City Planning Commission Adopts Stipulated MSG Special Permit Renewal

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The City Planning Commission echoed the sentiments of its Commissioner Dan Garodnick in voting to let Madison Square Garden stay in its current spot — with some caveats.

At a Wednesday morning meeting, the vote was almost unanimous: Approve MSG’s special permit to continue operating its stadium above Pennsylvania Station, as long as stadium owners make public improvements around the site.

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Most critically, the venue will have to prove its compatibility with the redevelopment of Penn Station once the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s planning phase for that project reaches 30 percent complete. 

As part of the approval, MSG officials will need to return in front of City Planning in six months for another round to show that the public realm improvement efforts are underway.

“Over the course of this process, we have secured a number of important commitments from Madison Square Garden that will make a real difference to New Yorkers,” Garodnick said during the meeting Wednesday. “The work of department staff has focused our attention on the things that truly matter, such as loading, public realm, and how MSG relates to Penn Station. I commend the department on advancing this text amendment and believe it will do a lot to make MSG a better neighbor.”

But it isn’t a done deal.

The New York City Council will still need to vote in favor of the new terms. That vote is likely to take place before the existing permit, which was renewed in 2013, expires on July 24.

Either way, Garodnick and the entertainment company led by CEO James Dolan that owns the stadium both said Monday the Garden already agreed to comply with the text amendments of the new special permit. 

“We appreciate the recommendation from the City Planning Commission and look forward to collaborating with all key stakeholders on improving Penn Station,” an MSG spokesperson said in a statement.

The Garden is the only major stadium left in Manhattan, but its perch atop Penn Station has been called into question in recent months, with residents and the lcoal community board pushing for it to relocate. While Dolan expressed an unwillingness to move, MSG Executive Vice President Joel Fisher said during a community board meeting the arena would consider moving to a parcel on Seventh Avenue between West 32nd and West 34th streets.

The Planning Commission vote followed a report released Tuesday from the Independent Budget Office (IBO) that showed the arena’s permanent tax break has cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion since 1982. 

The tax exemption — roughly $42 million this year, for a total cost of about $948 million over the last 40 years — was never meant to be permanent when it was granted by the New York State Legislature in a bargain to prevent the New York Rangers and Knicks from relocating the teams to other cities.

The IBO argued that the permit’s original goal of keeping the Rangers and Knicks in the city is largely outdated since it wouldn’t make logistical or financial sense for the teams to move. 

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.