The Dolans: Are They Bluffing on Moynihan Station?

So just how earnest is the Dolan family in its pledge to keep Madison Square Garden in its place, and abandon a possible move essential to the current Moynihan Station project?

The question will become a crucial one in coming days and weeks, as the countless government agencies, elected officials, advocates, consultants and private developers involved and connected to the redevelopment of Pennsylvania Station, known as Moynihan Station, try to determine their next moves. For now, there seems to be no consensus: Some believe the Garden’s ruling family is bluffing; others hold out hope that they can still be convinced to move.

Last Thursday afternoon, Madison Square Garden called around to reporters to announce that it was proceeding ahead with a renovation of its existing arena, a move that would quash the $2 billion-plus plans to redo Penn Station.

The timing, from a public-relations point of view, was highly effective. Earlier in the day Senator Charles Schumer had called for the Port Authority to rescue the project, though the Dolans grasped the media spotlight with stories that declared the Moynihan plan as near death, at least as currently imagined.

Governor Paterson, busy with a budget, had yet to dive into the project, and with no clear leadership or movement with the plan, the Dolans struck when a less abrasive public reaction toward a renovation was likelier rather than doing so when there appeared to be momentum on the popular project.

The Garden has indicated it had little hope that the complex Moynihan project would ever be able to come together.

Officials involved with the plan are quick to claim that the Garden, chaired by James Dolan, is perhaps jockeying for a better negotiating position. How could the Garden, after all, walk away from a deal where it gets a new arena for one where it pays hundreds of millions to renovate an old one?

But it is not entirely clear how much the Garden would have to gain from posturing. The Garden was not negotiating with the state for any money, though the Dolans had design concerns about the new arena’s entrance.

Even if the Garden is sincere in its commitment to renovate (first announced in 2004), officials and others involved hold out hope that the Dolans can still be lured back to the table for Moynihan. While the extent of the Garden’s plans is not yet clear, any major renovation or expansion would need to go through the city’s seven-month land-use approval process, which could be blocked by the City Council or the mayor. The Garden met with the Department of City Planning about its renovation in 2005, a planning spokeswoman confirmed.

Key in that approval would be Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was on the same side as the Dolans on the West Side stadium fight. Not so much this time around: She issued a highly critical statement Thursday evening and then berated the Garden in front of television cameras, with the 40-year-old arena in the background.

The Dolans: Are They Bluffing on Moynihan Station?