Home Asides City Planning Commission grants MSG another 15 years

City Planning Commission grants MSG another 15 years

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s looking more and more likely that Madison Square Garden will receive a 15-year occupancy permit from the city with strict instructions to reach a compromise on the Penn Station problem. In a unanimous vote today, the City Planning Commission supported the 15-year permit with a small loophole and strict conditions to improve Penn Station or relocate the arena. Of course, future administrations could see fit in 15 years to further extend the permit, and the City Council still has to validate today’s vote. But for now, there is a groundswell of political support behind the move to address Penn Station’s capacity constraints.

During the CPC’s proceedings today, commission chair Amanda Burden spoke about her desired course of action. “I don’t think anyone would disagree that the best outcome for New York City would be a relocated Madison Square Garden and a rebuilt Penn Station,” she said. I, for one, do disagree. The best outcome would involve keeping MSG where it is and improving and reconstructing Penn Station for increased transit operations. Still, I won’t quibble with the vote.

Meanwhile, somehow, supports and opponents of the limited permit expressed disappointment. MSG wanted an unlimited right to use the space while the Municipal Arts Society wanted to force the issue in 10 years rather than 15. MAS also warned against a special provision that could allow MSG to stay put if it can reach an agreement, not subject to public review, with Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit for Penn Station improvements. The City Council will take up the issue within the next two months.

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Andrew Smith May 22, 2013 - 6:41 pm

Could someone please outline what improvements could realistically be made in rail capacity at Penn and how MSG being on top is preventing said improvements?

Are we talking about it being impossible to widen platforms because of MSG supports? What can actually be done in an era where it costs $6 billion to build a biggish subway station out of relatively cheap materials?

Benjamin Kabak May 22, 2013 - 6:42 pm

It’s a bit of a catch-22 here. Part of the 15-year window would involve identifying those improvements, how to move them forward and how much they cost. As of now, the MSG supports are blocking a variety of expansion but I’m not sure anyone has done a point-by-point list of which ones.

SEAN May 22, 2013 - 8:03 pm

FYI, on Jeopardy! this evening there was a $1000 clue regarding the Knicks & Rangers being owned by this company who broadcast there games on MSG.

Ironic isn’t it considering how many of your posts Ben were discussing what should happen to the garden over the past few months. As I see it, the problem with Madison Square Garden is not one of location, rather it’s the design & configguration of the site & how it effects everything below it including Penn station.

Rebuilding Penn station is impracticle from a cost perspective unless the old post office can be incorporated into the design in some way. As for MSG, a new arena should be built more or less in the same location, but follow design standards that have been implimented in such venues as the Target Center & the Verizon Center.

John-2 May 22, 2013 - 8:43 pm

With the more compact designs of the modern 20,000 seat arenas, the footprint of a new Madison Square Garden would take up less area than the Seventh Avenue half of the site currently occupied in part by 2 Penn Plaza. So technically, 15 years from now they could do the same thing with the Garden they did with the Yankees and the Mets — tear down 2 Penn, build the new arena right next to the old one, while improving the track layout, platforms and the railroad concourses beneath it, and then after the Seventh Avenue side is complete, tear down the current Garden, re-do the platforms and tracks there and rebuild the western half of Penn Station.

Nathanael May 28, 2013 - 6:27 am

That’s a pretty decent idea. The key is coming up with a stadium design which does NOT require the masses of thick, dense columns which make it impossible to reconfigure Penn Station.

I’m not sure how to do that, since I’m not a structural engineer. Perhaps build the stadium on *top* of a dome structure?

Marc Shepherd May 23, 2013 - 11:42 am

I don’t think anything will change in 15 years. Nobody’s going to pay for the construction of a new arena, right after the Dolans just refurbished MSG.

AG May 23, 2013 - 9:48 pm

you are most likely right… and the politicians know that… which is why they allowed for the provisions.. it’s all a game.

Bolwerk May 22, 2013 - 7:16 pm

I personally think Penn’s problems are way overplayed. Through running and even platform reduction to create wider platforms ought to be enough, at least to start. And that stuff is cheap.

SEAN May 22, 2013 - 8:14 pm

Curious… how did you come to that conclusion? I agree with the through running concept assuming compadible equipment is used.

Bolwerk May 22, 2013 - 8:41 pm

I don’t see an excuse for using Penn as a terminal by anyone but Amtrak. Certainly other stations around the world manage better throughput.

Not saying they shouldn’t improve Penn either, just saying we should start with the obvious.

SEAN May 22, 2013 - 8:51 pm

And as you well know, the obvious is often missed by polls & by developers.

Nathanael May 28, 2013 - 6:29 am

Having looked at it, platform reduction really does lose half the platforms unless you can relocate the columns.

Now, through-runningwill improve platform usage a lot…. but I’m not sure all of that put together will clear out HALF the platforms. There’s still Amtrak, remember.

AG May 28, 2013 - 8:09 pm

isn’t amtrak still slated to move across the street (when the money is found)?

Alon Levy May 23, 2013 - 9:17 am

The biggest capacity problem at Penn is not Penn, but the North River Tunnels. This has nothing to do with MSG.

However, within the station itself, there’s a problem with pedestrian circulation. There are more tracks than are needed but the platforms are narrow and have few access points. Widening the platforms at the expense of paving over tracks is possible, but some of the optimal configurations for doing that run into problems with the support columns, which can’t be moved unless MSG is demolished and rebuilt. In addition, it’s possible that the columns also block interlocking improvements.

Another problem with Penn is the concourses. They’re not a big capacity constraint, and if they become one there’s an easy fix (kick out the back offices from the lower concourse), but they’re confusing and claustrophobic and reinforce agency turf boundaries. I would guess I lose about 2 minutes to suboptimally navigating the station in each direction when connecting between Amtrak and the 1/2/3. If for some reason I had a pile of money to fix the station above-ground and I couldn’t embezzle it to add another pair of Hudson tunnels, I’d rebuild it to look like this.

Nathanael May 28, 2013 - 6:30 am

“In addition, it’s possible that the columns also block interlocking improvements.”

They do.

David Brown May 22, 2013 - 8:06 pm

I really do not like taking Cablevision’s side ( I remember when I went a year with no Yankee Games), but why are they being singled out? Why not put transportation requirements on companies like Vornado and Related? It is exactly like what happens with keeping Walmart out of the City, nothing but politics. If politicians would give a damn about the people and understood economics they would know building another MSG will cost billions ( guess who would pay?) There is a reason why I go to Sam’s Club and Walmart in New Jersey, that is to save money ( even after gas and tolls). Maybe if the likes of Quinn and Liu understood these basic concepts, we all might spend more money in the City and have more jobs created

SEAN May 22, 2013 - 8:21 pm

In this case Cablevision is being singled out, as you correctly put it , but a great deal of responsability of MSG’s redevelopment does fall on Vornado & that must not be forgotten.

John-2 May 22, 2013 - 8:52 pm

Vornado is actually more likely to see the ‘big picture’ here. Because they own so much land around the Garden, along with 2 Penn Plaza, it’s in their best interest to make the Pennsylvania Station area as attractive as possible, because in then boosts the rental value of their other properties.

So even if a new Penn Station/MSG complex without the 2 Penn Plaza office space was drawn up, it can be offset by rezoning one of Vornado’s adjacent locations to increase it’s office space by that same amount (and since they own the block just north of Penn Station, any redevelopment of that block could be done concurrently with the Garden and train station reconstruction, just as it was back in the 1960s).

Nate May 22, 2013 - 10:23 pm

Hmm, I think I agree with Commissioner Burden on this one. As arenas go, we’ve gotten a good long life out of a relatively crummy arena and a truly wretched rail station below it. The best thing to do is start from scratch at 7th and 33rd and design a new station, new platforms, and–yes, yes–new Hudson tunnels that are appropriately integrated with the new complex rather than some crazy workaround a la ESA, 15 levels below ground.

As for funding, can we do a new privately developed high-rise on only a portion of the site that gets private investment into the project AND brings light down to the platforms? Certainly, I agree we don’t need Calatrava architecture at $5000/sf in construction costs. And we don’t need to reconstruct the McKim, Mead and White building. What we need is something with sufficient capacity that is simple, elegant, and intuitive, with clear way-finding, some natural light in the inner depths, and a street presence that improves over the massive 32nd St yawning hole to nowhere. Spruce things up a bit and higher-end development and retail tenants will follow. Look at the turnaround in Grand Central’s retail space in the 90’s… And get the federal gov’t to pony up again for ARC funding, but this time integrate it with the rail station that is theoretically at the center of the metropolitan region. Yes, yes, it’s all a fantasy, I know.

David Brown May 23, 2013 - 11:14 am

I am glad you think Vornado understands what is going on. They do to the extent they are exempt from “Living Wage” requirements ( it cannot possibly have anything to do with Campaign Contributions to Christine Quinn could it?). I say why not make Vornado reopen the Gimbals Passageway? That is an improvement that we can get within 5 years instead of waiting 20 years or more for. If we are going to have “Living Wage” and other anti business requirements ( such as what they are doing to MSG), lets make it equal for all Companies over 5 people. I would rather have a Socialist like Thompson who cares about adding and protecting cops ( the guys who are our first line of defense against criminals) and wants this stupid stuff then a Quinn who gives the Left 99% of what they want, ( muzzles on our cops and socialized everything else ( Unless you are a Real Estate Developer that is)). The average guy left having to pay for it sll (a loss of security, higher taxes & waiting on Transportation improvements).

AG May 23, 2013 - 9:57 pm

oh… you mean more office space when tens of millions are going up a few blocks away in Hudson Yards…? Nowadays developers can’t get loans without having a good amount of tenants lined up… where do you propose they will come from? that was part of what killed the first “relocate the Garden” plan a few years ago.


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