At a meeting last night, Community Board 5 in Manhattan unanimously recommended a proposed special permit application from Madison Square Garden to operate an arena with more than 2,500 seats be denied unless certain parameters are met, Wally Rubin, district manager, told The Commercial Observer this morning.
“Just to be clear, this isn’t about any frustrations or lack of understanding that the Garden is an important part of New York and is an economic driver for the City,” added Raju Mann, acting chair of CB5’s Land Use Committee.
The Garden is currently going through New York’s uniform land use review procedure (ULURP) to renew the special permit.
The Garden’s original special permit expired last month and the arena is currently operating under a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy. The TCO is standard while a building is under construction, according to a Madison Square Garden spokesperson.
In order to support a special permit for the Garden, CB5 is asking it be restricted to 10 years to allow for careful planning for the futures of both the arena and Penn Station, according to Mr. Rubin. The Garden is requesting the permit, which was issued when the building was constructed in 1968, be renewed in perpetuity.
“If we grant the permit in perpetuity, we take off pressure to engage in a discussion that needs to happen,” Mr. Mann said.
The board is also requesting any signage at the Garden be limited to its original parameters and not expanded, Mr. Rubin said. The Garden has requested permission to expand digital signage outside the building up to 17,300 square feet, according to reports.
Community Board 5 would also like to see the elimination of the Garden’s tax abatement, which has been in place since the early 1980s, Mr. Rubin said. City Council previously voted to eliminate the tax abatement in 2008.
Lastly, the board is asking any proposed improvements to Penn Station are not precluded as part of any approval for the Madison Square Garden block. “What we are saying is: we need a world class sports arena and we need a world class train terminal and one should not preclude the other,” Mr. Rubin said.
Penn Station is currently insufficient to handle the amount of daily traffic it receives, according to Mr. Mann. “We have to keep our eye on the prize, which is really the transportation for the region, and how we improve that and we see that as the fundamental goal,” he said.
The request for a 10-year permit is an attempt to allow the Garden to amortize the investment in renovations the arena is currently making, according to Mr. Rubin. The Madison Square Garden Company is funding a three phase renovation process at the arena. The third phase is set to be completed prior to the 2013-14 National Hockey League and National Basketball Association seasons. Currently, the Garden is the oldest arena in the NHL and second-oldest in the NBA.
“They can keep pouring money into it, but wouldn’t it be better for all of us to have a state of the art arena? Especially with Barclays, why should it be second class?” Mr. Rubin questioned.
The Garden is currently in the 60-day community board review portion of ULURP. The next stage is Borough President review, followed by the City Planning Commission Review, and lastly City Council review.
Madison Square Garden did not immediately return requests for further comment. Calls to the Borough President’s office, City Planning Commission and City Council were not returned by press time.