Whoever emerges from this morass of mayoral candidates to take City Hall will have to confront the future of Penn Station. With loud voices calling for a rebuilt and majestic headhouse, the City Council voted to grant Madison Square Garden a ten-year occupancy permit for the space, and along with that vote came the very explicit message that it’s time to fix Penn Station.
Of course, fixing Penn Station isn’t nearly as easy as talking about fixing Penn Station, and various stakeholders have competing designs for the spot. The architectural renderings we saw a few months ago and Michael Kimmelman of The Times have seemingly prioritized style over transit expansion while rail advocates recognize that limited funds available for the project should be spent first on trans-Hudson capacity concerns and second on great public work.
Somehow, the next mayor is going to have to figure out a way to balance out these competing interests, a growing city’s needs and the fight over dollars. To that end, Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities offers up his four questions about Penn Station for the next mayor. It’s worth reading Jaffe’s explanations, but — spoiler alert — the questions are as follows:
- How will a new Penn Station improve transportation?
- How much economic value would a new station create?
- Is the money better spent elsewhere?
- Where will Madison Square Garden — and all its patrons — go?
Question 4 is probably the easiest as there is some prime real estate right across the street from the current MSG that could easily house the future MSG. It would remain very transit-accessible and would be a state-of-the-art arena in Midtown Manhattan. Even with MSG’s recent renovations, the building has a finite lifespan, and the discussion on its future must happen in tandem with a look forward at Penn Station.
Questions 1 and 3 I’ve been hammering since this effort to limit MSG’s permit got started, and Question 2 is an unsung one worth significant analysis. As Jaffe notes, the Municipal Arts Society plan for Midtown calls for 10.4 million square feet of new office space. “That’s the equivalent of four entire One World Trade Centers (itself still not filled),” he writes. “Such expectations may need to be tempered, especially since nearby areas of Hudson Yards and Midtown East will also be creating vast amounts of office space during the same time period.”
So far, all we’ve heard from the mayoral candidates on Penn Station has been a big fat nothing, but this promises to be a big, if not the biggest, development issue facing Manhattan over the next decade. Hearing some answers to these questions would be a start.