A glimpse of a future for Amtrak’s expensive waiting roomBy
When you stop to think about it, the Farley Post Office building doesn’t make for the most practical of train stations. The first thing you notice are the steps, and who wants to navigate those while lugging some giant suitcase around the streets of New York City? The second thing is its location. It’s an avenue block away from the 7th Ave. subway and two from Herald Square. That’s not added convenience; that’s moving westward to a more inconvenient spot.
Yet, the Farley Post Office is the subject of future plans to save Penn Station. It is the subject of a decades-long initiative to convert the majestic building into a new gateway to the city. By moving Amtrak’s waiting area to Farley — and spending over $1 billion in the process — various interests hope to redeem the shortcomings of Penn Station by simply turning the Farley Post Office into Moynihan Station. It is a project not without flaws.
Prior to the end of the Bloomberg Administration, various groups made a push to draw attention to the need for something better than Penn Station. It hardly needs saying, but the current station is a visual dump and a mess to navigate. The plans were fanciful, but the momentum behind the MSG replacement has died down in light of the arena’s 10-year occupancy permit.
Now, though, Moynihan Station, at least, has reared its head. As Laura Kusisto and Eliot Brown reported in the Wall Street Journal, there’s movement afoot to generate money for future phases of the Moynihan project. The money would come from — what else? — air rights, but no one’s saying much of anything right now. Kusisto and Brown report:
Empire State Development Corp., the state economic-development agency, is looking for a broker to sell 1.5 million square feet of unused real-estate-development rights attached to the property on Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, according to a request for proposals posted on its website last month. It is unclear how fast the state intends to proceed with the selection of a broker and marketing of development rights, nor is it clear if developers would be willing to pay a price that satisfies state officials or that would fully fund the project. A spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to comment.
But the move toward the sale is one of the first signs that the Cuomo administration is interested in remaking the interior of the post office into a grand waiting room for Amtrak—a project about which administration officials have said little publicly…
Using the Farley building as a train station has been a dream of planners and state officials for more than two decades. Its intent is both to evoke the original Penn Station that was demolished in 1963 and to spur nearby real-estate development, although it would do little to expand train capacity.
As the local politicians noted to the Journal, no one really knows where the 1.5 million square feet of development would go, but that’s a solvable problem with old buildings dotting the midtown landscape. The biggest question surrounds the transit purposes. Kusisto and Brown do not hold back when the note that Moynihan would “do little to expand train capacity.” Amtrak says a new station is required if the Gateway Tunnel sees the light of day — but that station would be south of the current Penn, not west.
So we’re left with something that resembles a band aid and seems more like a vanity project. It may, as Alon Levy argued a few years ago, even have negative transportation value. But the Moynihan train won’t slow down. It inches forward, but it seems to draw ever nearer. While it solves the aesthetic problem as a high cost, it does nothing to solve the transit problem, and that’s more important right now.