BY DENNIS LYNCH | Advancing a project that has been hobbled by numerous delays, Governor Andrew Cuomo, on September 27, announced a $1.6 billion plan to redevelop the James A. Farley Post Office Building into a “world-class 21st century transportation hub” by 2020.
The 250,000 square foot Moynihan Train Hall — larger than four football fields — will house both Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road ticketing and waiting facilities.
Riders will be able to access nine platforms and 17 tracks from the Hall, which will have a total floor space 50 percent greater than that of the current Penn Station, creating welcome breathing room for the 650,000 Penn Station daily commuters used to the “dirty, dingy, and dark” station beneath Madison Square Garden, Cuomo said.
“With more than twice the passengers of all JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports combined, the current Penn Station is overcrowded, decrepit, and claustrophobic,” the governor said. “The Moynihan Train Hall will have more space than Grand Central’s main concourse, housing both Amtrak and LIRR ticketing and waiting areas, along with state-of-the-art security features, a modern, digital passenger experience, and a host of dining and retail options.”
The Hall will feature a one-acre, open-floor concourse under a dramatic glass ceiling reminiscent of the original Penn Station, completed in 1910, that once sat across Eighth Avenue. The city’s flagship post office is roughly eight acres large in all, and was designed by McKim, Mead, and White — the same firm that designed the masterpiece train station demolished in 1963 to make way for Madison Square Garden.
A development team of Vornado Realty LP, Related Companies, and Skanska Ab will create 588,000 square feet of office space and 112,000 square feet of retail throughout the rest of the 103-year-old Beaux-Arts post office building, Cuomo said. The trio will pay roughly $600 million for that development opportunity.
Empire State Development Corporation will toss in $570 million for the project, while Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the federal government will chip in the remaining $425 million.
The first phase of construction at the post office, consisting of building a concourse and expanding the underground corridor between it and Penn Station, is “nearing completion,” according to the governor’s office.
The post office isn’t the only building getting a new look. Separately, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will triple the width and raise the ceiling of the LIRR’s 33rd Street Corridor at Penn Station at a cost of $170 million. The agency will also redesign the subway stations serving the 1, 2, 3, and A, C, E trains at Seventh and Eighth Avenues, respectively. The subway station improvements are “expected as early as 2018,” and will cost roughly $50 million, according to the governor’s office.
Meanwhile, independently, the Empire State Development Corporation and Amtrak will rebuild Amtrak’s space at Penn Station.
The new station at Farley is named for the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served New York in the US Senate from 1977 until 2001. It was in the early 1990s that Moynihan first proposed turning the post office into a transit station. He championed the project as a way to ease congestion at Penn Station, where, in its original incarnation, he shined shoes as a kid.
Numerous design firms laid out their proposals over the years, but there was little concrete action. Moynihan died in 2003, and only two years later did Governor George Pataki tap Related Properties and Vornado to head the redevelopment of the post office.
The firms — as well as advocates for the new station — favored moving Madison Square Garden from its location atop Penn Station and over into the Farley Post Office Building to make room for a more thoroughgoing redesign of the existing train station. That idea and others that followed fell through. Impatient with the lack of progress, Cuomo, early this year, shook up the effort by soliciting new bids for redeveloping Farley, though in the end Related Properties and Vornado remained part of the team.