Archive for Moynihan Station
When last we checked in on Moynihan Station, things were not looking good for the oft-delayed and rather expensive project. Phase 1 — essentially some wider concourses and more entrances — had to be scaled back amidst cost concerns when the bids on the project came in well above expectations. The Phase 2 work which includes the conversion of the post office building into the actual train station remains unfunded and a dream in the eyes of the project’s supporters.
Now, though, the Port Authority has some cause to celebrate. With a new price tag of $270 million, Phase 1 will kick off later this year, nearly two years after the ceremonial groundbreaking, Port Authority head Patrick Foye said yesterday. According to Reuters, Skanska’s $148 million bid to add street-level entrances at 31st and 33rd Sts. was the winning one. The different will go toward a new ventilation system and a mighty expensive underground walkway to Penn Station.
In comments yesterday, Foye spun this is a big step forward. Dana Rubinstein was on hand to report:
Foye, himself a Long Island Railroad commuter, said what has been a “fairly dingy” commuter experience would now “be fit for humans.”
…The project’s impact will be felt mainly by commuters. “It’s going to mean easier access to and from the tracks for Long Island Railroad commuters, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak,” said Foye. The authority was careful to present the project as Phase I of a two-part redevelopment that will culminate in the conversion of the Farley post office into an Amtrak terminal and retail center called Moynihan Station.
Though Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust are still the designated developers for Phase II, the project is unfunded and generally considered, at the very least, dormant. Even so, Foye argued on Tuesday that the completion of this track work, which he called, “the concourse of the new railroad station, of the new Moynihan Station,” would help make the latter a reality.
“The way I’d say it would be that the commencement of construction here later this year is gonna send a message to the development community, to investors, to Related and to Vornado and frankly to the whole community that this project’s gonna happen,” said Foye, “And, we would expect that not only is it a precondition to Phase II and the redevelopment of this building, but that it’s commencement will accelerate those discussions and that investment.”
By itself, the Phase 1 project is a worthwhile one. Improving access into and out of Penn Station will go a long way toward easing the crush of commuters in this underground cavern. That the Port Authority worked to ensure bids came in at budget is a step in the right direction too.
As I’ve noted in the past though, the Moynihan Station plan — with a price tag ranging from $500 million to $1 billion — leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t increase track capacity through the city and represents a nice building for politicians and a lot of dollars spent on some cosmetic upgrades. If it’s a future key for high-speed rail, that’s an easier pill to swallow, but I still wonder about our infrastructure spending priorities at a time when funds are not freely flowing.
The Moynihan Station project won’t die and can’t really move forward either. Despite a TIGER grant and a groundbreaking in October 2010, the plan to spend more than a $1 billion without truly increasing cross-Hudson train capacity has hit a stumbling block. As The Wall Street Journal reports today, due to escalating costs, the already-modest Phase 1 is being further scaled back.
Phase 1 of the two-phase project was not a particularly ambitious set of improvements. For $267 million, the Port Authority, now the overseers of the site, had planned to build two new entrances to Penn Station from west of Eighth Ave.; double the length and width of the West End Concourse; drop 13 new access points to the platforms; double the width of the 33rd St. Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse; and make other critical infrastructure improvements. Now that bids are in on the work and every single one came in above budget, the PA is reducing the scope of Phase 1.
Ted Mann has the story:
State and federal officials wary about mounting costs plan to scale back the first segment of work for the future Moynihan Station, the latest setback for an ambitious project almost two decades in the making. Plans to revamp a concourse and upgrade passenger amenities in a portion of Penn Station were narrowed after officials determined that bids for the estimated $267 million project came in too high, said Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is assuming control of the long-delayed venture…
“The response of the federal government, state government, MTA and Port Authority to the higher-than-expected bids is a unified approach to reduce the scope of phase one and thereby reduce the amount to be spent,” Mr. Foye said in an interview on Friday. “Phase one is funded and all government parties are working closely together to move phase one forward.”
…Mr. Foye said officials agreed to rebid the contract, focusing on the expansion of the existing West End Concourse, nestled beneath the main steps of the Farley building. Other elements of the first phase, including improvements to the 33rd Street corridor under Eighth Avenue, two new entrances to the station across Eighth Avenue and a new passenger waiting area, will follow once costs can be lowered, Mr. Foye said.
As I’ve long maintained, the Moynihan Station project borders on being a total waste. It’s a fancy way to fund some upgrades for the Amtrak platforms and ventilation infrastructure. It doesn’t offer up more track capacity into or out of the city, and it seems to represent spending on a structure that would allow politicians to point to something nice but not entirely functional. If these cost overruns and rejiggered project allow planners to take a second look at Moynihan Station, so much the better.
The old Penn Station — that long-lost symbol of the city’s historic preservation movement — turns 100 this year. As City Room’s Michael Grynbaum meticulously detailed, the first passengers to ride the Pennsylvania Railroad passed through the doors of the famed building back in 1910, and while the city tore down the iconic building, today’s iteration is one of the busiest transit hubs in the nation. Yesterday, city and state officials used the Penn Station centennial to celebrate the groundbreaking for another project. Phase I of Moynihan Station, newly renamed Moynihan Moving Forward, is now, well, moving forward.
At 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Governor David A. Paterson, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg — a veritable who’s who in New York politics — gathered to commemorate the start of the $267 million project. Just a few hours earlier, LaHood and Paterson had signed a grant agreement providing for $83 million in federal funding through the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program. Still, even as the back-patting spread in earnest, this project is far from complete and questions about both its usefulness and overall integration into the plans for the 34th St. area abound.
“This is an historic day for New York: not only the 100th Anniversary of Penn Station but also the birth of another,” Paterson said. “Today we break ground on one of New York’s most important transportation projects. While the size and scope of the project may have changed over the years, its goals have remained constant. This critical infrastructure project will create thousands of jobs for our construction workers and foster economic growth.”
While the state’s governor declined to mention the transportation benefits inherent in the project, Sen. Schumer, who led the effort to secure the TIGER grant, put them front and center during his remarks. “Moynihan Station is poised to be one of the greatest transportation and infrastructure legacies of our generation. Transportation infrastructure is the life-blood of New York and investing in it is a tried and true job creator,” he said. “The construction of Moynihan Station will create jobs, upgrade aging infrastructure, and leave behind an economic engine for the entire region. This project will bring together large numbers of people who can live and work in close proximity, which is New York’s secret formula for success. Our public transportation systems must continue to expand in sync with our population and job growth and confidence in the future.”
The Phase I construction — which I’ve covered in depth over the past few months — is modest in scope. While the entire project would realize a new train terminal inside the old Farley Post Office building, Phase I consists of better access points and cosmetic upgrades for the preexisting rathole that is Penn Station. As the press release lists, the first phase includes: “the expansion and enhancement of the 33rd Street Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse, which lies under the grand staircase of the Farley building” as well as “the extension and widening of the West End Concourse to serve nine of Pennsylvania Station’s 11 platforms, new vertical access points and passenger circulation space and entrances into the West End Concourse through the 31st and 33rd Street corners of the Farley building.” These most celebrated of all entrances will be opened by 2016.
Planning for the second phase, says the governor’s office, is “well under way.” In other words, don’t hold your breath. Still to prove that point, the Moynihan Station Development Corporation released the renderings with which I’ve decorated this post. If or when the $1.5-billion Phase II sees the light of day, it will at least look nice.
Yet, the project still suffers from a lack of planning. Basically, Moynihan Station is the very definition of putting lipstick on a pig. It takes a recognize urban problem — the ugliness of the current Penn Station — and spruces up the Amtrak depot. It doesn’t offer up more track capacity into or out of the city, and it doesn’t really integrate the New York City end of the ARC Tunnel. In fact, there’s no small irony to the fact that this groundbreaking came just a few days before the two-week ARC Tunnel review is up. At Penn Station, it’s almost as though the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, and one of those hands is planning to spend a significant amount just to make everything look nicer.
Earlier this spring, as part of its plan for 15 Penn Plaza, Vornado Reality revealed plans to reopen the Gimbels Passageway between 6th and 7th Avenues underneath 33rd St. Although the company’s development proposal failed a Community Board vote and is still awaiting an anchor tenant, the City Planning Commission approved the building, and as Speaker Christine Quinn is a friend to developers, a City Council vote next week is all but assured. But if a group of people banding together to protect the Empire State Building’s place amidst the New York skyline has its way, 15 Penn Plaza may not get so high off the ground.
The problem is one of height and proximity. Vornado’s new high-rise, located just two blocks west of the iconic Empire State Building, would top off at 1216 feet. The art deco building at 350 Fifth Ave. rises to just 1250 feet before the radio spire and lightning rod reach to just over 1453 feet. The new building, fear landmark preservationists, will radically alter the way the Empire State Building is perceived.
“The Empire State Building is the internationally recognized icon on the skyline of New York City,” Anthony Malkin, one of the owners of the Empire State Building, said. “We are its custodians, and must protect its place. Would a tower be allowed next to the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben’s clock tower? Just as the world will never tolerate a drilling rig next to The Statue of Liberty, why should governmental bonuses and waivers be granted to allow a structure as tall and bulky at 15 Penn Plaza to be built 900 feet away from New York City’s iconic landmark and beacon?”
The various renderings — many of which are collected at The Architect’s Newspaper Blog — range from dire to reasonable. Take a look, for example, at the view from New Jersey or the way 15 Penn Plaza looms to the west of the Empire State Building if seen from the east:
The Observer’s Eliot Brown has more on Malkin’s crusade:
He first came to be involved with 15 Penn Plaza when Vornado began shepherding the plans for the tower through the city’s seven-month-long public-approval process, which concludes with the vote by the City Council this month. The size of the tower caught him off-guard, he said. He began to round up consultants and push for changes, including at the City Planning Commission, given that such a building so close by would significantly change the skyline. “We’re not talking about preventing tall buildings in New York,” Mr. Malkin said. “The question here is this tall building here in New York, being approximately 800, 900 feet away from the Empire State Building, crowding the distinctive skyline of the city.”
He is no fan of the design—he likened it to “an undersea ICBM”—and sees a decision on the tower as a historic one, saying it is “akin to the loss of Penn Station.”
As for what’s driving Mr. Malkin, it seems to be a transparent self-interest. He views himself as a guardian of his building’s place in the skyline, and, as such, he is protective of anything that might encroach on that. If there are financial motivations-and Mr. Malkin says there are not-they are not obvious (although he has raised concerns that the new skyscraper would interfere with his building’s radio tower). The Vornado tower and the Empire State Building would compete for two different types of tenants; namely, those willing to pay high rents for modern space at the Vornado tower (banks and the like), and those who can’t. Tenants at the Empire State Building include the FDIC and nonprofits like Human Rights Watch, for instance.
Malkin isn’t alone in his fight. Peg Breen of the New York Landmarks Conservancy expressed her surprise at the size of the proposed 15 Penn Plaza as well. “It’s hard to understand how City Planning could say that 15 Penn Plaza would have no impact on the Empire State Building when they already lowered a proposed 53rd Street building for that very reason,” she said. “We would urge the Council to look at the discretionary waivers and bonuses this proposal has received.”
As this battle brews, though, and the fate of the proposed development atop the Gimbels Passageway awaits City Council action (and the inevitable lawsuits), the altered skyline could come into play at 8th Ave. as well. As Jeremy Smerd from Crain’s New York York Business reported yesterday, the city, state and Vornado are haggling over the potential sale of 1 million square feet of air rights above the Moynihan Station. With the initial contracts for Moynihan’s Phase 1 approved on Monday, the air rights are the next big issue that must be sorted out.
Interestingly, an air rights deal could lead to a quick development at 33th St. and 8th Ave. If Vornado works out a deal, Penn West, a 67-story, 693-foot-tall tower above the new depot, could begin to rise soon. It’s going to get awfully crowded along the 33rd St. corridor soon, and the iconic Empire State Building may soon have some tall transit-related company indeed.
After this week’s PACB approval, construction on Phase 1 of Moynihan Station will begin in October. With a tortured history that rivals many of New York City’s late-20th Century transit expansion plans, a firm start date for the project is good news indeed. Phase 1 is a $267-million expansion plan for Penn Station, and it is expected to be completed by 2016. When the $1.5-billion Phase 2 will get off the ground is anyone’s guess, but when the project is finally completed, New Yorkers will enjoy a much airier and roomier commuter rail hub, evocative of the old Penn Station. Issues concerning track capacity into and out of New York City will not be addressed.
The New York State Public Authorities Control Board has approved Phase 1 of the Moynihan Station project. The vote today is a significant step forward as four years ago, the same board blocked then-Governor Pataki’s plan for the station. With a significant amount of federal funds in place and plans for the station complex broken up into the cheaper Phase 1 and the most costly Phase 2, the early work can go forward while the state scrounges up the dollars for the $1.5 billion Penn Station expansion.
Phase 1 of the Moynihan Station plan is a $267 million cosmetic and infrastructure project. It involves building two entrances to Penn Station, dropping 13 new “vertical access points” to the platforms, and widening some underground concourses. The Empire State Development Corporation had signed off on it in March.
A diagram from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement shows some of Vornado’s transit improements plans for the 33rd St. area. (15 Penn Plaza – DEIS)
In writing about shuttered subway passageways lost to time yesterday, I mentioned briefly Vornado’s plans to reactivate the Gimbel’s passageway between 6th and 7th Avenues underneath 33rd St. The proposal is part of the real estate company’s 15 Penn Plaza project that would see a 1200-foot mixed-use building replace replace the Hotel Pennsylvania, and as part of their plans, Vornado has proposed sweeping transit improvements that would unite subway lines in the Penn Station area.
Last night, at a presentation in front of Community Board 5 on 15 Penn Plaza, the MTA had an opportunity to present and discuss the transit improvements. Bob Paley, director of transit-oriented development at the MTA, spoke at the meeting as he highlighted this “excellent example of transit oriented development.” It is, he explained, a part of the city’s plans to bring Moynihan Station from an idea to reality.
“The redevelopment of the Hotel Pennsylvania site,” Paley said, “offers the ability to move ahead with some of the most critical aspects of the work that needs to be done [for Moynihan Station] – including the enlargement, reconstruction and reopening of the Gimbel’s Passageway and the improvement of specific platform locations, vertical escalation, and subway entrances that are within or adjacent to this full block property.”
The main thrust of the improvements, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, would involve reactivated that old Gimbel’s passageway underneath 33rd St. “The renovated passageway would be widened to accommodate pedestrian flows between Penn Station/the Seventh Avenue subway lines and the Sixth Avenue subway lines and the Port Authority Trans Hudson station, improving pedestrian circulation on the street- level sidewalks,” the document says. “The passageway would provide an alternative to pedestrians traveling along the 33rd Street corridor.”
The Post’s Steve Cuozzo discusses how the old passageway would be completely overhauled. Instead of a nine-foot wide, dimly-lit tunnel replete with sketchy characters, the new tunnel would be 16 feet wide and would resemble the underground concourses at Rockefeller Center. The MTA estimates that, in good weather, 10-14,000 people per day would make use of the connection. Although Cuozzo claims that the passageway would provide a free transfer between the IRT at 34th and 7th Ave. and the IND/BMT stop at Herald Square, the DEIS image, shown above, features fare control areas at either end. Still, simply uniting the two stations underground would make walking through a highly congested area much easier.
Vornado, working with the MTA and PATH, has proposed a slew of other improvements to meet the increased transit demands of their massive building – the third highest in the city if it is to see the light of day. These include:
- Widening the stair from the Seventh Avenue southbound local platform to the 32nd Street underpass;
- Building a new stairway to the center platform from the 32nd Street/Seventh Avenue underpass;
- Widening the Seventh Avenue northbound local platform between West 32nd and West 33rd Streets by six feet;
- Building new subway entrances at Seventh Avenue and West 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue and West 33rd Street, each of which would include a 10-foot-wide set of stairs through the proposed building;
- Constructing a new street elevator at the Seventh Avenue and West 33rd Street entrance;
- Widening the Sixth Avenue and West 32nd Street PATH entrance stairs by 10 feet, and adding one escalator;
- Constructing one escalator at the Sixth Avenue and West 33rd Street subway entrance;
- Constructing a 10-foot staircase from the PATH to the B, D, F, and V platform near West 32nd Street;
- Constructing a 15-foot staircase from the PATH to the B, D, F, and V platform near West 33rd Street; and
- Reconfiguring the fare control area to accommodate new stairs from the PATH to the B, D, F, and V platforms.
This plan, says the MTA, is estimated to cost approximately $150 million, and Vornado has shown a complete willingness to fund these upgrades. “The public benefit of funding from a private partner willing to take on the significant planning and construction work to implement these improvements is even more critical in today’s environment of limited capital funding than it was when these discussions began several years ago,” Paley said.
Of course, it looks good on paper, but it’s future is no sure thing. Vornado says it could have the building open in four and a half years, and the DEIS claims a completion date in 2014. Cuozzo reports, however, that the company won’t start construction until it “pre-signs at least one large office tenant – which could take years.” The company remains committed to gaining approval now.
In a sense, these improvements would create a hub similar to those at Times Square and Fulton St. for transit in an area exceedingly difficult to navigate. PATH access would be improved, and the Penn Station area catacombs would begin to clear up. It is a prime example of transit-oriented development and a public-private partnership that sees much-needed transit upgrades funded by a developer with money that plans to increase transit demand. It just makes sense.
“It is for those reasons,” Paley said last night, “that the MTA strongly supports this project – both the subway and transit improvements and the new tower that will rise above them. Although we can’t bring back the old Penn Station, through a series of very significant improvements such as those proposed as part of this development, we will be able to bring back the high level of convenience and amenity that the public deserves.”
Update (2:10 p.m.): For what it’s worth, Community Board 5 last night voted 36-1 against Vornado’s plan for 15 Penn Plaza. Eliot Brown offers some insight into the vote:
Many community board members seemed almost offended that Vornado had requested both an air rights bonus for its transit improvements and an additional increase in the density beyond what they would normally be allowed (one called it “double dipping”). Still, community boards often vote against projects, and some board members did acknowledge that this was a good space for a tall building.
While the Community Board asked Vornado to come back when it had a tenant in place, the reality is that this vote doesn’t matter. The City Council will eventually decide whether or not to approve this project, and odds are good that they will give it the OK. Stay tuned.
Six weeks after the Moynihan Station projected earned an $83 million TIGER grant that will enable the city to build Phase I of the ambitious Penn Station expansion plan, New York’s Empire State Development Corporation has approved the amended General Project Plan. (View the amended Project Plan here.) The ESDC vote kicked off the public approval process, and the next major milestone will be a public hearing on Wednesday April 28 at the Farley Post Office, the future site of the project.
“Too many have waited too long for relief at Penn Station,” Robin Stout, Moynihan Station Development Corporation president said in a statement after the vote. “As we move through the public approval process, we will also be concluding our design and documentation so that Phase 1 construction can begin as soon as possible.”
As the Moynihan Station plan moves forward — with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as the lead architects — the costs remain an issue. Phase I is a $267 million project that simply improves access to the current Penn Station by constructing more entrances and widening a few platforms. Phase II, which will turn the Farley Building into a rail hall, will cost between $1-$1.5 billion and has not yet received any funding commitments. Baby steps are better than no progress at all, but I’m not too optimistic that the Moynihan Station plan as it currently exists will see the light of day anytime soon.
A federal TIGER grant approved today ensures that at least the first phase of the Moynihan Station proposal will see the light of day. (Rendering via Friends of Moynihan Station)
After years of proposals, politicking and promises, Moynihan Station is finally poised to become something of a reality. Earlier today, Sen. Chuck Schumer, long a champion of the Penn Station expansion project, announced an $83 million TIGER grant for the station, and the money closes the Phase I budget gap. Construction will commence before the end of 2010.
As Elana Schor at Streetsblog DC details, the grant is part of the Obama Administration’s competitive $1.5 billion Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery program, and New York’s plan is the first bid winner. This award is a clean sign of the federal Department of Transportation’s move toward a more merit-based funding solution. “Moynihan Station is the poster child for the best way to use federal funding,” Schumer said. “It creates jobs, upgrades aging transportation infrastructure, and leaves behind an economic engine for the entire region.”
With this $83.3 million grant in place, the Moynihan Station now has a guaranteed $267 million set aside for it. The breakdown, per a press release is as follows: $110 million in previously earmarked federal funding, $35 million from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, $14 million from the State of New York, and $10 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
So what then does $267 million buy at the planned site of a new transportation hub? Unfortunately, not very much. Per Friends of Moynhian Station, the money will go toward:
- Building two new entrances to Penn Station’s platforms from West of Eighth Avenue through the corners of the Farley Building;
- Doubling the length and width of the West End Concourse;
- Providing 13 new “vertical access points” (escalators, elevators and stairs) to the platforms;
- Doubling the width of the 33rd Street Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse and;
- Other critical infrastructure improvements including platform ventilation and catenary work.
Phase II, construction of the train hall in the Farley Building, will be independently funded and is currently estimated to cost between $1 and $1.5 billion. The Friends of Moynihan Station stress that all Phase I elements will be independently functional in the very likely event that Phase II doesn’t get off the ground any time soon.
Still, long-term advocates of the station were thrilled with today’s developments. “We’re very pleased this critical project is finally getting underway, after years of delay,” Bob Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, said. “There is no more important project for creating needed transportation capacity in the regional rail system and for catalyzing the redevelopment of New York’s Far West Side.”
Yesterday, I examined how the ball is rolling again for Moynihan Station, and late in the day, Eliot Brown from The Observer emailed me a link to a piece he had written about the federal involvement in the project. Brown writes that to get funding for the new station, the supporters are going to be relying heavily on the Obama Administration’s transportation investment plans. Gov. Paterson may ask for $398 million in stimulus funding, and the state hopes that President Obama’s high-speed rail imitative will send some money to Moynihan as well. Brown also explores how the project is closer to a reality now that its supporters have broken it into bite-sized pieces and are no longer pushing a massive overhaul of the Madison Square Garden area. [The Observer]