New York, NY
New Penn Station / Relocated Arena / Transit Oriented Density
Pro Bono for Community Board 5
Four years ago PAU envisioned Penn Palimpsest, a proposal completed on behalf of the New York Times to recycle and transform the existing structure of Madison Square Garden (MSG) into a new, safe, affordable, and light-filled Pennsylvania Station to serve all of the station’s commuters and straphangers including all of the new passengers anticipated when additional train capacity is added to the complex. Since 2016 several important changes have occurred in the area. Much of the anticipated redevelopment of the west side rail yards has been built and the High Line’s final phase has been completed. The new Moynihan Train Hall, a long-held dream from our late great Senator, is now open to serve Amtrak and some westbound Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) commuters. The State of New York has proposed the Empire Station complex, a substantial upzoning of the sites surrounding Penn Station, in order to help fund yet-to-be-described improvements to the main commuter station beneath MSG. We applaud the State not only for opening Moynihan, but for proposing this larger Empire Station plan in recognition of the fact that Moynihan will at best serve twenty percent of Penn’s 650,000 daily passengers, leaving most New Jersey Transit (NJT) and LIRR commuters to use the existing subterranean, substandard station. The fact that the vast majority of Penn’s riders will remain in the Garden’s sub-basement will become even more problematic once our sorely needed new trans-Hudson tunnels—known as Gateway/Penn South—add an additional 200,000 riders into the busiest portion of the bowels of existing Penn Station. Should density also increase in the district due to this upzoning, it will only add even more pedestrian congestion to the station and its surrounding sidewalks unless more public space is built.
Our proposal seeks to provide this public space in the form of both a spacious new commuter station and a generous surrounding public realm. Our original Penn Palimpsest proposal provides an achievable vision for achieving a new public station, but in order to accomplish this, we must relocate MSG. The Garden is among the oldest arenas of its type in the United States, and deserves a new home with great transit access, a visible front door unlike today, and a back of house functionality including the ability to drive tractor trailer trucks directly onto its event floor. The State’s Empire Station upzoning proposal provides both the perfect site and the robust public process framework to move MSG to an ideal new home on 34th Street, directly across from Macy’s, on a pair of blocks that today define urban blight in the area with low lying retail, an old hotel, and a horrific streetscape. By moving only a block east and a block north, the Garden would retain its excellent weather-protected transit access at Penn, would gain a desperately needed front door and service drive, all without blocking the station’s light and air. To help fund our proposal, we propose an upzoning similar to the State’s proposal, with a concentration of density along 34th Street, creating a “high spine” from the Empire State Building to the Hudson River. Even more project funding, in the form of a TIF, could be unearthed by tapping into the latent value of the surrounding office buildings, both new and existing, because their attractiveness would increase dramatically under our proposal. Most importantly, our proposal would result in a pair of public stations at Moynihan and Penn that would work in tandem to serve national railway patrons and commuters with equal dignity and safety, similar to the King’s Cross/St. Pancras station pairing in London, creating a gateway district that would truly, finally, be worthy of New York City.
On a last note, we are fully aware that our proposal comes in the context of a global pandemic and its terrible aftermath. While vaccinations will hopefully resolve the pandemic, we will be left with the legacy of a reeling economy and a new form of remote work. Remote work has the potential to hurt our cities unless we improve our most miserable commutes, such as those that took place through Penn Station prior to the pandemic. We therefore offer this proposal not only to fix Penn and its environs, but to help all of New York recover from the terrible events of 2020. New Yorkers have done this before, when we rescued Grand Central, when we reconceived Bryant Park, and when we rebuilt the World Trade Center after 9/11.
New Yorkers can do it again, for this, the busiest transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere.