Time to rebuild Penn Station and move Madison Square Garden, advocates say

The Public for Penn Station coalition is calling for the transit hub to be rebuilt and Madison Square Garden to be moved.
The Public for Penn Station coalition is calling for the transit hub to be rebuilt and Madison Square Garden to be moved. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

A new coalition is pushing for what has eluded others for years: rebuilding Penn Station.

The Public for Penn Station called on Wednesday for a “long-range, comprehensive” plan to redevelop the surrounding midtown area to better suit pedestrians and the flow of commuters — including moving Madison Square Garden to allow the nation’s busiest train hub to again occupy its original location.

Tom Wright, the president of the Regional Plan Association, which is leading the public campaign, said the time is right to push for redevelopment: a brief dip in commuter traffic is expected at Penn in 2023, after the $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall opens and the East Side Access project is completed, giving the city and state a window to act.

“That’s the opportunity in 2023, which is also the year when Madison Square Garden’s operating permit is up for renewal, that the plans need to be put in place and we need to start marching forward with an overall vision for this area,” Wright said outside of the Garden.

“We have the opportunity,” he continued. “The time is now.”

Wright was joined by advocates from Transportation Alternatives and elected leaders like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the Transportation Committee at the City Council, which is responsible for renewing the special operating permit for the arena. The council voted in 2013 to extend that permit 10 years with the explicit goal of allowing time for the arena to find a new home.  

“The infrastructure today cannot sustain the growth of our city,” Rodriguez said.

Really, the infrastructure cannot support the current population levels of the region. Penn was initially built to handle 200,000 daily commuters, but now serves around 650,000 and is widely loathed, as coalition speakers colorfully attested. Dale Corvino, of Manhattan’s Community Board 4, called the hub a “neglected hole in the ground” and Ed Janoff, a Long Island Rail Road commuter and city planner, described it as “the closest thing to eternal damnation on planet earth.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has attempted to make some fixes, like developing the new Moynihan Station for LIRR and Amtrak and proposing the building of a new LIRR and subway entrance at Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street. Wright said he was “pleased” by those initiatives but hasn’t seen “a real vision that creates a world-class transit hub here for all of the commuters that are going to be coming in.”

Officials did not speak directly on whether they’re willing to try and push MSG out. 

The Madison Square Garden Company said in a statement that, “MSG is an important institution in New York City and supports the current plans to improve Penn Station.”

“Penn Station and the surrounding area is in a dire state, and needs a comprehensive improvement plan,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesman, in a statement. “We support a planning process that brings all major stakeholders to the table to advance a vision of Penn Station that’s a fitting entryway to our great city.”

At a breakfast last week, Cuomo noted that Penn Station needs “significant changes” in addition to those projects.

“The governor has said for years the situation at Penn Station is unacceptable and likened it to the seven layers of hell, which is why he’s doing everything in the state’s power to transform the area,” said Peter Ajemian, a spokesman for the governor, in a statement.