The lead-up to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s State of the State address feels like a government-backed encore of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Instead of lords a-leaping and swans a-swimming, Cuomo brings infrastructure upgrades a-plenty in his 2016 Agenda.
The governor promised funds to the Gateway and East Side Access tunnels, the Javits Center, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, the MTA (wi-fi a-comin’!), and an airport on Long Island. Arguably the biggest proposal is the Empire State Complex, a $3 billion redevelopment of New York City’s Penn Station and its surroundings.
The plan seeks to make Penn Station, which sits beneath Madison Square Garden, less of a hellhole—nice, even. Built to accommodate 200,000 daily riders, the station now serves 650,000 people per day. Channeling public sentiment, the governor ripped on Penn Station in his announcement. “Penn station is un-New York. It is dark, constrained, ugly, a lost opportunity, a bleak warren of corridors. [It’s] a miserable experience and a terrible first impression.”
The governor’s plan calls for enhancing connectivity between the station and the street; providing wi-fi; and reducing congestion by widening existing corridors, creating better wayfinding, and improving ticketing areas.
As hinted at in previous proposals, the massive, neoclassical James A. Farley Post Office, at Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, could be converted into the “Moynihan Train Hall,” a sun-drenched waiting area for Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and MTA passengers. A pedestrian tunnel underneath Eighth Avenue will connect the train hall with the main station. With this 210,000-square-foot addition, the size of the station will increase by 50 percent.
The governor reviewed possible redesign scenarios. In one, Madison Square Garden Theater would be demolished to make way for a block-long entrance to Penn Station, facing the post office.
In another, a glassy entrance, with skylights, would be constructed on 33rd Street. The street would be closed and converted into a pedestrian plaza.
A third, more minimal scenario would add entrances at street corners and mid-block.
In 2013, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) hosted a competition to rethink Penn Station. MAS highlighted designs four firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—for an improved Penn Station. In addition to improved passenger flow, each proposal imagined the station as a civic hub and neighborhood anchor.
The governor said that this would phase of the project would be completed first. The rest of the overhaul could be complete by 2019, an amazing feat in a city where infrastructure improvements can drag on for decades.
The Empire State Development Corporation, the MTA, Amtrak and the LIRR will parter with private developers to spearhead the project. $2 billion will go towards the Empire State Complex, while $1 billion will go towards “retail development” on 7th and 9th avenues. $325 million is expected to come from state and federal governments. The rest of the project will be privately funded, in exchange of revenue generated by commercial and retail rents.
Cuomo will be issuing invitations to private developers, with an April 2016 due date. Currently, Vornado Realty Trust manages land around Penn Station, though it’s unclear whether this relationship will continue.