Garden Unveils Renovation Plans; Moynihan Station Dream Flatlines

040308 msgreno web Garden Unveils Renovation Plans; Moynihan Station Dream Flatlines Madison Square Garden today unveiled plans for a $500 million interior renovation of its arena that would remake and reconfigure lobbies, concourses, seating and concessions in the four-decade-old building. Should the project go forward, it would bring an end to the plans to remake Penn Station, a $14 billion initiative of transportation and commercial development in the area that hinges on the Garden moving its arena.

“You saw the plans, you see the model—we can accomplish everything that anybody could possibly want in a new arena by renovating,” Hank Ratner, vice chairman at Madison Square Garden, told reporters this afternoon. “We are not going to be moving.”

The city, state, advocacy groups and numerous elected officials had been hoping the Garden, led by the Dolan family, would move across the street into the Farley Post Office, allowing state-designated developers the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust to completely redo Penn Station. That plan, called Moynihan Station, would have freed up millions of square feet of development rights for the area, and would have expanded the train station into the Farley building as well.

Despite widespread support, the Spitzer administration was never able to give it enough momentum to satisfy the Garden, which has been anxious to get a new or renovated arena given that their existing facility is the second-oldest in the NBA and the NHL. Last week, the Garden announced it was going ahead with the renovation, prompting officials involved with the Moynihan Station plan to claim the Garden was bluffing in order to secure a better negotiating position. Approvals for renovations would be needed, the officials said, and the Garden would be foolish to give up the opportunity for a new arena.

But Garden executives today, in a presentation for reporters on the plans, said the renovation would require a building permit and not any other government approvals, and construction could start next year, finishing for the 2011-2012 NBA season. Should the Moynihan plans have come together, the earliest the new Garden would have opened was for the 2012-2013 season, people involved in the discussions say.

The number of seats, as well as the Garden’s physical structure, are to stay essentially the same, though suites would be moved closer to the floor; seating on the upper tiers would be angled for closer views; new restaurants and bars would be added; the Seventh Avenue entrance would be remade; and concourses would be expanded.

An expansion would have required mayoral and City Council approvals, a harrowing prospect given the desire by officials to have the Garden move to Farley.

Mr. Ratner said the distinct golden-brown exterior of the arena was staying as is, at least for now, leaving open the possibility of changes later down the road. “The most urgent matter we have is to improve our customers’ experience, and the customer experience is within the interior,” he said. “We’ll see where the exterior goes in the future.”

As for Moynihan, Mr. Ratner voiced support for the original Moynihan plan, which just involved an expansion into the Farley building.

“We are all for the development of Moynihan station and Farley as that project was originally conceived, and we’re all for the development of the West Side," he said. "But we feel what’s best to have a world-class, state-of-the-art building is to renovate Madison Square Garden and that is what we will be doing.”