The lengthy ULURP process for Madison Square Garden came to an end yesterday with the promise of only a decade more for the aging arena. With various civic groups advocating for a new Penn Station, the City Council voted yesterday to extend MSG’s operating permit for only another ten years as the city’s effort to reconstruct and reimagine Penn Station is now on the clock. Despite the overall coverage of the vote, it’s not a death penalty for the World’s Most Famous Arena.
By a vote of 47-1, the City Council did not, as the Daily News says in its headline, vote to move Madison Square Garden in ten years, and neither, as Gothamist claimed in a tweet, was the Garden “basically evicted.” Rather, the City Council has said that it wants to see what can happen to the spot. The various stakeholders — MSG, Amtrak, the MTA, New Jersey Transit, the City of New York, the States of New York and New Jersey and the federal government — now have ten years to develop a plan for a new Penn Station and find a new location for the Garden. If they don’t succeed, the Garden can and will apply for another permit extension in 2023.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has requested a task force be set up to plan out the next decade and hailed the vote — one she was instrumental in securing — as a good launching point. “This is the first step in finding a new home for Madison Square Garden and building a new Penn Station that is as great as New York and suitable for the 21st century,” she said. “This is an opportunity to reimagine and redevelop Penn Station as a world-class transportation destination.”
The Garden issued a more muted statement. “Madison Square Garden has operated at its current site for generations, and has been proud to bring New Yorkers some of the greatest and most iconic moments in sports and entertainment,” a company statement said. “We now look forward to the reopening of the arena in fall 2013, following the completion of our historic, three-year, nearly billion-dollar transformation, which will ensure our future is as bright as our celebrated past.”
Of course, the $1 billion investment is nearly besides the point. If the Garden has to move in ten years, MSG will have recouped these expenditures, and the Garden will be 55 years old by the time 2023 rolls around. It’s not nearly as onerous a future as the arena’s proponents have made it to be, but should we even expect that future to come to pass?
As we sit here in mid-2013, it’s tough to see a plan for Penn Station that would involve a resolution within the next decade. The train station’s stakeholders will first have to come to an agreement on their next steps, conduct various environmental reviews and secure funding. MSG’s owners will have to identify a new location for an arena that is as prime as its current spot and proceed through formal reviews as well. For the train station, as I’ve written in the past, expanding transit access — and not just constructing a pleasant building — has to take centerstage, and with space in Manahttan at a premium, a plan to move the Garden, forced or otherwise, has to be developed.
So no, this isn’t a death sentence for the Garden, and the Knicks won’t find themselves homeless in ten years without an arena to host them. Rather, it’s a challenge to everyone clamoring for a solution to the Penn Station problem: Work together, figure out a fix and find some funding. Ten years should be ample time, but then again, the MTA released the FEIS for the East Side Access project in early 2001. Nothing this expansive gets done in New York within ten years. So in a decade, the Garden can come back to the City Council for another extension, and the World’s Most Famous Arena will continue to dominate the discussion surrounding the one of the world’s most depressing train station.