New York wasn’t built in a day

Turn of the Bob the Builder reruns. If you want to see construction, get out and watch Gov. Andrew Cuomo.​

For his next trick, he’ll turn LaGuardia into a nice airport. Oh wait, that was last year.

Yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a similarly ambitious piece of construction: the renovation of Penn Station.

Cuomo has been making a whirlwind tour of the metropolitan area in the lead up to his State of the State speech next week, granting infrastructure wish after infrastructure wish.

The governor didn’t just get a new erector set for Christmas. He’s been proposing and starting infrastructure projects all across the state since his first term: A new Tappan Zee bridge. A rail link from LaGuardia to the subway. A rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey. A major expansion of the LIRR that will enable more reverse commuting. And now, to tie much of it together, a gateway to New York City: Empire Station Complex.

What will the new Penn Station look like?

Pennsylvania Station wasn’t always the dark, constrained, dated, miserable, terrible place it is today, to borrow some of Cuomo’s descriptions at an on-site press conference yesterday.

Complete with Corinthian columns and high ceilings, Penn Station was a rival to crosstown Grand Central until its demise in 1963. Now, Sbarro is as close as the station gets to Italian elegance, and the most light-filled section of the den of passageways might be the bright United Airlines storefront — imagine what you could be doing instead.

The proposal incorporates a much-delayed plan to transform the still-majestic Farley Post Office across the street. Originally known as the Moynihan Plan, named after the influential senator who urged its completion, the former post office would be turned into a train hall.

Penn Station as we know it, connected to Farley by an underground passageway, would be renovated according to one of several plans, depending on the deal reached with private developers who would pay the bulk of the construction costs in exchange for commercial rights. Total construction costs for both Penn, Farley and underground would exceed $3 billion. Options range from block-long grand entrances on Seventh or Eighth Avenues involving the potential demolition of the Madison Square Garden theater to simple interior renovations.

Build, build, build

Proclaiming that “government is not an act of rhetoric,” Cuomo placed his recent practical infrastructure proposals in the tradition of New York construction, name checking the great builders, DeWitt Clinton to Nelson Rockefeller, even Robert Moses, the prophet of parkways who might seem strange company at a mass-transportation event.

Still, the non-rhetoric here — the “plan and action,” which Cuomo says is his version of governance — is a solicitation for proposals by a developer. Hopefully, we can build on top of that.


As the governor left the room, presumably not into the bowels of the station itself, commuters were beginning to gather for a typical commute home. Toward the NJ Transit waiting area, a down escalator was broken. Many commuters laughed when asked if Penn Station was ready for change.

“Terrible station,” said Paul Hayes, 56, of New Jersey. “Poorly designed. Confusing. Not well maintained. Always complications.”

Here and there a traveler could be found who took a philosophical view of the back and forth. Mark Stuart, 55, found himself “satisfied.” The station was “convenient.” He travels to and from Philadelphia. Now that’s a train station, he explained, brightening and becoming effusive. “Art deco, late 1920s, brick, marble,” he said. Classic,” he added. “A piece of public art.”

There’s nothing art deco about the renderings for the new Penn Station, but we can always hope.

This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers.