SOM has taken up the conductor’s hat once again for Moynihan Station, the decades-overdue expansion of Penn Station championed by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The Empire State Development Corporation announced today that it has selected SOM to recommence design work for the $267 million first phase of the project, which is limited to underground infrastructure and platform expansion, leaving a major renovation of the historic McKim, Mead & White–designed Farley Post Office to a future date.
“With the signing of this amended contract, we move one step closer toward the long-awaited Moynihan Station,” Governor David Paterson said in a statement. “We are extremely pleased with the progress we continue to make and are set to continue work with SOM.”
The current phase includes creating an expanded concourse for Amtrak below the post office, new connections between platforms and concourses, and, for the first time, access to the station west of 8th Avenue. While this may seem a relatively modest start, SOM principal-in-charge Mark Regulinski said that it will have a huge impact on user experience at the station. “What the state calls phase one is really an enabling project, and it will set the foundation for everything to come after,” he said.
Regulinski’s team will essentially be putting the finishing touches on designs the firm came up with a few years ago—though not without some help from HOK, a rival for the project's next phase. SOM has worked on Moynihan Station on-and-off since 2001, when it first unveiled plans drafted for the state. Those designs, with a vaulted atrium between the original 1912 post office and its 1934 annex to the west (known to some as “the potato chip") drew mixed reactions. That is part of the reason James Carpenter Design Associates was brought on in 2005 to rethink the signature glass elements, and Carpenter sought out HOK to help with architectural and planning aspects of the project, which culminated in a new design.
That work was then set aside a year later when developers Vornado and the Related Companies got involved, as the state plans to sell off some 2 million square feet in development rights to help pay for the station. The developers rehired SOM, but amid political and logistical complexity the project was shelved once again.
Then last September, Amtrak expressed renewed interest in moving across 8th Avenue into the Farley building. Back in the early 1990s, when Senator Moynihan first proposed the new station, Amtrak was to have been the original tenant. The train operator later withdrew and was replaced by New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad, who dropped out during the recent quibbles. Hoping to revive Amtrak’s interest, the state brought HOK back to the drawing board, as the firm has a longstanding relationship with the train operator.
“HOK did all the design work that brokered this deal,” HOK principal Wayne Striker said, referring to Amtrak’s decision to return to the Farley building. The firm was vying for the phase one work, but the job was ultimately given to SOM because its drawings were nearly complete from its time working for the developers. HOK’s recommendations, however, will now be factored into the project to create an ideal fit for Amtrak.
Juliette Michaelson, director of the Regional Plan Association’s Friends of Moynihan Station project, praised the state’s decision to go with SOM. “They know probably better than anybody the ins and outs of this place, since they’ve been here for every iteration,” she said. Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of Columbia University’s Real Estate Development Program and a consultant on the station who formerly worked for Related, called the decision “a great sign” that “signifies a continuity that’s very important for such a complex project.” Chakrabarti also said that HOK would be a good choice for the project.
The current phase is being funded by $83 million in stimulus money secured last month by Senator Charles Schumer, plus current earmarks in the state budget. There will be no design work within the Farley building, however, which still does not have funding or a definitive plan. Among the outstanding issues, a new agreement must be worked out with the developers to determine their interest and possible investment, though Michaelson believes the state should continue to push for more stimulus money.
And there remains the issue of choosing a designer for the next phase, which was previously predicted to cost $1.5 billion. “Who knows where this thing will go in the future,” Regulinksi said. “It’s a tough project, and there are so many parties to it. I think it’s just great that something’s getting started.”
Update 3/22: This article has been revised to reflect the involvement of HOK in the project.