More than 50 years ago, Penn Station was grand and stately, with huge windows and columns, detailed ceilings and extensive staircases. It was bright and it was beautiful.
But its condition deteriorated and, despite civic protests, it was demolished in 1963. A new station was built underground, with Madison Square Garden on top.
The terminal now is dark, dingy and oh so crowded. It is, in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s words, “a miserable experience.”
Large-scale efforts to redevelop the terminal, which serves more than 650,000 passengers daily, began a decade ago, but stalled. Soon, even talk of such a plan quieted to a rare whisper of what might have been.
Yesterday, Cuomo announced an exciting strategy to remake Penn Station and transform the old Farley Post Office on the west side of Eighth Avenue into a new, connected concourse. New developers would foot most of the bill in exchange for the right to the revenue from retail and commercial development. Cuomo is providing design and cost leeway, offering options from demolishing the Theater at Madison Square Garden to closing 33rd Street. It would be best if the final plan brings back light and grandeur.
Reimagining New York’s transportation infrastructure is long overdue and desperately needed. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be allowed to slip away, as has happened before. The Penn Station overhaul is just the latest Cuomo project. They include the Gateway plan to build rail tunnels between New York and New Jersey, expansion of the Long Island Rail Road, the remaking of LaGuardia Airport and the new Tappan Zee Bridge. This could be the era, not seen since Robert Moses, when projects are more than just diagrams on paper — when vision becomes reality.
The necessary partners, such as the Port Authority, Amtrak and Madison Square Garden, are on board. The money — more than $3 billion — is there. A request for proposals will come this week. The pieces, it seems, are in place. Now, it’s about the execution. Commuters deserve a better experience. A truly great station is a critically important piece of the truly great transportation network the region needs.