MSG vs CPC : Public or Private, Transportation or Arena, Today or Tomorrow?

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.

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4 Responses to MSG vs CPC : Public or Private, Transportation or Arena, Today or Tomorrow?

  1. Keith says:

    Thanks Christine for this article.

    I, for one, would be so pleased to see the end of MSG in favor of a Penn Station renaissance – via new architecture on the site that lets light into the station below – something monumental, like the late lamented 1920’s station.

    And of course they’re right – train travel is most definitely needed to help bring the environment back in balance…to reduce all the cars and pollution…not to mention the dangers to pedestrians.

  2. Arnold Bob says:

    When it was found that the Ozone layer was being destroyed by Freon(CFC), it manufacturer DuPont stonewalled this for years calling the destruction science fiction . They put their own economic interests ahead of the dangers that Freon was to the world. And I suspect MSG is putting their profitability ahead of the regions transportation needs and the worlds climate change needs.

  3. Mark says:

    The pleas for creation of “public space” that would be festooned with MSG advertising is astounding. The city has apparently given real estate developers such a good deal over the years that they see nothing wrong with asking the city to grant them new revenues at the public’s expense. MSG already has a great tax abatement deal — no property taxes in perpetuity! — and they have the chutzpah to ask for more.

    If a ten-year deal is negotiated, let’s hope the public gets to read the fine print. City Hall has a history of inking deals that give much bigger breaks than advertised:

  4. Christine Berthet says:

    Mark, great article .We all kind of know it and still … seeing it in writing makes you want to occupy those buildings until they pay taxes… I just paid my real estate taxes that have tripled in the last 6 years. Corporate Socialism is alive and well in NYC.

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