The good news is that the City Planning Commission does not agree with those who want Madison Square Garden to disappear from its current location within 10 years.
The bad news is that the commission wants the Garden gone in 15 years. The Dolan family, which owns the Garden and its teams, had been hoping for a permit that would have allowed the Garden to remain on its current site in perpetuity.
This page supported the Dolan family’s position, but it appears to be doomed. Despite investing hundreds of millions in private funds to renovate the Garden in recent years, the Dolans apparently are no longer welcome to operate the world’s most-famous arena above Penn Station.
The issue now goes to the City Council, which could either allow the commission’s decision to stand by simply doing nothing or overrule the commission and give the Dolans only a decade to find a new location. The Council should let the commission’s ruling stand. It’s not the fairest solution, not by a long shot, but it certainly is fairer than the 10-year process that the local community board and some elected officials favor.
Supporters of the 10-year plan insist that the sooner the Garden is moved, the sooner work can begin on a new Penn Station. There’s no denying that Penn Station is a civic disgrace—that was true 40 years ago, and it is true today. And mass-transit advocates rightly note that the rail tunnels connecting Manhattan and New Jersey are antiquated, posing a huge obstacle to expanded Amtrak and New Jersey Transit service.
The status quo at Penn Station is unacceptable. In fact, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan first began making that point back in the mid-1990s, when he served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and wrote a federal transportation bill that, for the first time, favored public transit over highway construction.
All these years later, Moynihan’s vision of turning the old Farley Post Office building into a new rail station is nowhere near reality. And yet the Dolans are to be evicted—in either 10 or 15 years—because the Garden is perceived to be an obstacle to the transformation of the West Side transit hub?
There certainly is an argument to be made that New York deserves a better arena than the Garden, even in its renovated state. Nearby cities, including Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have opened new areas recently with impressive results. The Garden is very much a creature of the late 1960s, a period few associate with classic sports architecture.
That being said, the Dolans have been treated poorly in the debate over Midtown West’s future. If the city is going to limit their permit, better 15 years than 10. The Council should resist pressure from the community and let the commission’s ruling stand.