Today, I attended an extraordinary hearing at the City Planning Commission where for once, bold and fundamental societal choices were being discussed overtly in a wholesale fashion, instead of the grinding game of planning jurisprudence which usually characterizes this institution.
Madison Square Garden (MSG) is seeking a perpetual arena permit to renew its current 40 years old special permit. MSG also seeks to significantly increase its advertising presence by electronic signage on 8th Avenue across Farley station and to turn the 8th Avenue space in front of Penn Station into a”plaza ” with seating and other MSG advertisements. MSG’s arguments were the necessity for them to amortize the $ 849 millions in renovations they just spent inside the Garden (why did they spend the money without having secured the permit renewal first?) and to compete better with other arenas who have large electronic signs (read more revenues).
Their opponents who counted the Regional Plan Association, the Municipal Art Society, Community Board 5 and Borough President Stringer urged the Commission to grant only a 10 year expansion to the special permit. They argued convincingly in favor of the need for expanding Penn Station to host the main node of the High Speed train corridor from Washington to Boston, the expanded access to New Jersey for Amtrak and expand the passengers capacity on platforms . Penn station was built for 125,000 passengers a day. Today it handles five times more , 600,000 a day . According to them , this would send a strong signal to Washington that we are serious about high-speed trains and create the momentum for relocating MSG and rebuilding Penn Station.
When a commissioner asked why it was CPC ‘s role to make this large decision now, instead of adjudicating in a narrow sense the mundane permit renewal that is before them, the speaker responded that in this day of climate change it is critical that we reduce air travel and increase train travel. Bob Yaro suggested that it is time to muster the political will to create a deadline. Many speakers reminded the Commission that it was its duty to protect the larger public good versus the corporate interests. The Chair as well as commissioners acquiesced profusely.
I cannot help wondering what part the Dolans’ role in the West Side Stadium Saga is playing in fostering such a spirited dialogue; Commissioner Burden was ever so politely grilling MSG on their use of the street for unloading and I have rarely seen the commission so deeply interested in trains, trucks, tracks, and tit-for-tat.
Well, if this is what it takes to get a new Penn Station and high speed trains in the region, I am all for it! In a strange convoluted way, at least one good infrastructure decision will have been made as the result of the Hudson Yards Rezoning.