has moved twice since its inception on Madison Avenue in 1879, today faces growing competition from two other modern sports and events venues in the New York area.

“As New Yorkers have learned over the past 50 years, a major transportation gateway and a major sports and music venue can’t provide their customers with a high-quality experience while sharing the same site,” said Robert D. Yaro, president of Regional Plan Association. “That is why neither facility meets the needs of our great city.”

We recommend granting the Garden a permit for 10 years, rather than a permanent right to the site. This would give the metropolitan region sufficient time to consider the best options for both Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, including a number of potential alternative locations for the arena within Manhattan.

Last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer recommended just as RPA and MAS did that MSG’s permit to operate above Penn Station be limited to a 10-year term. The matter now heads to the City Planning Commission, which is holding a hearing on the permit application on April 10, with a final decision rendered by the City Council in June or July.

On April 19, Regional Plan Association will have a panel discussion at the organization’s annual Assembly in New York that will explore in greater detail options for both Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.

Email us at [email protected] to find out how to get more involved.