A growing chorus of civic groups, critics, and now public officials are calling for an ambitious rethinking of Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden. At issue is the lease for the Garden, which is up for renewal. That decision will determine the future of Midtown as well as the quality of the commute for millions of transit riders. The Dolan family, which owns and operates the Garden, wants a permanent renewal. That would be a colossal mistake. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is pushing for a 10-year renewal, during which time a masterplan could be developed for Midtown, including the redevelopment of Penn Station and the relocation of Madison Square Garden. Stringer’s reasonable plan acknowledges the importance of the Garden while also allowing for the development of better alternatives for an improved Penn Station and a new arena.
One of the legacies of the Bloomberg Administration will undoubtedly be improved public space throughout the city, and an accompanying rise in civic expectations by New Yorkers. One result of this rise in standards is that the glaring failure of Penn Station has become obvious. Its conditions are frankly intolerable for a city of New York’s stature (much like those of its airports, as I have previously editorialized). This is not merely an aesthetic matter. Yes, Penn Station is ugly, confusing, and dispiriting, a place to avoid rather than visit (compare it to Grand Central Terminal, a place I often visit on purpose). More critically, Penn Station’s failings are a matter of economics and public safety. The station is operating at more than triple the capacity it was designed to accommodate. According to Stringer’s figures, more than 640,000 riders pass through the station every day, well over the 200,000-per-day it was designed to service in 1963. It also does not meet current fire and safety codes. The implications of that are scary to ponder.
Penn Station’s problems will only continue to worsen as more passengers arrive through the extended 7 Train and Long Island Railroad East Side Access project.
The success of the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn also casts the dowdy Garden in an unflattering light. SHoP has proven that well designed arenas can add to the life of a neighborhood. Manhattan deserves a better arena. Building a new Garden would also benefit sports fans and concertgoers and the city’s economy at large.
An ambitious masterplan for Penn Station and the Garden could begin to right a historic civic blunder, but only if we take this first step. Community boards 3 and 4 voted against renewing the Garden’s permanent lease. The City Council should do the same.