Moving Madison Square Garden from atop Penn Station could be the key to bringing commuters back to the city even long after the pandemic subsides, the architect behind newly filed plans for the project says.
An improved commute in a newly imagined station that people currently dread going through would encourage them to come to work and keep companies from shedding so much office space, PAU architect Vishaan Chakrabarti said.
“When the pandemic lifts and most people are vaccinated, the thing that is still with us from a business perspective is that some people would rather work remotely than commute into the city,” he said. “The best kind of vaccine against that is making our commutes better.”
The Moynihan Train Hall was unveiled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month—a $1.6 billion project to reimagine the Amtrak section of Penn Station by Eighth Avenue. The options for the rest of the 52-year old station are limited by the Garden’s current placement.
The entire MSG project, which has been talked about for more than a decade, would cost around $3 billion, but adding in the skyscrapers around the new arena would help it pay for itself. It has not yet been decided what use the buildings would serve, but Chakrabarti said mixed-use would make the most sense.
The Garden would move to a two-block site with Sixth Avenue to the east, West 32nd Street to the south, Seventh Avenue to the west and West 34th Street to the north, according to the plans.
“Those are very valuable blocks, and today they have an Old Navy and a Hooters on them,” Chakrabarti said. The Herald Square neighborhood around Penn Station is the last remaining area that still hasn’t seen meaningful redevelopment, he added.
“We have step-by-step transformed Midtown, and this is the last domino to fall,” he said.
A redevelopment would create more than 6 million square feet of office space, 300,000 square feet of retail space, over 600,000 square feet of hotel space and nearly 650,000 square feet of residential, the plans show.
Madison Square Garden can refuse to move its facility for now, but the City Council voted in 2013 to offer 10-year permits to MSG so that it could potentially redevelop Penn Station. Once the permit expires in 2023, the council can decide not to renew it and MSG would not be able to operate.
“There are a lot of carrots and sticks that the government has to incentivize the Garden to move,” Chakrabarti said. If Cuomo gets on board, it could all be done in 10 years, he added.
For a community board to already be on board with a project is in itself a victory, Chakrabarti said.
“It’s not every day when you see a New York City community board support new density. Most of the time, community boards are anti-development,” he said.
“Community Board Five believes that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to solve the vexing problems stemming from horrid land-use decisions made in the ’60s,” said Layla Law-Gisco, who chairs the board's Land Use, Housing and Zoning Committee.
“The existing Madison Square Garden special permit expires in 2023, so we, as a community, have a duty to proactively advocate for a permanent solution that will give the Garden a permanent location, while liberating the area above Penn Station to create a 21st-century-worthy train hub,” she said.