Penn Station would be transformed from an “ugly” transit hub into a first-class terminal befitting of New York City under an overhaul proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
“New York’s success in the next hundred years depends on what we do and plan today,” Cuomo said in announcing the plan.
The governor is looking at several different design options, including removing Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theater and building a “grand entrance” on Eighth Avenue.
Another proposal is to close 33rd Street and create a new entrance there to bring natural light to the concourse.
Other choices include a new entrance on Seventh Avenue or significant internal renovations, like wider concourses, that would not change Penn Station’s exterior.
The proposed complete redesign includes a new train hall with shops and restaurants at the James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue that is linked to the existing structure with an underground concourse. It will have 30 new escalators, elevators and stairs, as well as digital ticketing and Wi-Fi.
A joint entity made up of the Empire State Development Agency, Amtrak and the MTA will start seeking this week a private developer to finance the redesign in exchange for development rights. If a bid is approved, Cuomo’s office expects construction to start within a year.
State officials said the project will cost at least $3 billion, largely paid for by private companies. About $325 million will come from the U.S. DOT, Port Authority and Amtrak.
The original Penn Station, which was once as impressive as Grand Central Terminal, was razed in the 1960s to make way for the new Madison Square Garden and for building the Penn Plaza office towers.
“Penn was a majestic building,” said Cuomo. “In true New York fashion, it was one of the grandest buildings constructed at the time. It was a triumphant entrance to New York.”
Foot traffic at the current terminal is expected to double over the next 15 years. Already, 650,000 people use Penn Station each day.
“It is dark, it is constrained, it is ugly, it is a lost opportunity,” said Cuomo. “Frankly it is a miserable experience.”
James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Co. and president and CEO of amNewYork’s parent company, Cablevision, attended Cuomo’s announcement and expressed support for the project.
“First, I am a businessman, but I am also a New Yorker and firmly believe that this project is good for New York,” he said. “As this advances, if there’s an opportunity to partner with the state, I will gladly take it.”
Riders and civic advocacy groups have been calling for a Penn Station overhaul for years.
Still, Paul Augello, a 56-year-old insurance broker from Wantagh and an LIRR commuter, said he was skeptical the project could be finished.
“There’s no way it will be done on time,” he said. “It’s so hard to get things done in this city, and I don’t think it will be a benefit. As much as it is a dive, it’s still functional.”
Dennis Michael, a 55-year-old engineer from Massapequa Park, predicted the renovations will take a long time and probably finish late. But he doesn’t like the current situation either.
“Penn Station is blah, especially if you compare it to Grand Central,” said Michael. “You see beautiful architecture there, but it’s a drag here.”
A representative for the Municipal Arts Society, a long-standing leader in the overhaul efforts, praised Cuomo’s plan as a good beginning in the process. The group, which has previously called for Madison Square Garden to be moved, is awaiting more specific designs from bidders.
“This is a good first step,” said Mary Rowe, the group’s executive vice president. “You should say this is a place like no other. That’s what could be possible.”
Gene Russianoff, the staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, said the group agrees with Cuomo’s proposal but doesn’t want the private sector to take the state or city “to the cleaners” with a poor bargain. He also criticized the current conditions at Penn Station.
“Today, Penn Station is like an amusement park without much amusement. Instead of being an asset to the city, it’s an embarrassment,” he said. “Some critics think LaGuardia Airport is a third-world facility. What other world would they reserve for Penn Station?”
Cuomo said he will launch the biggest construction plan in New York’s history next week at his State of the State speech.
It includes the overhaul of Penn Station, $22 billion to spend on roads and bridges upstate and about $26 billion for the MTA’s capital plan.
Upstate legislators had threatened to derail funding for the MTA’s capital plan, which ranges from new train cars to building the Second Avenue Subway, if they didn’t get parity in funding dollars. The MTA’s capital plan is funded by tolls, fares and state and city funding.
The governor’s transportation plan also includes a third LIRR track that would ease congestion by adding train service between Floral Park and Hicksville.
“We have to get people out of cars and into the mass transit,” said Cuomo. “The LIRR has to be faster and more comfortable.”
He also said that the overhaul of LaGuardia Airport will break ground this year and that there will be new investment in MacArthur Airport so that it can handle international flights.
With Jason Shaltiel.