Governor Kathy Hochul said Monday that the proposed $7 billion overhaul of Penn Station in New York City will move forward with or without the development of several office towers that were supposed to help pay for the project.
Appearing with other elected leaders and transportation officials in the Long Island Rail Road arena, Ms. Hochul severed ties with the development plan her predecessor, Andrew M. Como, worked with Vornado Realty Trust, a large office builder. Acknowledging that the pandemic has decimated demand for more office space in midtown Manhattan, Ms. Hochul said she was “disassociating” that development from the more immediate goal of renovating the subterranean station on Eighth Avenue.
Ms. Hochul and the other speakers risked being drowned out by the shouts of a group of protesters gathered a few feet away, shouting things like “Don’t destroy our neighborhood!” and “No more fancy development!” Ms. Hochul said she did not know whether her declaration counted as a concession to the litigants, but that “they will understand that we have heard them.”
Background: Reconstructing the dismal station is a complex task.
Penn Station is the busiest transit hub in the country, serving up to 600,000 commuters per day before the pandemic. Monotonous and crowded, it has been widely denounced as an unwelcome gateway to the country’s largest city. Ms. Hochul called it “the pit of hell”.
Amtrak owns the station, but its officials agreed to let the Metropolitan Transportation Authority take the lead in managing its redesign. The official reason for Monday’s press conference was to begin the design process, which Ms Hochul said is “grabbing all the concepts” of how to improve the station.
One of the options proposed by a subsidiary of Italy’s ASTM Group involves constructing a rectangle of aluminum and steel around Madison Square Garden, which sits above the station. That plan has garnered support from some elected officials who want to turn the station from an eye-popping spot into an adjacent asset — but not from Jano Lieber, CEO of MTA ASTM who planned to reveal details of her proposal, including a cost estimate, this week.
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The state’s plan to use payments from Vornado to cover part of the cost of the station’s improvements drew growing opposition as area residents mounted an effective lobbying campaign. Meanwhile, Vornado Chairman Steve Roth has made it clear that the company won’t be building downtown office towers anytime soon.
This confession left Mrs. Hochul in a bind. She has been adamant that she wants an overhaul of the plant, but estimates of what it might cost range from $7 billion to as much as $10 billion.
New York has already set aside $1.3 billion for the renovation, and Ms. Hochul said the state will pressure lawmakers in Washington to make a significant contribution. Amtrak and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also pledged support. New Jersey Transit, a state-run commuter rail, is one of the major users of Penn Station.
Amtrak President Tony Coccia said it was important for the two states and the federal government to work together to modernize the station.
“We need to prove to the world that we can build big things and we can do it efficiently and we can do it well,” said Mr Coscia.
What’s next: Planners expect an avalanche of suggestions and criticism.
The transport authority will invite architects, engineers and design firms to submit ideas for improving the station. “I want to be open-minded about all possible scenarios,” Ms. Hochul said.
But there will continue to be opposition from neighborhood residents and other critics, some of whom argue that Madison Square Garden should be moved so that a much larger coffee station can be built on the site.
There is still the possibility that the park’s owners could file a lawsuit to block the state’s plans if it would impede their ability to continue holding hockey, basketball and concerts. The city planning commission is considering renewing the park’s permit to operate on top of the station.
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