See what a renovated Penn Station could look like

April 22, 2021

View from 33rd Street, a shared space for pedestrians

A dark and cramped Penn Station could soon be replaced with a light-filled transit hub with more space for commuters. Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled on Wednesday two possible options for the reconstruction of the Midtown train station as part of his broader Empire Station Complex project, which would unify an upgraded Penn Station and the new Moynihan Train Hall. The interconnected station would increase train capacity at the site, which is considered the busiest in the country. It could serve 830,000 daily passengers by 2038, up from 600,000 the station served each day before the pandemic.

“These reconstruction alternatives provide a framework for a new and improved Penn Station that serves as an appropriate doorway to a world-class city,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Every single day, we get closer to the end of COVID-19 and the beginning of a new post-pandemic economy, and this project will be a cornerstone of the revitalized New York City that we must build together.”

The two alternatives released on Wednesday came after a year-long planning process involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Amtrak, and NJ Transit, as well as architecture firm FXCollaborative and engineering firm WSP.

Under either option, the project would increase visibility, add more stairs, escalators, and elevators to the platforms, improve sightlines to exits and entrances, unify ticketing and waiting areas, and bring in natural light through skylights and windows.

Two-level alternative: Central atrium looking west from the lower level

Two-level alternative: Central atrium looking east from the upper level

One alternative presented keeps Penn Station’s existing two-level boarding layout, but adds a central atrium and repurposes some of Amtrak’s space for NJ Transit. This plan involves a flashy new entrance on Eighth Avenue at the site currently occupied by the Hulu Theater, which would have to be purchased from the owner, Madison Square Garden.

MTA official Janno Lieber said during a meeting on the plan Wednesday that the Hulu Theater takeover could cost an extra $1 billion, as the New York Post reported. “We have, I would say de-emphasized this, at least in the MTA view as a priority,” Lieber said. “The 7th Avenue side is where the people are, and where we need to prioritize.”

Single-level alternative: Lower level with greater circulation

Single-level alternative: 33rd Street entrance looking west

The other option converts Penn into an “open, single-level concourse,” which would require removing 40 percent of the upper level and raising the ceiling height. This would result in concourses that could be between two and three stories tall, making it feel more open and airy, according to the presentation.

Mid-block train hall: View from street level looking south

This single-level alternative includes a mid-block train hall with entrances on 33rd and 31st Streets and Seventh Avenue. An atrium would be built in the former taxiway between MSG and 2 Penn Plaza, which has been closed since September 11, 2001, according to the plan.

Neither plan mentioned the “Penn South” plan, proposed earlier by Cuomo, which involves constructing a new terminal south of the existing site. However, the new hub does require full funding for the Gateway Project, which calls for the construction of two new Hudson River rail tunnels and the renovation of two existing tunnels. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will prioritize the project as part of its massive infrastructure plan.

Eighth Avenue looking west

Tom Wright, the president and CEO of the Regional Plan Association, applauded the design options for the Penn Station project.

“There has never been a better time to invest in the infrastructure of our region and plan for a better future,” Wright said in a statement. “In conjunction with the Gateway Program, Penn Station Access, the recently completed Moynihan Train Hall and other improvements, we have an opportunity to finally rebuild and reimagine the busiest stretch of rail in North America. We must get it right.”

The Empire Station Complex is just one part of Cuomo’s transformation of Midtown West. The governor in January unveiled a $51 billion plan to redevelop over 100 acres of the neighborhood with a proposal to replace the Port Authority Bus Terminal, extend the High Line, and create 1,400 units of affordable housing, in addition to the Penn Station overhaul.

As 6sqft previously reported, this ambitious plan calls for the construction of 10 new buildings–consisting of office, retail, and possibly hotel and residential space–on eight sites in the surrounding area and improvements to public space. The Port Authority Bus Terminal replacement involves demolishing the existing station to make way for a bigger terminal, as well as constructing a new four-story facility that would serve as a temporary bus terminal.

Officials say it could fund the bus project with $3 billion from the PANYNJ’s 2017-2026 capital plan, the sale of development rights from up to four nearby high-rise towers, and federal funding. The Port Authority’s replacement plan coupled with the Empire Station Complex could result in 14 new towers in a stretch of Midtown West, as 6sqft previously reported.

Moving forward, the transit agencies are seeking input on the Penn Station alternatives from the public, with comments being accepted here. When an alternative is selected, the agencies will work with the Biden administration on an Environmental Impact Statement for the project.


Renderings courtesy of the MTA/ Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

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