James Dolan, the chief executive officer of Madison Square Garden, doesn’t always make things easy for those who wish to support his commitment to the city. Despite their respective playoff runs this year, the Garden’s two main attractions, the Knicks and the Rangers, haven’t exactly struck fear into the hearts of competitors during much of Mr. Dolan’s watch. What’s more, the centerpiece of the Dolan family empire, Cablevision, is not known for its warm and fuzzy relationship with its customers.
Still, Mr. Dolan deserves credit for one very important thing: he invested a billion dollars to renovate and modernize the Garden, which opened in 1968 and long ago began to show its age.
A billion dollars is real money, representing a real investment in the neighborhood and the city. But for critics, including politicians and community board members, Mr. Dolan and the Garden are like visitors who have overstayed their welcome. They want the renovated Garden to set up shop in some other neighborhood in 10 years.
That’s the thanks you get for spending a billion bucks to improve your property?
At issue is an extension of a zoning permit that allows the Garden’s owners to operate the arena atop Penn Station. The original permit, good for 50 years, expired earlier this year. The Garden wants to renew the permit in perpetuity. But Community Board 5 recently voted, 36 to 0, with one abstention, to deny the Garden’s request and formally recommend that the permit be extended for only 10 years, after which the Garden would have to move.
It’s just the first step in the city’s laborious land use review process, but the board’s action cannot simply be dismissed. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also supports a 10-year permit extension. The opinions of the board, the borough president and the City Planning Commission (which has not yet offered a recommendation) surely will influence the City Council, which ultimately will decide the issue.
The Garden’s request for additional advertising signage along Eighth Avenue is another matter entirely. The heart of the issue is the Garden’s presence in its current location. Critics insist that the Garden is an impediment to improving Penn Station, but it’s unclear why that would be so—M.S.G. clearly benefits from the convenience its location offers commuting fans, and the fans benefit as well. Still, critics yearn for the old Penn Station. But that famous landmark isn’t coming back.
Meanwhile, the owners of the Garden have made an extraordinary commitment to improving the arena for the benefit of its customers. There’s not a whole lot the Dolans can do about the Garden’s unlovely exterior, but that’s hardly a reason to demolish it.
Yes, Madison Square Garden has moved before—its original location was adjacent to, you guessed it, Madison Square.
But critics have not offered a compelling reason to force another move. By contrast, the Garden’s owners have offered a billion reasons why they should stay put.