Just in time for the holidays, the $600 million project to rebuild the Penn Station main entrance on the Seventh Ave. side between 31st and 33r St. is almost complete and the doors to the concourse are open.
It now features an ADA accessible elevator for the first time in its history, three new transit grade escalators and a glass canopy which allows more light into the concourse below. But while the gateway to the concourse is open, there is still construction work underway to area adjacent to the concourse. And when Straus News visited the new entranceway on Nov. 21, the much ballyhooed ADA compatible escalator was fenced off and a brand new LED sign on it read “out of service.” The three new escalators were functioning, however.
“There was an unexpected electric shortage in the switchboard,” said Amtrak spokesperson Jason Abrams about the elevator snag. “Amtrak is working with the elevator’s contractor to expediate securing parts and restoring its service.”
The main entrance had been closed and behind construction panels for the final rebuilding phase over the past 15 months although the project actually kicked off back in June 2019.
Even with the glitches, the main entranceway’s reopening will be welcomed by passengers using the LIRR, Amtrak, NJ Transit and NYC subway riders who combine to make Penn Station busiest transit hub in North America. Elected officials including Assembly member Tony Simone, City Council member Eric Bottcher, NY State senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Congressman Jerry Nadler joined executives from Vornado Realty Trust and Amtrak for the ribbon cutting.
“We are proud to roll out the welcome mat to our new, modern entrance for the 600,000 daily New York Penn Station visitors,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner at the Nov. 19 ceremony at 7th Ave. and 32nd St. hosted by Amtrak, which owns the station, and Vornado Realty Trust, which owns 2 Penn Plaza above the new entrance.
“Together, we have reimagined and transformed one of the world’s busiest transit entrances,” said Steven Roth, CEO of Vornado Realty Trust.
“Innovative public-private partnerships like this are crucial for improving our nation’s infrastructure, and I will continue to work to secure federal funding for critical infrastructure projects throughout our great city,” noted Congressman Jerrold Nadler at the opening ceremony on Nov. 19th.
The MTA had contributed $170 million to the $600 million project and Jamie Torres Springer, the MTA chief of construction projects was on hand and addressed the gathering. David Ullman, NYS assistant secretary for transportation, showed on behalf of Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The 7th Avenue and 32nd Street Entrance project was a public-private partnership, with Vornado leading the overall design and constructing street-level improvements and the canopy above, while Amtrak constructed improvements from the street to its concourse including the new ADA elevator.
The enlarged, fully rebuilt entrance is said to be 50 percent wider, with natural light and fresh air flowing into the concourse. It is now said to be fully ADA-accessible.
Gardner went on to summarize that ridership on its trains is now 20 percent above what it was before the Pandemic. With everything bigger in New York than elsewhere, Amtrak here needs to be better than elsewhere, he observed.
In this reiteration, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Lord Norman Foster’s firm, Foster + Partners, designed an overhead brand new glass canopy and interior lighting feature, a more inviting, open, and brighter environment linking station to street. The previous concrete-laden one dated from 1967. Looming up 50 feet over Seventh Avenue, a massive new LED rolling lighting installation provides an opportunity for communal art and advertising.
The ADA-compliant elevator is designed to enable travelers with heavy luggage and the disabled smoother access to the station. The three new escalators replace the old design which only had two escalators. Another plus? Wider sidewalks between West 31st and 33rd Streets on the west side of Seventh Avenue, which will mean more space for everyone going to and leaving from there. Although the true benefits won’t be felt until all the construction fencing adjacent to the main entrance is ripped away when all the work is completed.
Disability activist Emily Ladau spoke about just having the elevator available now. A born New Yorker and Penn Station user, to her, just having this elevator is another source of freedom for her as one who has to deal with the realities of broken elevators every day. Currently, 11 percent of the New York City population has some kind of physical disability, she pointed out.
Over the last five years, Amtrak has made more than $300 million in capital improvement investments just at New York Penn Station, Gardner said. Amtrak said that as part of their ADA Stations Program nationally, 118 stations around the nation are fully ADA compliant with another 65 will be brought to compliance excluding platforms, which require additional work.
Like many other NYC symbiotic projects, the transformation was enabled by Vornado’s redevelopment of its PENN 2 office tower and adjacent public spaces between West 31st and West 33rd Street along Seventh Avenue; work on other Vornado projects including the site of the former Pennsylvania Hotel–which is now a gaping hole in the ground–are suspended indefinitely. But the new entrance should be a big plus for commuters.