Real transit help or real estate deal? Manhattan boards dismiss Empire Station Complex plans

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in January 2020 the Empire Station Complex plan to ease commuter rail congestion at Penn Station. (Photo by Mark Hallum)
Photo by Mark Hallum

Community Boards 4 and 5 in Midtown Manhattan issued a joint statement Monday night dismissing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pet project, the Empire Station Complex, as more of a real estate deal than an earnest effort to improve transportation capacity around Penn Station.

Calling on Empire State Development hit the pause button on moving the expansion of the transit hub to an entire block south of Penn Station, community leaders said the governor’s office should proceed with caution and further engage the public in the future.

“It is time for a better Penn Station. New York City deserves a world class, intermodal transportation center. Our communities are eager to improve Penn Station and we want to do it right,” the joint statement read. “Unfortunately, the plan introduced by the Empire State Development Corporation at the height of the pandemic has nothing to do with Penn Station or infrastructure. Rather, it is a real estate development packaged as a ‘transportation’ project.”

Cuomo proposed developing the Empire Station Complex by expanding Penn Station to the south in January 2020 as part of his State of the State address that year. Three months later, COVID-19 brought about a whole new reality for the state government as expenses for containing the virus pushed all other priorities back.

But the governor revived the proposal to triple train capacity around Penn during his 2021 State of the State address as it became apparent that Joe Biden would be sworn in as president of the United States, making the chances of another stimulus package a near certainty.

But public opinion of the project soured to some degree as Layla Law-Gisiko, chair of Community Board 5’s land use, housing and zoning committee, revealed to the New York Post that the state had room for 10 skyscrapers in the fine print.

“Our State budget should not be earmarked for non-existent projects and we call for the removal of $1.3 billion from the FY2022 State budget until the Penn Station plan is ready,” the groups continued. “The ‘Empire Station Complex’ plan calls for developing ten buildings on eight sites in a one-block radius of Penn Station. It excludes Penn Station reconstruction and expansion, ignores Madison Square Garden, but provides millions of square feet of development in an already dense neighborhood.”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment from amNewYork as has become the norm after multiple allegations of sexual harassment linger and multiple investigations into his conduct are pending.