Pressure Mounting on Hochul to Dump Penn Station Tower Plan

With the grand plan to build ten towers around Penn Station appearing more and more to be DOA, politicians are stepping up pressure on Governor Hochul to come up with a new plan--and move Madison Square Garden from its perch atop the rail hub.

| 06 Mar 2023 | 12:06

Governor Hochul’s plan to help pay for a renovation of Penn Station by building ten supertall towers around it is “dead on arrival,” a key legislator said.

The statement by the legislator, Senator Leroy Comrie, who holds key roles overseeing state development proposals, capped a week in which opponents of the governor’s plan pressed on various fronts for something new.

But the governor did not appear ready to budge. “Governor Hochul remains fully committed to her vision for Penn Station that provides a new, revitalized station, in addition to more station safety and platform access, more housing, more transportation options, more open space, and more services for the surrounding neighborhood,” said a spokesperson for her development agency, The Empire State Development Corporation.

“The Governor’s proposal is the responsible, commuter-first plan that New Yorkers deserve and is befitting of Penn Station’s status as the busiest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere.”

At the heart of the debate is the state’s plan, created under former governor Andrew Cuomo and embraced by his successor Kathy Hochul, to redevelop the neighborhood around Penn Station by building ten new towers of mostly offices and siphon some of the revenue to help pay to renovate Penn Station, often characterized as both the busiest and the worst rail hub in North America.

The key developer, Vornado Realty Trust, recently said they were in no rush to proceed with the plan because of rising interest rates and the sagging market for office space. They said they would complete the two towers already under construction but put a halt to starting any new towers.

On Friday, at a hearing of his committee on Corporations, which oversees the EDC, Senator Comrie, who has previously criticized the plan, pronounced it dead.

Community activists, Preservationists, urban planners and local officials have been pressing on several fronts.

“Commercial development is no longer an option to help fund the reconstruction of Penn station,” Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, said at a news conference just before Senator Comrie’s hearing. “What I see as a real possibility is the fact that a private business sits on top of the busiest train hub in the western hemisphere and doesn’t pay a penny of property taxes.”

Hoylman-Sigal was referring to what has emerged as one of the key debates about the future of Penn Station and the neighborhood, whether the station can be properly renovated with Madison Square Garden on top of it.

The Garden has been there since the original Penn Station was demolished in the 1960’s and as part of its deal pays no property taxes.

“That’s $43 million dollars a year that New York city and the MTA forego because Penn Station isn’t being renovated while Madison Square Garden reaps the benefit of all of those transit lines,” Hoylman-Sigal said.

Whatever deal is made for the future of Penn Station and the neighborhood “we need to assure that Madison Square Garden, like every other private business in the city and the state of New York” pays taxes,” he said.

The Garden’s permit to operate the arena above the train station expires on July 28. A set of activists are urging that city and state officials use the moment to force the Garden to move so a better Penn Station can be built. But Hoylman-Sigal and others have also now inserted this issue that if the Garden stays put it should start paying its way.

Both Senator Comrie and the head of the MTA, Janno Lieber, said at the hearing that they were “agnostic” on the issue of moving the Garden, and that a better Penn station could be created either way.

But Comrie stressed that whatever was to be done should be done quickly. Her said he had spoken to architects and engineers who said a good job could be done with the Garden in place, or by moving it

But Comrie seemed to have hardened his position over the weekend to say the Hochul redevelopment plan should be officially scrapped because it is DOA. “I hope that we can convince the governor and her team to do this tomorrow and throw this plan out because everyone knows that it’s not going anywhere.”