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Letter to Mayor de Blasio re: Madison Square Garden Operating Permit

Two years ago, the City Council voted to limit the operating permit of Madison Square Garden to 10 years. The intention of the vote was to find a new home for the Garden and to facilitate improvements to Penn Station below. The station as it stands is a sorry excuse for a transit hub. It is unsafe, unattractive, and is operating way above its intended capacity. Some 600,000 passengers use the station every day. When it was built, it was meant to serve just 200,000. Penn Station’s future as a modern transit facility is strangled by Madison Square Garden above it. The Garden’s columns pierce the station and result in very low ceilings, making crowded conditions feel even more uncomfortable, limiting platform length and access to light and air, and prohibiting effective wayfinding. While some improvements are being planned by the railroads that own and operate the station, moving the Garden will ultimately be necessary to advance larger safety, transportation, circulation, and customer experience upgrades, and to serve surging ridership. In the last decade, the number of average weekday Penn Station riders on NJ Transit, LIRR, and Amtrak has grown by 26% and subway ridership has swelled by 34%. Going forward, NJ Transit ridership alone is expected to rise 28% by 2030. On the occasion of the permit vote, as Public Advocate, you said this:
“A 10-year timeframe will enable active participation for all stakeholders in the creation of a more comprehensive plan for the area, provide MSG’s owners time to seek a new arena location, and allow for the Department of City Planning to reconsider the special permit in light of changing conditions in the surrounding area. We should not delay the full redevelopment of Penn Station a day beyond what is necessary to plan and secure the funding to rebuild, while allowing the arena to relocate.”
We now ask that you, as Mayor of the City of New York, and arguably the most important stakeholder when it comes to the future of West Midtown, immediately start a comprehensive planning study for the area. Good planning takes time, especially on such a complicated site, and the city should not be caught flat-footed when the Garden’s permit is up in 2023. The Garden has moved in the past, and it will move again, but you must lead the way. Sincerely,
Vikki Barbero, Chair Community Board 5, Manhattan Vin Cipolla, President Fred Iseman, Chair Municipal Art Society of New York Donovan Finn, Visiting Assistant Professor Stony Brook University Robert Hammond Hugh Hardy, FAIA, Founder and Partner H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture Gene Russianoff, Senior Attorney NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign Brendon Sexton Veronica Vanterpool, Executive Director Tri-State Transportation Campaign Paul Steely White, Executive Director Transportation Alternatives Tom Wright, President Regional Plan Association
Cc: Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito City Council Member Corey Johnson City Council Member Dan Garodnick City Council Member David Greenfield City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez Comptroller Scott Stringer Borough President Gale Brewer State Senator Adriano Espaillat State Senator Brad Hoylman State Assembly Member Richard Gottfried United States Senator Charles Schumer United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand View the full letter (PDF)