MSG should stay above Penn Station, says Manhattan borough president

May 22, 2023

Rendering: ASTM North America

Madison Square Garden should be granted a new operating permit and be allowed to stay put, as long as it gives up some of its space for the expansion of Penn Station, Manhattan Borough Mark Levine said on Monday. As first reported by Crain’s New York, Levine’s recommendation includes demolishing MSG’s theater and replacing it with a new grand entrance facing Eighth Avenue, a new mid-block entrance, and a double-height concourse. To do this, Levine advises giving MSG a new five-year special permit, if the Garden works with the city, state, and railroads to redevelop Penn Station and the surrounding area.

“Fortunately, we have an opportunity to make this happen now because MSG’s special permit to operate is about to expire,” Levine said in a video announcing his recommendation. “And as borough president, I get to weigh in on the terms of the new permit.”

Levine added: “We have a window of opportunity to do this now because we have federal allies ready to help. We have momentum, with the opening of the wonderful Moynihan Train Hall. We’ve got the widening of the LIRR passage. Let’s not wait another two decades. Let’s build a great Penn Station worthy of the best city in the world. And let’s do it now.”

Levine’s announcement goes against the decision of Community Board 5, which said MSG’s request for a new, “never-ending” operating permit should be denied unless they agreed to shorten it to three years and devise a plan to move in the near future.

The borough president previously supported moving the Garden, but reversed his viewpoint in recent months, claiming the city does not have a “viable alternative site” for the arena to relocate.

Another factor that motivated Levine’s decision was the “narrow window of opportunity” that the city has to remake Penn Station. Levine argued that with the city now having a cast of “relatively friendly faces” in the White House, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Transportation, the funding necessary for the massive project could be obtained.

ReThinkPennStationNYC, an organization devoted to restoring Penn Station to its original design, said the group is “disappointed” in Levine’s reversal.

“The Borough President’s decision to endorse leaving Madison Square Garden in place and similar pronouncements by others are evidence that the voices of billionaires and their lobbyists are being allowed to trump the needs of the public,” Sam Turvey, chair of ReThinkPennStationNYC, said in a statement.

“Penn Station, while it remains pinned under Madison Square Garden, will never operate properly as a transit facility or provide the region with an above-ground station worthy of the largest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere. The incremental convenience of arena attendees does not outweigh the needs of millions of people in the region.”

Last February, an MSG executive suggested the arena relocate across Seventh Avenue to a property owned by Vornado Realty Trust. Unfortunately for the community board, MSG later clarified, saying it had no intention of moving unless it was offered billions of dollars in public funding for a brand-new arena.

Levine’s plan resembles one by ASTM North America and architecture firm HOK, which calls for demolishing the 5,600-seat Theater at MSG on Eighth Avenue to make way for a new street-level entrance and constructing a 90-foot-tall glass podium around Madison Square Garden.

As 6sqft reported, the transit hub would have 55-foot ceilings above a new passenger concourse and a mix of retail and waiting areas.

MSG is currently working on a deal that would see the Hulu Theater and an adjacent service road sold for $1 billion to ASTM, according to Crain’s.

However, ASTM’s plan has faced criticism from a number of city officials. Janno Lieber, Chair and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has called the developer’s plan “wasteful,” considering the fact that 70 percent of all Penn Station commuters enter and exit through its east entrance on Seventh Avenue.

While Levine’s recommendation is only advisory, his proposal is highly influential in the City Planning Commission and City Council’s decision-making. MSG’s application for an operating permit will go to the CPC, followed by a final decision by the City Council this summer.


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