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Moynihan Station: On the Right Track?

knicks new york hall madison square gardenFor the first time in a decade, real progress is being made to fulfill Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s vision for a grand new train station worthy of New York. In the 1980s, Senator Moynihan proposed building a new station within the Farley Post Office, across the street from the dismal Penn Station — a proposal the Municipal Art Society has been championing for more than a decade. Today, there is a great opportunity to build something larger than Senator Moynihan envisioned. The state and private developers have proposed moving Madison Square Garden to the west end of the Farley Post Office — to the rear of the train hall originally proposed — allowing for a new station to be built on the site of the current Penn Station. This new station could serve as a beautiful gateway to the city, but without proper public oversight, it is an opportunity that could be wasted. To this end, MAS recently joined the Friends of Moynihan Station — an unprecedented alliance of elected officials, and leading civic and business organizations that endorses this concept of the project — to release a list of principles for development. Stressing public input as critical to a successful and fiscally responsible project, the Friends seek to insert a strong public voice into the planning process for the station and the surrounding district to ensure that the station remains a public space that is not overwhelmed by retail, nor subordinated to Madison Square Garden. Evoking Martin Luther in Wittenberg, MAS president Kent Barwick and the Friends of Moynihan Station symbolically nailed these principles to a freestanding column at a press conference on the steps of the Farley Post Office in late November. The press conference came on the heels of the release of the Empire State Development Corporation’s (ESDC) draft scope document for the project. This document, which lacks conceptual plans and images of the project — making public participation more difficult — highlights the fact that greater public oversight and a transparent public review process for the development are required. The document also indicates that after Madison Square Garden is moved, in addition to the new station, developers plan to build 1.1 million square feet of retail space. That’s nine times greater than the amount of retail at Grand Central Terminal and slightly larger than the square footage of Madison Square Garden itself. MAS testified to the ESDC that it is seriously concerned that this is an excessive amount of retail that might occupy space needed for a great new station. MAS also called on the ESDC to safeguard the historic Farley Post Office building and retain the post office lobby use. Most of all, MAS called on the state to release the plans and engage the public. After all, this project relies on $1 billion in public financing and will serve millions of residents and commuters who must be fully involved in all aspects of planning. Learn more about this project at http://mas.org/urbanplanning/moynihan-station/. The writer is director of MAS advocacy.