Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vowed Wednesday to transform the “dark,” “bleak” and “ugly” Penn Station into a bright and beautiful hub at the center of a revitalized transportation system in the region.
Cuomo unveiled a multipoint plan to return the blighted station, used by 650,000 travelers each day, into the “triumphant entrance to New York” it once had been.
“Frankly, it’s a miserable experience,” Cuomo said of today’s Penn — the busiest train station in the country. “To really cut to the chase, it is a terrible impression of New York.”
Cuomo aims to create a New Empire Station by expediting the redevelopment of Penn Station and combining it seamlessly underground with the future Moynihan Station being constructed across the street at the James A. Farley Post Office Building on Eighth Avenue.
The agencies involved will partner to put out a bid for a new private developer, or developers, for the Penn project in the next week. The winning bidder would pay for the work in exchange for the lucrative retail rights at the redeveloped station.
Cuomo said several options could be considered to redevelop Penn, including closing 33rd Street and using skylights to bring natural light below, creating new access points, such as a “grand entrance” at Seventh Avenue, or recapturing the “majestic” feel of the original Penn through a “friendly, negotiated condemnation” of the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where Cuomo delivered his comments.
James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Co., and president and CEO of Newsday’s parent company Cablevision, said, “if there is an opportunity to partner with the state” on the project, he will “gladly take it.”
“I am a businessman, but I am also a New Yorker, and I firmly believe this project is good for New York,” Dolan said.
Cuomo’s office put the total cost of the work planned at Penn and the ongoing Moynihan Station project at the Farley building at $3 billion, most of which would be paid by private developers.
Cuomo said the expanded station would serve as the “nexus” of a revitalized transportation system in the state that would include a new third track on the LIRR Main Line in Nassau County, a redeveloped LaGuardia Airport, and a modernized Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
“I believe it’s going to be transformative for the state,” Cuomo said. “It’s going to be the heart of an entirely new transit system.”
Though Cuomo’s vision for Penn was praised by several of the region’s planning groups, Mary Rowe, executive vice president of the Municipal Art Society, questioned if it goes far enough. Rowe’s group has pushed for the relocation of Madison Square Garden altogether, which was built over the original Beaux Arts style Penn Station in 1963.
The Penn redevelopment plans also would not expand the station’s capacity to handle more trains, including those on the Long Island Rail Road, which moves more than 220,000 riders through the station daily.
“You’re already way over capacity,” said Rowe, who applauded Cuomo’s plan as an important first step.
Joseph Boardman, chairman of Amtrak, which owns Penn, said the announced measures were “setting the stage” for an eventual capacity expansion as part of the agency’s $20 billion Gateway program, which includes plans for a new tunnel under the Hudson River.
MTA board member Mitchell Pally, a frequent critic of Penn’s current condition, said Cuomo’s plan would streamline several parallel efforts to changes at Penn, which houses multiple transportation agencies and retail landlords.
“Putting all that together in one place, at one time is a very important achievement,” Pally said. “It’s going to be much better for the Long Island Rail Road commuter, without a doubt.”