Millions of dollars are going into upgrades, including trees, flowers and granite pavers, outside Penn Station. NewsdayTV's Alfonso Castillo reports. Credit: Ed Quinn

The next step in the transformation of Penn Station is transforming the surface on which thousands of Long Island commuters step each day — the sidewalks outside.

Vornado Realty Trust, which owns and operates much of the property inside and around Penn, is undergoing a $65 million effort to expand and rebuild the sidewalks outside the station, and also make the space more welcoming to commuters as they emerge from or head down to the Long Island Rail Road's primary Manhattan terminal.

The effort is among several that have been underway for years to modernize the 114-year-old transit hub, which long has been criticized as gloomy, cramped and antiquated.

"Our vision is to welcome office workers, commuters, visitors and shoppers with wide granite sidewalks, expansive tree-lined plazas, new and accessible entrances to Penn Station, and storefronts activated by outstanding curated restaurants and retailers," Vornado executive vice president Barry Langer said in a statement.

The centerpiece of Vornado's effort to beautify the Penn District is the installation of 4 acres of granite paver stones — imported from Belgium — along the sidewalks outside of Penn Station, as well as throughout a new 16,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street, just outside the new East End Gateway leading into and out of the LIRR's subterranean concourse. The public space, scheduled to open in June, will include five recently planted October Glory maple trees, plentiful outside seating, and several new dining options.

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Transportation, which partnered with Vornado on the plaza, called it a "world-class public space" in the heart of Midtown "benefiting New Yorkers who live and work in the area, as well as those who travel through the busiest transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere."

Pedestrians also will have more space to spread out along Seventh Avenue, the busiest corridor leading into and out of Penn and adjacent Madison Square Garden. As part of the project, Vornado is doubling the width of the sidewalk on Seventh between 31st and 34th streets. The first section of sidewalk was recently completed, and the entire project is slated to be finished by the fall.

Vornado officials said the wider sidewalks also aim to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, who also will benefit from three new elevators leading into and out of Penn Station. 

Visiting Penn Station for the first time in more than a decade, Jim Wallis, of Hampstead, North Carolina, called it "a big difference" from what he remembered.

"It's just beautiful. It really is great," Wallis said. "As I came up and left the station, I was impressed ... and the granite is great. I'm wondering how it does with ice and snow."

The outdoor upgrades are a precursor to a larger $7 billion reconstruction of Penn Station promised by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is taking the lead on the project. The project, which is still being designed, could include a grand train hall with tall glass ceilings and natural light shining down on LIRR riders, officials have said.

The effort initially was expected to receive funding from the several new skyscrapers that would be built by Vornado outside of Penn Station, but that plan has been sidelined. The state is hoping to secure federal grant dollars to help pay for the project, which Hochul has said could take up to five years to complete.

MTA officials declined to comment on the status of the reconstruction effort, or Vornado's sidewalk work, but did point out other recent upgrades to Penn, including improvements to the LIRR's 33rd Street concourse, which now includes a wider walkway, bright LED lighting, taller ceilings, and new shops and restaurants. Vornado, which operates much of Penn's retail space, partnered on that work, too.

Even while applauding some of the recent improvements — including the widening of sidewalks and accessibility upgrades — Samuel Turvey, chairperson of RethinkNYC, a transportation and land use advocacy group, said the numerous, disparate efforts to modernize Penn Station amount to “a collection of architectural body parts, as opposed to a cohesive whole.”

Turvey said he's concerned that the recent improvements may serve to reduce the urgency of a more "holistic" transformation of Penn Station. His group has advocated for the relocation of Madison Square Garden so that Penn could be restored to its original 1963 design.

"Almost anything is an improvement over what's there," Turvey said. "I don't think there has been a coherent vision that, year over year, builds on itself and mutually reinforces itself. I think, over time, people will begin to see that."

MTA board member Marc Herbst, who represents Suffolk County, agreed that it was important for project planners to settle on "one vision, one plan" for Penn Station. 

"So keep the dialogues going, but keep the improvements happening," said Herbst, who believes a transformation of Penn needs to include the surrounding community. "It's the heart of the city, and we need to have something that is beautiful ... and something that helps people get around through the transportation system."

The next step in the transformation of Penn Station is transforming the surface on which thousands of Long Island commuters step each day — the sidewalks outside.

Vornado Realty Trust, which owns and operates much of the property inside and around Penn, is undergoing a $65 million effort to expand and rebuild the sidewalks outside the station, and also make the space more welcoming to commuters as they emerge from or head down to the Long Island Rail Road's primary Manhattan terminal.

The effort is among several that have been underway for years to modernize the 114-year-old transit hub, which long has been criticized as gloomy, cramped and antiquated.

"Our vision is to welcome office workers, commuters, visitors and shoppers with wide granite sidewalks, expansive tree-lined plazas, new and accessible entrances to Penn Station, and storefronts activated by outstanding curated restaurants and retailers," Vornado executive vice president Barry Langer said in a statement.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Private developer Vornado Realty Trust is undergoing a $65 million effort to improve and expand the public space outside of Penn Station, including by installing 4 acres of granite paver stones and doubling the width of the sidewalk along Seventh Avenue.
  • Other improvements include the creation of a 16,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza, with new trees, seating and restaurants. The plaza is set to open in June, and the entire project is slated for completion by the fall.
  • The work is part of a broader effort to modernize 114-year-old Penn Station, including through a $7 billion reconstruction that would open up new space in the LIRR transit hub and let in natural light.

The centerpiece of Vornado's effort to beautify the Penn District is the installation of 4 acres of granite paver stones — imported from Belgium — along the sidewalks outside of Penn Station, as well as throughout a new 16,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street, just outside the new East End Gateway leading into and out of the LIRR's subterranean concourse. The public space, scheduled to open in June, will include five recently planted October Glory maple trees, plentiful outside seating, and several new dining options.

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Transportation, which partnered with Vornado on the plaza, called it a "world-class public space" in the heart of Midtown "benefiting New Yorkers who live and work in the area, as well as those who travel through the busiest transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere."

Pedestrians also will have more space to spread out along Seventh Avenue, the busiest corridor leading into and out of Penn and adjacent Madison Square Garden. As part of the project, Vornado is doubling the width of the sidewalk on Seventh between 31st and 34th streets. The first section of sidewalk was recently completed, and the entire project is slated to be finished by the fall.

Vornado officials said the wider sidewalks also aim to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, who also will benefit from three new elevators leading into and out of Penn Station. 

Visiting Penn Station for the first time in more than a decade, Jim Wallis, of Hampstead, North Carolina, called it "a big difference" from what he remembered.

"It's just beautiful. It really is great," Wallis said. "As I came up and left the station, I was impressed ... and the granite is great. I'm wondering how it does with ice and snow."

MTA taking lead on $7 billion reconstruction

The outdoor upgrades are a precursor to a larger $7 billion reconstruction of Penn Station promised by Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is taking the lead on the project. The project, which is still being designed, could include a grand train hall with tall glass ceilings and natural light shining down on LIRR riders, officials have said.

The effort initially was expected to receive funding from the several new skyscrapers that would be built by Vornado outside of Penn Station, but that plan has been sidelined. The state is hoping to secure federal grant dollars to help pay for the project, which Hochul has said could take up to five years to complete.

MTA officials declined to comment on the status of the reconstruction effort, or Vornado's sidewalk work, but did point out other recent upgrades to Penn, including improvements to the LIRR's 33rd Street concourse, which now includes a wider walkway, bright LED lighting, taller ceilings, and new shops and restaurants. Vornado, which operates much of Penn's retail space, partnered on that work, too.

Even while applauding some of the recent improvements — including the widening of sidewalks and accessibility upgrades — Samuel Turvey, chairperson of RethinkNYC, a transportation and land use advocacy group, said the numerous, disparate efforts to modernize Penn Station amount to “a collection of architectural body parts, as opposed to a cohesive whole.”

Turvey said he's concerned that the recent improvements may serve to reduce the urgency of a more "holistic" transformation of Penn Station. His group has advocated for the relocation of Madison Square Garden so that Penn could be restored to its original 1963 design.

"Almost anything is an improvement over what's there," Turvey said. "I don't think there has been a coherent vision that, year over year, builds on itself and mutually reinforces itself. I think, over time, people will begin to see that."

MTA board member Marc Herbst, who represents Suffolk County, agreed that it was important for project planners to settle on "one vision, one plan" for Penn Station. 

"So keep the dialogues going, but keep the improvements happening," said Herbst, who believes a transformation of Penn needs to include the surrounding community. "It's the heart of the city, and we need to have something that is beautiful ... and something that helps people get around through the transportation system."

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