The MTA’s proposed reconstruction of Penn Station would force the New York Rangers out of Madison Square Garden for at least a year, and create other logistical obstacles to operating the arena, according to MSG officials, who fought back Wednesday against competing visions for their future at their current location.
The discussion came at a public hearing of the New York City Planning Commission, which is considering an application from MSG to extend a special permit, expiring next month, that allows it to hold events at its present location on 7th Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets on Manhattan’s West Side.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is looking to advance an $8 billion reconstruction of Penn, has argued that MSG, in its current form, is “not compatible” with the transit facility. The MTA is urging city regulators to force MSG to make major changes to accommodate its plans, including by moving a pedestrian bridge at the main entrance of the arena, and giving up a loading area so a grand “train hall” could be constructed between 31st and 33rd streets.
MSG: Concept not fleshed out
MSG officials said Wednesday the MTA’s concept has not been fleshed out, and would create major logistical problems for the arena. Among the issues: Relocating the pedestrian bridge would disrupt operating of a cooling system that’s needed for the ice on which the Rangers skate.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Madison Square Garden officials say the MTA's planned reconstruction of Penn Station would prevent the New York Rangers from playing in the arena for at least one season, and place other logistical obstacles in the way of operating the venue.
- MTA officials said they're confident they could carry out their plan, which would entail relocating a pedestrian bridge at the MSG entrance and disrupting a cooling system needed for the hockey ice rink, with minimal disruption to the arena.
- MSG's special permit allowing it to operate at its current location expires this year. MSG wants it granted in perpetuity, but some opponents want the arena to move so that a grander reconstruction of Penn Station could be carried out.
“Doing it would mean we would have to stop Rangers games at MSG for a full season” said MSG vice president Richard Constable, who balked at MTA’s assertion that the arena's current configuration is an impediment toward improvements for Long Island Rail Road riders using Penn.
“The challenges the MTA face do not arise from arena use," Constable added. "They exist because the MTA would like to use land it does not own to construct its proposed improvements."
MTA officials, in their testimony at the hearing, defended their plan as thorough, and said they remained confident their proposed improvements could be made without disrupting operations at MSG. As evidence, they pointed to the $700 million renovation of the LIRR's Penn Station concourse, which was accomplished without impacting railroad service. The work did require shutting down retail businesses along the corridor.
"Our plan, and our commitment, is to rebuild Penn Station, while minimizing the disruption to Madison Square Garden," MTA capital construction chief Jamie Torres-Springer said.
MSG, Penn can co-exist
MTA officials would not comment when asked if the city should grant the MSG's permit application, but said they believe the Garden and Penn can coexist if arena officials agree to some terms, including a financial contribution toward the $8 billion rebuild.
Ever since the original Penn Station was leveled so an arena could be built on top of a new version in the 1960s, MSG has been operating at its current location under a special permit that is set to expire next month. The City is expected to make a decision on whether to extend the permit this summer.
Garden officials are asking that the permit be granted in perpetuity, noting that other major sports and entertainment venues in the city, including Brooklyn's Barclays Center, do not require such a permit. They also said that granting a temporary extension of the permit would mean that all parties would eventually be back in front of the planning commission, and any improvements made to Penn Station could be undone.
“Why invest billions and billions of dollars to have in a few years another … process that says, ‘Oh, MSG has got to go?' ” Constable said.
MSG officials are proposing more modest street-level improvements that they say will beautify the area surrounding the arena and Penn Station, including new pavers, benches and plantings. They've also signaled that an alternative plan for Penn Station, proposed by Italian developer ASTM, is more realistic and takes into account the arena's operation.
That plan would build a glass podium around MSG to capture more space in Penn and let in natural light, and would buy the Theater at Madison Square Garden and knock it down to build a new entrance to Penn at Eighth Avenue. It would also leave the pedestrian bridge, and the ice rink "chiller" system, untouched.
Testifying at the hearing, ASTM vice president Peter Cripriano called the MTA's plan to relocate the bridge "enormously complex and expensive."
The hearing also drew dozens of public speakers, including many who believe MTA improvements require the Garden to move out, like Chelsea resident Sally Greenspan, who called Penn Station a "dysfunctional embarrassment."
Among those testifying in support of MSG staying put were former Knicks shooting guard John Starks, Rangers left winger Adam Graves, and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run DMC, who likened relocating MSG to relocating the Eiffel Tower.
“Penn Station and MSG are married," the Rock n' Roll Hall of Famer said, "just like Run DMC and Adidas.”