Penn Station could have as many as nine new tracks in operation by 2028, although such expansion could come at the expense of more than 200 residents and 9,000 employees who would have to be relocated to accommodate it, according to a new report.
The draft environmental impact statement and general project plan of the Empire Station Complex released Friday offers new details on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed expansion of Penn Station, the busy Manhattan train hub that was used by nearly 300,000 Long Island Rail Road commuters daily before the pandemic.
The plan includes 10 new buildings developed on eight sites adjacent to Penn Station as well as subway station improvements, new entrances and exits into Penn, and a new "underground corridor" connecting to the 34th Street-Herald Square transit hub.
"The Empire Station Complex project represents the next great investment in our efforts to rebuild and expand this crucial piece of our state's infrastructure and will support economic growth in New York City and across the entire state," Cuomo said in a statement Friday.
In January 2020, Cuomo announced the plan by the Empire State Development Corp. to expand Penn, which would entail acquiring the block south of the station and excavating it to build new tracks for the train hub — the busiest in North America and host to the LIRR, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.
According to the report, the property acquisitions would necessitate the removal of 206 residents living in 128 residential units, and the displacement of 473 businesses employing 9,137 workers. Property owners would be offered fair market value, but the developers would be able to use eminent domain powers to force them out, if necessary, according to the report.
The report also confirmed that the development would require the demolition of some historical structures, including the dormant Hotel Pennsylvania, just across the street from Penn on Seventh Avenue, the century-old Gimbel’s Bridge — a copper sky walkway over 32nd Street — and the 149-year-old St. John The Baptist Roman Catholic Church on 30th Street. The report suggested that developers could pay for the relocation of church artifacts to other churches.
The razing of the old structures would clear the way for 10 new buildings, up to 1,300 feet in height, featuring "curtain wall facades of glass, metal, or masonry, which would be consistent with the urban design character of a number of the taller, more recently constructed buildings" in the area." The new developments would feature a mix of office and retail space, and hotels.
The report estimates that the street-level developments would cost around $11.5 billion, which could be covered by "multiple funding options," including bonds, grants and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). The increased revenue from the new, upscale tenants could be used to back bonds that would be issued to pay for the subterranean infrastructure improvements.
According to the report, the expanded Penn Station would include "up to nine additional tracks and five new platforms." The new tracks would "primarily serve" NJ Transit, but also would free up capacity on existing tracks, the report said.
The entire project, with the street-level developments, would be finished by 2038. The plan accompanies other efforts underway to improve Penn Station, including the recently opened Moynihan Train Hall on Eighth Avenue, the LIRR’s new East End Gateway entrance and exit at 33rd Street, and other planned upgrades inside the 111-year-old station.
Samuel Turvey, chairman of Rethink Penn Station NYC, a nonprofit planning group, said the Empire Station Complex plan, with its bevy of "super-tall" modern buildings, could come at the expense of the neighborhood’s "New York feel" — all the while neglecting a key problem.
"They’re doing an awful lot, and not addressing the main issue, which is that they have one of the biggest train stations in the world stuffed under Madison Square Garden," said Turvey, whose group has lobbied for the relocation of MSG, so that Penn could be restored to its original Beaux Arts-style architecture. "We’re selling the heavens in order to continue with mediocrity at ground level … We’re still hoping that people come to their senses."