Home Penn Station City Planning calls for 15 more years for MSG

City Planning calls for 15 more years for MSG

by Benjamin Kabak

Moving MSG is a key to increasing Manhattan’s rail throughput. (Photo by flickr user [mementosis])

As the movement to reimagine and replan Midtown West takes shape and calls for some solutions to the Penn Station morass grow, the Department of City Planning is considering limiting the renewal term on Madison Square Garden’s occupancy permit to 15 years. The move — not without controversy — comes after a recommendation of 10 years from the Community Board and a request of an unlimited term from the Garden’s owners. A 15-year term would force the city to confront the problems of Penn Station before the end of the 2020s.

“While Madison Square Garden maintains that the arena special permit should continue in perpetuity, we believe the term is warranted due to the uniqueness of the site and the importance of Penn Station to the city,” Amanda Burden, director of City Planning Department and chair of the City Planning Commission, said.

Matt Chaban of Crain’s New York broke the story following the vote this morning, and his reporting provides some context on the next steps:

It’s been nearly a decade since efforts to move the Garden surfaced. Early talks involved city, state and federal governments, the three railroads that use the station, two developers and the Dolan family, which controls the Garden. Under that plan, the Garden would have moved across Eighth Avenue into the old Farley Post Office. It fell apart in 2008 under bureaucratic inertia and the wreckage of the real estate bubble. “We are recommending today that the commission call for a renewed, multiagency initiative to improve Penn Station,” Ms. Burden said.

Her notion of a 15-year permit drew vocal support from fellow commissioners, who will officially vote on the plan later in May. “I think 15 years, in my view, was a good decision and the minimum of what we could do because 10 years is too short and does not give the Garden enough to relocate,” said Commissioner Angela Battaglia, who had been skeptical of a limited term during past commission hearings…

Manhattan Commissioner Anna Levin reiterated the need to use the permit to jump-start the negotiations around the arena. “I’m fully in support of the general direction of the 15-year permit,” she said. “But we’ve got to rally the troops to get this to happen. It goes beyond these walls.”

Should a deal fall through, the special permit calls for a commission to reassess the area around the arena, perhaps creating more entrances on the plaza surrounding the Garden. The arena would not be responsible for such changes, but it would have to make way for them. “If such a plan does not come to fruition, making improvements to the station with Madison Square Garden at its current location will become critical to the future of Penn Station,” Ms. Burden said.

Various stakeholders expressed varying degrees of acceptance. The Municipal Art Society, which is seemingly more concerned with a great public space than a train station that can meet demand, still hopes for a 10-year permit while Madison Square Garden lashed out at the Commission’s decision. “Adding an arbitrary expiration for reasons unrelated to the special permit process or requirements would not only set a dangerous and questionable precedent, but would also hinder our ability to make MSG and New York City the long-term home of even more world-class events, and would harm a business that has served as a significant economic driver for the city for generations,” the arena’s owners said in a statement.

If the late-May vote upholds the 15-year permit and if the City Council does as well, the next decade and a half becomes a critical one for the region’s rail infrastructure. As I’ve mentioned a few times this year, the fight over MSG and, subsequently, Penn Station should not be about the above-ground elements. We can’t resurrect the old Penn Station, and we shouldn’t be sinking billions of dollars into a station house as we are with PATH at the World Trade Center site.

Rather, as Scott Stringer carefully elaborated, Madison Square Garden’s future must be tied to underground improvements. We need more track capacity, bigger platforms and a train station not interrupted by support columns that hinder passenger flow. MSG, already one of the country’s oldest arenas, has moved in the past, and it can move again if better transit connections warrant it.

Today’s announcement is the first real salvo in this fight, and the permit has clear a few hurdles before becoming law. Then, the battle of form vs. function over Penn Station will start to play out as well. For now, though, the move is a welcome one if we are to expand rail access into Manhattan, and the City Council should follow suit.

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Michael K May 7, 2013 - 3:02 pm

Amanda is setting the stage for a move with this term, she is correct that 10 years is too short.

I can see the NYCEDC complete a full fledged study over the rest of teh year to find a suitable replacement location with a private partner in order to jumpstart the process.

Larry Littlefield May 7, 2013 - 3:07 pm

Who is going to pay for the new building with what money, and where?

SEAN May 7, 2013 - 3:47 pm

There are a few ways to pay for a new MSG…

1. A bond issuance through Goldman Sachs or some other Wall Street vampire squid.
2. getting the city to issue it’s own bonds.
3. Subscriber fees.

AG May 8, 2013 - 4:43 pm

The bonds would still be debt… something that has BALLOONED

Chris C May 7, 2013 - 6:36 pm

Given that arenas etc require regular updating I’d say the current owners would / ahould be paying for a new build and remember new build is cheaper than retrofitting an existing building.

A new building will enable e.g. energy saving devices to be installed from the get go so reducing ongoing operating costs.

Spiderpig May 8, 2013 - 9:47 am

You know that MSG was just updated right? Well, one more summer to complete it. And it probably has been more expensive than a new building. City employees are going to have a fight on their hands, since I’m guessing the Garden will want their “new” arena to stand for more than 15 years.

Henry May 11, 2013 - 1:01 am

At the rate the entertainment industry progressives, what is considered current by today’s standards may be obsolete in 15 years.

The general atmosphere of the place is also less hospitable than, say, at Barclays, and a huge chunk of MSG’s business has moved there.

AG May 11, 2013 - 11:41 am

A huge chunk of MSG’s business did NOT go to Barlcay’s because of it being more “hospitable”… most events that went to Barclay’s are vents that could never go to MSG because of scheduling… then on top of it MSG has been closed the past 3 summers… and Barclay’s is cheaper – while still being in NY (just like the Manhattan-ites that moved to Brooklyn).
The fact that MSG is so “outdated” and still is THE big ticket arena in the country refutes your theory about Barclay’s…
The NFL just held the their draft at Radio city Music Hall – which is older than MSG… It was being held at the Theater at MSG. It moved because of scheduling/costs… not because it wanted something more “hospitable”.
Same with boxing… Boxing has wanted to be back in NYC (the real “Mecca” before Las Vegas) for a long time… but schedule was always a problem with MSG because it’s always busy. Then – unless you have a top draw fight – cost wise MSG didn’t make sense. Hence – Barlcay’s has filled a void… it’s not because Barclay’s is “better”… anyone will tell you the atmosphere at a fight is still “better” at MSG (yes – i’ve been to both)… and that’s prob bc it is old (think Yankee Stadium – old vs. new).
Again – there was just a boxing event at Radio City Music Hall also.. which is NOT the best environment to watch a fight. Still – it was packed and was on HBO.

Spiderpig May 11, 2013 - 12:09 pm

Didn’t the NFL Draft move to Radio City originally because they were upset about MSG trying to block the West Side stadium for the Jets?

AG May 11, 2013 - 7:07 pm

That’s not possible… Radio City Music Hall is operated by MSG! That’s my point – they put events there that can’t happen at the Garden itself because of schedule or costs.
(Aside from Radio City – MSG also now runs the old Forum in Los Angeles).

plus the whole “didn’t want a stadium because it would compete with the MSG” doesn’t make sense anyway. Maybe from a traffic gridlock standpoint…. Otherwise – 90k seat venues don’t compete with 20k seat ones.
Again – though being that MSG runs Radio City – it’s not possible the NFL tried to “retaliate” over rumor.

Spiderpig May 14, 2013 - 2:00 pm

That’s right. The draft moved to the Javits Center in 2005.

The MSG objection to the West Side Stadium was ridiculous on its face, but it could have been driven to gain favor with the politicians who were against the stadium.

AG May 14, 2013 - 4:52 pm

no my point was that its ridiculous to think the NFL was trying to spite MSG – because the draft has been held at Radio City for several years at least… and MSG runs Radio City.

Spiderpig May 14, 2013 - 7:30 pm

No doubt. I wasn’t refuting that point, but they did spite MSG for one year.

AG May 8, 2013 - 4:42 pm

you can’t force them off the property without compensating them for their property.

Nathanael May 7, 2013 - 11:10 pm

Who paid for the first Madison Square Garden (in Madison Square)? Who paid for the second one? Who paid for the current one?

Private investors. This sort of arena is profitable. The Dolans can afford it.

When MSG gets knocked down, and a new Penn Station is built — preferably with a decent-sized ground-level headhouse — the Dolans will *still own the air rights* and can resell the rights to the 2nd through 150th floors, which should cover most of their costs for the new area.

Nathanael May 7, 2013 - 11:11 pm

(So I’m clear on what I’m proposing: I’m saying that the ground level should be devoted to Penn Station, but the space above that might as well be office buildings, hotels, apartments, et cetera — they don’t need to be open air as they are in Grand Central, and they shouldn’t be.)

John-2 May 7, 2013 - 11:42 pm

They can easily fit the office space from 2 Penn Plaza and MSG on top of each other thanks to new building designs and materials. And building the Garden up like the 1925 incarnation instead of out like the ’68 model would improve a bunch of sightlines and put upper level fans closer to the court, rink or stage, as they are in newer arenas.

The ceiling for the train station could still be vaulted (with columns) 40-50 feet above the concourse level, to avoid the ‘rathole’ feeling the current low-ceilings downstairs create. And combining the Garden and the office space would still leave 50 percent of the site open for some type of Penn Station recreation on either the Seventh or Eighth Avenue sides, while not losing the money the Dolans, Amtrak and Vornado Realty Trust are earning from the site.

Who pays will be the sticky part, since aside from the city and the MTA, you also have the Dolans, Vornado and the federal government as stakeholders in the site. Dividing up cost percentages and property rights (and not having the city or the MTA end up footing the majority of the bill) will be the usual squabbling, but at least they’ve got a decade or so to work it out.

Alex B. May 8, 2013 - 8:02 am

Yeah, it’s privately owned. But that means to move it, you would either have to entice MSG to move with public money, or buy them out via eminent domain with public money.

They just spent a lot of private money to renovate the current building. They will have a right to be compensated for that property if it is taken from them. And if you don’t want to be forced to take it from them in court, you’ll need to entice them to move. The city retains some leverage if they do not renew the operating permit in perpetuity, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s private property.

The real opportunity to entice a move would’ve been a few years ago, before MSG started their current renovations; before MSG sunk a lot of money into the existing building.

Larry Littlefield May 8, 2013 - 8:14 am

Right. They should have done something then.

Sites that size are hard to find. In central cities, they generally require eminent domain.

So you are really talking about forcing the Knicks, Rangers etc. move out of the city, perhaps to Nassau County, or paying far more for them to locate elsewhere within the city. If Stringer etc. are prepared to admit this, fine.

Hank May 7, 2013 - 3:15 pm

I like Stringer’s idea.

Ben- Any thoughts on this little gem from the NYP? http://www.nypost.com/p/news/b.....RiCneaDf3L
Think bonds are the way to get Phase 2 and 3 of the SAS built?

llqbtt May 7, 2013 - 3:29 pm

We’ve got the Barclay’s Center. Bye bye MSG whiners with gazillions of dollars from your government endorsed, hyper-expensive cable service, cable monopoly. Move or leave town. Anyway, if they do end up moving in 15 years and plans would already be in place for a New Penn Station, it’s probably still be another 10 years to functional, operational completion and another 5 for the finishes = 30 total years from renewal.

5w30 May 8, 2013 - 10:14 pm

Barclays certainly has a sterling reputation, no? Prokhorov of the Nets? Dirty money, both places. And the land grab for the arena and the crappy, thin-walled housing yet to be built?

AG May 8, 2013 - 11:05 pm

not to mention giving the naming rights to Barclay’s… and institution with deep ethical issues.
I’m not against either arena… but it’s laughable the hypocrisy of ppl sometimes.

AG May 8, 2013 - 11:24 pm

Barclay’s is no replacement for MSG… even the owners will tell you that. As far as that new station… there is the issue of coming up with the billions to pay for it.

Rami Kablowowow May 9, 2013 - 5:17 am

all stations are nastehhhh

majortom1981 May 11, 2013 - 10:45 am

Do you realize how much money MSG brings into the city? IF MSG goes bye bye a lot of tourism might go with it and the need for penn station. MSG employees 2300 people all by itself. Then all the money the concerts bring in and the games.

You lose MSG and you might not even need a redone penn station.

Josh K. May 7, 2013 - 4:05 pm

While I agree that the future of the above ground structure isn’t as important, getting rid of all of MSG’s foundation support footings that eat up space on the station and track levels of the station. With those columns out of the way, platform space improves and it opens up possibilities for reconfiguring the underground spaces to maximize throughput.
As I understand it, there’s a lot of existing infrastructure in the way preventing a possible lower level at Penn under the main station. However, if the space within the existing footprint can be maximized, that would be a good first step.

John-2 May 7, 2013 - 5:12 pm

With modern engineering, there’s no reason why a new Garden can’t be incorporated into a new Penn Station, while at the same time allowing for a full demolition of the existing structure and widening of the platforms and access points underground to improve traffic flow.

While it’s understandable why the Dolans (and 50 years ago, Irving Mitchell Felt) want to remain in the Penn Station area, since it’s the only four-direction mass transit access point in the city. But back in 1968, the alternative venue options for major indoor events in NYC was limited to the Garden or cramped venues like the Sunnyside Gardens Arena in Queens. That’s not the case now. Just as the Yankees spent two years at Shea while their stadium was being rebuilt, the city and the Dolans can work out a deal with either the Barclay’s Center or even the Prudential Center (both of which should still be around in 2028) to take the Knicks and Rangers games while the new arena is being built. And being in the heart of Manhattan, even if the major concerts and other shows have to go elsewhere for two years, they’ll be back because of the centralized location.

Nathanael May 7, 2013 - 11:12 pm

The supports for a giant open bowl designed to hold thousands of people, and then a large domed roof over that, are apparently problematic. Putting ordinary buildings on top of Penn Station would presumably be much less problematic.

John-2 May 7, 2013 - 11:58 pm

Just to add to my rely further above; you’ve already got a dome over a 95,000 seat stadium in Arlington that is 2 1/2 to three times the length of whatever ceiling support a new Garden would require and support walls for it also holding up a 60-yard long Jumbotron. So the basic vault and supporters would be easy. But the current Garden also wastes space, because in late 1960s technology, the only way to remove those annoying ceiling columns that obstructed seats was to push the arena outward instead of upwards, as every new arena is built today (Remember, the rink inside the Garden is less than a block long, and a regulation basketball court is less than a half-block long).

Build it up instead of out and there would still be leftover space for outer supports for offices above a new MSG, because a more compact MSG wouldn’t take up all 500 or so feet between 31st and 33rd streets, the way the current building’s diameter does (you would have to adjust the outer tracks and platforms underground to deal with the column readjustments, but moving the columns around and widening the platforms as a major part of the proposed Penn Station rehab to being with).

Spiderpig May 8, 2013 - 9:53 am

It’s cute that you think the Dolans will move their teams into another building for two years. The Liberty are one minor thing, the Rangers and Knicks are another. They’re already missing out on three summers of concert/event revenue through this year; they won’t want to lose that for two full years. When the Yankees moved, they weren’t owned by Steinbrenner.

Benjamin Kabak May 8, 2013 - 9:57 am

The Yanks played in Shea Stadium for the 1974 and 1975 seasons. George Steinbrenner purchased the team in 1973.

John-2 May 8, 2013 - 11:15 am

I worked as a part-time usher for both the Yanks and Mets during their two years at Shea. No doubt in the world George was the owner, since he already had created turmoil by forcing Ralph Houk out as manager after the ’73 season, and then axed Bill Virdon in ’75 after the Yanks almost stole the AL East from the Orioles in their first year at Shea (great for me, since I was usually working the upper decks, and their success that year meant a lot of later-season unexpected crowds and tips).

Spiderpig May 8, 2013 - 3:32 pm

I knew I should have googled that first to be sure. But the rest of my point still stands.

John-2 May 8, 2013 - 7:34 pm

Meet me back here in 2028 and we’ll find out.

AG May 8, 2013 - 8:00 pm

Even the planning commission knows this may not happen… which is why comment was made to the effect that if MSG ends up not moving because of no suitable plan (which really means money) improvements like new entrances will have to be made.

David Brown May 7, 2013 - 6:07 pm

I am not in agreement with this at all. Even if Cablevision would have a spot to move MSG, when would the train station actually get built? In addition how much would it cost? If we use existing projects as an example of this, we are looking at another boondoggle (Eastside Access, and Fulton Street come to mind as examples of this). I say, if the money is there, why not use it on Phases 2 & 3 of the Second Ave Subway? With the Eastside Access, getting those completed are more important for the City and commuters alike.

AG May 8, 2013 - 4:47 pm

you are very sensible… but unfortunately that doesn’t happen often in politics… nor with lovers of architecture.

Marcus May 7, 2013 - 6:54 pm

Demolish MSG and rebuild the original Penn Station. I believe enough wealthy (and not so wealthy) donors would be interested in contributing to such a project. The loss of the original Penn Station was a crime against architecture and beauty.

Bolwerk May 7, 2013 - 8:31 pm

There are plenty of other modernist monstrosities that could be corrected with private money. How about Stuyvesant Town?

MSG is ugly, but at least it’s used rather productively. Focus the transport money on transportation. It may not mean a pretty building for Penn commuters, but it will serve society better in the long run.

BBnet3000 May 7, 2013 - 8:43 pm

Any new station configuration must have a single, unified passenger area. The multiple concourses are the root of the current lack of space at Penn Station. The actual square footage is sub-par, sure, but theyve exacerbated it by cutting the baby in half.

Nathanael May 7, 2013 - 11:16 pm

Actually, the original “entrance concourse”/”exit concourse” design was pretty efficient.

But it suffered from lack of wheelchair accessibility, and from narrow platforms. The platforms *have* to be widened, which requires some serious redesign work.

Bolwerk May 8, 2013 - 2:05 pm

Pave over some of them. There is no need for that many, and the loss can be made up for by through-running. The best part is it might piss off NIMBYs.

John Doe May 8, 2013 - 10:46 am

Thank goodness!! its time to tear down this monstrosity once and for all and while you’re at it please demolish the hideous Manhattan Mall and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Its time to build great public works in this country. Its a shame we spent countless billions on wars in distant lands, we could have used that money on rebuilding the infrastructure here, sad…


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