Madison Square Garden Could Remain Above Penn Station, But at a Cost

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Madison Square Garden (MSG) will have to jump through some hoops if it wants to stay in Midtown.

The Department of City Planning will vote this week on whether to renew MSG’s special permit to remain on top of Pennsylvania Station. Even if the permit is approved, it will come with a host of obligations for the arena that will require it to add public improvements and help facilitate Penn Station’s rebuild.

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The special permit also includes a text amendment requiring improved pedestrian circulation, public space, an improved truck loading facility and a contingent that will require MSG return to DCP to prove that the 25,000-seat venue will be compatible with Penn Station once the design phase is 30 percent complete.

DCP is scheduled to vote Wednesday on Commissioner Dan Garodnick’s recommendation to grant the special permit and the text amendment, after which it will go before the New York City Council for passage. As of Monday afternoon, the agency was still ironing out how long the renewal would last.

“We know that there are a number of plans being considered, but it is DCP’s view that New Yorkers cannot wait for those plans for Penn Station to be finalized in order to benefit from these significant improvements to the area around MSG,” Garodnick said Monday. “There are a number of ambitious proposals for the future of Penn Station, which are intertwined with the operations of MSG … and MSG has committed to collaborating with them. But we won’t just take them at their word.”

MSG officials will need to present their traffic management and public improvement plans to DCP in six months. If it misses the deadline or the proposals aren’t up to snuff, the Garden could be considered in “violation of the special permit,” according to Garodnick.

The venue did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but DCP said MSG already agreed to the amendments in writing.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office has been weighing a number of plans for Penn Station in recent months, announcing recently that the state was removing the development deal component with Vornado Realty Trust from the funding plan and following a competing proposal for the site from ASTM.

MSG, which has sat above Penn Station since the original structure was demolished in the early 1960s, has been wearing out its welcome. Manhattan Community Board 5 voted in April on a resolution asking the City Council to deny a renewal of the special permit and require the home of the New York Knicks to move to another location.

The stadium has also come under scrutiny for what some consider an overly generous permanent tax-exempt status, which the Independent Budget Office estimates costs the city about $42 million in missed revenue every year. 

MSG’s special permit to remain above Penn Station was renewed in 2013 and expires July 24, but The Garden has not been totally opposed to finding a new plot of land. At a February CB5 meeting, MSG Executive Vice President Joel Fisher said the arena would potentially consider moving operations to a parcel at Seventh Avenue, between West 32nd and 34th streets.

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