Manhattan officials want The Theater at MSG razed to make way for Penn Station grand hall

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine speaks outside The Theater at MSG
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine addresses the press outside The Theater at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 12, 2023.
Photo courtesy of Manhattan Borough President’s office

Tear down this theater!

That was the message from two Manhattan elected officials Tuesday as they called for the demolition of The Theater at Madison Square Garden to open up space for a grander redesign of Penn Station. 

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and City Council Member Erik Bottcher pushed for The Theater’s demise while joining Congressman Jerry Nadler Tuesday at a press conference outside the transit hub while calling for a more “forward-thinking” design of the Penn Station renovation to include a grand entrance on Eighth Avenue. 

“Right now what you have is a blank wall taking up almost two full city blocks and it just kills the streetscape,” Levine told amNewYork Metro. “If you get rid of the theater, you can open that all up. You can have light and air coming in. You can remove a lot of pillars and you can have a wide open concourse with daylight streaming in that would feel like the great train station that New Yorkers want and deserve.”

Levine’s vision was inspired in part by the design proposal made by an Italian design firm, ASTM, that includes an ambitious new West Side entrance, though he said he was being careful not to side with any vendor at this point in the process. 

“We’re remaining agnostic on who should build it. We’re just saying that we want it to be big,” Levine said.

The Theater at MSG, then known as the Hulu Theater
The Theater at Madison Square Garden, when it was called the Hulu Theater, is shown in this 2019 photo.

In his remarks, Nadler advocated for a spacious train hall but didn’t go so far as to suggest whether that would necessitate the demolition of The Theater at MSG — which opened in 1968 as the Felt Forum and was most recently known as the Hulu Theater.  The streaming giant had naming rights to The Theater for the last five years.

“We must bring light and air into Penn Station,” he said.

In addition to Levine, Nadler and Bottcher, the press conference included State Senator Liz Krueger, Assemblymember Tony Simone, MTA Chair Janno Lieber and Community Board 5 Chair Layla Law-Gisiko.

Levine and Bottcher have both said that they would ultimately prefer the complete relocation of MSG — owned in part by James Dolan, who controls the Knicks and Rangers — from the top of Penn Station. It’s a plan that urbanists and transit planners have said would be a crucial step to a true modernization of the train station.

But the consensus Tuesday was to sideline that fight for now to focus on a push for a new West Side entrance.

“I have long said that to get the best possible train station possible, MSG should move. Is that going to happen in the next few years? I don’t know,” Bottcher said at the press conference.

Manhattan elected officials at press conference outside The Theater at MSG
Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Congress Member Jerry Nadler, Assembly Members Tony Simone and Daniel O’Donnell, and City Council Member Erik Bottcher speak outside The Theater at MSG on Sept. 12, 2023.Photo courtesy of Manhattan Borough President’s office

Since a City Council committee recently voted to limit the arena’s special permit to five years, the electeds said that it leaves a tight window to lock in a plan.

Beyond the permit, Levine said it was important for the Democratic-helmed plan to have an ally in President Biden as well as a majority in the U.S. Senate to get such a plan over the finish line.

“We want a public RFP that solicits all the best ideas for the train station. We want the Hulu Theater taken out. We’ve got less than five years to do it,” Bottcher said.