Things don’t seem to be all that peachy these days in the planning process for a multi-billion-dollar redevelopment of Penn Station, to be known as Moynihan Station.
The plan for the project hinges on the Dolan family’s Madison Square Garden moving to the back of the neighboring Farley Post Office building, clearing the way to redo Penn Station, along with adding a concourse in the Farley building.
Though, in recent weeks, advocates, community members and others involved with the process have expressed increasing concern that the Garden could throw a wrench in the whole process, said to be frustrated by the slow-moving bureaucracy and the intransigence of preservationists who are concerned about major alterations to the historic Farley building.
In a meeting yesterday with community groups, advocacy groups, the state and project developers, representatives from Madison Square Garden were curiously absent from the gathering, part of a federal process known as Section 106 that deals with alterations to historic buildings. When the developers’ project manager, Vishaan Chakrabarti, was asked about the Garden’s absence, he said the Dolans had decided not to be part of the Section 106 process, according to a person at the meeting and two people familiar with his remarks. Mr. Chakrabarti also said at the meeting that he was hoping they would join the process in future meetings.
The Garden has received strong resistance from preservationists who do not want to see major alterations that would affect the character of the Farley building; of particular concern to preservationists is a courtyard wall that the Garden wants to replace with a large glass wall. The Garden wants to put its arena in the western portion of Farley, with the glass wall serving as a grand entrance to the facility.
Real Estate Weekly reported this week that the Garden has engaged its architects to prepare renovation plans for the existing arena, an alternative the Garden has always said it is considering in lieu of a move.
The discord has worried some involved with the process, causing concern that the extraordinarily complex project could unravel if progress is not made.
“It feels like it’s kind of on a knife’s edge right now—there’s very little margin of error,” said Tom Wright, the executive director at the Regional Plan Association. “The state needs to be creating a process that brings people to the table and figures out how to hammer out a compromise.”
If the Garden did pull out of the project, it would invite a return to late 2006, when the Pataki administration wanted to push through an expansion of the train station into the Farley building, leaving the existing Penn Station as is. Such a move would be a major disappointment to city, state and elected officials and to the developers, the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust, who have devoted countless hours and tens of millions of dollars into the plan thus far—a plan that would create, both directly and indirectlly, billions of dollars of surrounding new development.
The city and state do not seem to be all that concerned, at least publicly.
“The Garden feels they need to protect themselves in the event that the project doesn’t’ happen, but we remain hopeful that we’re going to be able to strike a deal with the Garden,” said Seth Pinsky, the city’s newly crowned Economic Development Corporation president.
A spokesman for the state’s Empire State Development Corporation, Warner Johnston, said there are issues yet to be resolved, but the state is committed to the project.
Also unclear is how much the project will get from the federal government. The state is seeking hundreds of millions from Washington, and without a very healthy serving of federal dollars, the whole project could be jeopardized.
Of course, all could be a show by the Dolans, as they would be giving up the chance for a new arena subsidized—effectively—by Moynihan Station developers Related and Vornado.
Then again, the Dolans do not have a reputation for being the city’s most predictable family.
A Garden spokesman declined to comment.