Op-Ed | Madison Square Garden needs to stay right where it is

Madison Square Garden.
Photo by Dean Moses

Madison Square Garden, The World’s Most Famous Arena, is a New York institution and a massive economic engine that employs thousands of full and part-time union workers. There are many reasons why MSG should be allowed to stay right where it is, but for us – Stagehands and Teamsters – moving The Garden would negatively impact our hard-working union members and their families. 

The Garden is currently in the process of renewing its special permit, which expires in July. It’s technically this permit that allows the arena to host events with more than 2,500 spectators. But we all know that what The Garden really does is bring tens of thousands of people together for unforgettable events – Knicks and Rangers games; sporting events like March Madness and boxing; concerts from the world’s biggest artists; and special events such as NYPD and college graduations. 

Union labor relies on these events not only for our work, but also health and other benefits, and pension credits. The thought of any of those events disappearing, and with them union-backed jobs, would not only be a significant loss for the families across our region that rely on them, but also for the City, especially as it recovers from the pandemic and rebuilds its economy. MSG delivers an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion to the City and State and has partnerships with 15 labor unions, including ours. None of this would be possible if The Garden was denied its ability to host large-scale events. 

But it’s not only hardworking families or the City’s coffers that would suffer with the loss of The Garden’s special permit. As the City’s biggest and most influential arena, MSG also supports an entire ecosystem of businesses that are dependent on large-scale events for their own economic success.

While a few vocal detractors oppose renewing The Garden’s special permit in the hope it would force MSG to move as part of a theoretical renovation of Penn Station, this argument is just not based in reality. The Garden sits on private land it owns. And the only credible plan to renovate Penn Station that has been announced by Governor Kathy Hochul leaves MSG right where it is. 

As the Empire State Development Corporation recently noted, any attempt to move The Garden would cost taxpayers a staggering amount of money – more than $8.5 billion — that would be far better used to address the City’s other urgent priorities. Why spend all that money to move The Garden when we could simply keep it where it is while still improving Penn Station? 

If we deny The Garden its ability to host more than 2,500 fans, or allow it to stay in its current location for just a few years, we jeopardize the hundreds of events it hosts yearly. This would put thousands of jobs, including union jobs, and billions of dollars in economic activity at risk. 

The long-term renewal of The Garden’s special permit should be a no-brainer. No one seriously thinks Knicks playoff games or Billy Joel’s residency should be limited to audiences that would fit in a small college gymnasium. 

Our members are proud to work at The Garden. It’s not only home to the most iconic sports, entertainment, and cultural events, but it’s also an important part of our community and a long-time supporter of union labor. 

It is time to approve The Garden’s special permit in perpetuity.

Michael Wekselblatt is the President of IATSE Local One. Thomas J. O’Donnell is the President of IBT Local 817.