May 2008
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Archive for May, 2008

Bloomberg to Meet with Rep. Mica on High Speed Rail Link


Yesterday, the New York Sun reported that Mayor Bloomberg will be meeting with Rep. John Mica on Friday to discuss his proposal for a high speed rail link – or “rocket train” – between DC and NY, a bill we detailed last week (see ”New DC/NY High Speed Rail Link?” and “DC/NY High Speed Rail Legislation Advances in House.”) It’s no surprise that Senator Moynihan was an early proponent of the idea.

“It’s a little late in the game, but we need it,” the chairman of the political science department at Touro College, David Luchins, a longtime adviser to Senator Moynihan, said yesterday in an interview. “It’s important because of the cost of oil, its important because of the environment, and it would be great for the economy — I see no downside. It is the most economically sound way to move people from New York to Washington.”

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Observer: Developers Want Port Authority to Buy MSG Block

msg overhead aerial

Eliot Brown has the news on the latest proposal from the Venture to lure MSG back to the negotiating table:

According to multiple people familiar with discussions, the joint venture of the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust wants the Port Authority to come in and buy the current Madison Square Garden, along with its hotly desired air rights, a task that would cost somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. The developers have told officials that this purchase by the public sector, which would be effectively paid back by the developers should the entire project come together, is necessary to right the troubled large-scale plan. By the public sector taking a risk that the developers apparently find too risky and/or expensive—in the failed plan, billions in funding and numerous agreements for the entire project were needed before the Garden could get a new arena—the developers seem to be reasoning that the Garden would be given enough certainty to be lured back to the table.

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Grand Central Terminal & The Urban Railroad Station

Please join us tomorrow for the final event in our spring program series, “Can New York Build Another Great Train Station?” The Heart of the City: Grand Central Terminal & The Urban Railroad Station Wednesday, May 28, 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., at the Municipal Art Society Great railroad stations are often not just gateways to cities, but are the beating hearts of cities. Midtown Manhattan is unimaginable without Grand Central Terminal, which defines Midtown’s circulation patterns, gathers and dispenses people, moves the masses with a functional elan that is inseparable from the aesthetics of its architects’ visions. It is the great object lesson in how cities are made livable when neither form follows function nor function follows form, but when they are one and the same. Join Francis Morrone, architectural historian, for a look at Grand Central in comparison to the old Pennsylvania Station as well as some other American stations, and with an eye to what the projected Moynihan Station could mean for the future of New York. $15, $12 MAS members. Reservations and prepayment required. Purchase tickets online or call 212 935 2075.

AYR Recaps Brodsky’s Hearing on Moynihan, other West Side Projects

Atlantic Yards Report has a thorough recap of Assemblyman Richard Brodsky’s hearing on West Side development held last Friday. Brodsky, who chairs the Assembly Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee, used the opportunity to question Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber, ESDC’s acting president Avi Schick, MTA Chair Lee Sander and others about the public investment and current status of Hudson Yards, the 7 line extension, and, of course, Moynihan Station. We’ve excerpted some Moynihan-related items below, but the entire recap is worth reading – especially an exchange about using eminent domain for MSG. The Observer has a brief article on Sander’s comments about bringing light rail to the West Side and WNYC focused on comments about expanding Amtrak service at Penn Station to obtain further federal funding for the Moynihan project (see our related post on a federal proposal for NY/DC high speed rail).
Looking at Moynihan When it came to the Moynihan Station project, which could involve a new rail station in the Farley Post Office, the relocation of Madison Square Garden, and new office towers and retail over the current Penn Station/MSG site, Brodsky had the same basic questions. “How do I know how the public investment should be made versus private–what’s the rule?” he asked. You make what’s “necessary to maintain the infrastructure, to maintain the stature of the city” replied Avi Schick, acting president of the ESDC. “This is not a subsidy for economic development. It is maintaining and enhancing transportation.” Brodsky asked the “value of 5.4 million in FAR.” (He was referring to Floor Area Ratio but meant, simply, development rights.) It’s not a simple answer, Schick said, saying that the working number is $125/square foot–the figure Levin later disputed. Brodsky again asked about the appropriate relationship between public and private investment. “We take into account the nature of the project,” Schick replied gnomically. Brodsky acknowledged he was facing a formidable rhetorical foe. “I’m going to get you, Mr. Schick, but it’s going to take a bit longer,” he said playfully. (At the close of the hearing, he offered public thanks to Schick for service to the state, suggesting that this might have been Schick’s last public hearing. Schick is leaving in September, so that suggests that, at the least, Brodsky’s not planning to hold an Atlantic Yards hearing by September.) Who’s paying? Brodsky brought up the apparent effort by Madison Square Garden to get government to advance the cost of building an arena. “To my understanding, it’s not for the Garden, it’s for the [Moynihan Station] project,” Schick said. Has the Garden asked for such support, Brodsky asked. No, replied Schick. Brodsky amended his question: Has the joint venture–involving Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust–asked for such funding. Yes, replied Schick. Lieber added the entire financing plan was under discussion. Summing up In closing the hearing, Brodsky said the general question of whether we’re subsidizing projects at an appropriate level still remains. Still, he said he appreciated the government officials’ willingness to answer questions at a public forum, calling it an important part of the governmental process. “I hope we can move forward on these [West Side] projects,” he said. “I fear we’re in more trouble than we’re letting on.” (He noted that it was news to him that the hearing brought out the city’s commitment to spend up to $3.5 billion on the #7 line, given that he’d previously criticized the city for committing to only $2.1 billion.) He said he was recessing rather than closing the hearing, given that he hoped Port Authority representatives would testify as well. Does the legislature have any power, he was asked after the hearing. While it may not have direct oversight of such project, he said, in the long run the legislature has the power to pass laws restricting certain actions. Again he criticized governance mechanisms to manage projects that bypass democracy. “What we’ve structured is a set of governance mechanisms that eliminate democratic institutions,” he said. “And the net result is that anonymous people…. this is a set of Soviet-style bureaucracies that are acting without any public accountability, even when they’re right. They would much rather discuss whether they’re right or wrong…. The reason we’re in this problem with these projects is that the governance is secretive and out of touch, and we don’t have enough money.” Doesn’t Brodsky favor a new authority, however, to oversee the Hudson Yards project? “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” riposted Brodsky, never at a loss for words. “The answer is, right now, I’m wrestling with a series of emergencies and the fact of the matter is that the Hudson Yards deal does not represent a thought-out economic development strategy or priority for what the city and the region need. In defense of that, we’re scrambling for ways of gaining some control. It’s not necessarily intellectually consistent.” “Having said that,” he continued, “what today’s hearing was about was bringing out into public view the realities of decisions, like on Moynihan, like, for example, the Garden is now seeking public monies.” (He said he’d seen documents that have not been made public.) “The Dolans have every right to seek public support,” he said. “The public ought to deal with it intelligently. That’s what this is about. This is about returning these things to the control of public agencies.” Agencies, perhaps, but not–as per his comments–public authorities.
Read “At West Side Hearing, Brodsky Questions Subsidies, Muses About Eminent Domain for MSG,” from Atlantic Yards Report.

DC/NY High Speed Rail Legislation Advances in House

amtrakAccording to the Wall Street Journal, the bill that would have the U.S. Department of Transportation solicit proposals for a high speed rail service between NY and D.C. was approved on Thursday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Chris Conkey reports that “the bill’s prospects appear to be strong since it enjoys the support of the committee’s Democratic and Republican leaders.” (For more info on the bill read yesterday’s post: ”New DC/NY High Speed Rail Link?” and this reader’s comment). From the Journal:
“One way to address road and air congestion is by expanding our passenger rail system,” said Rep. Bill Shuster, (R., Pa.), the ranking Republican on the House railroads subcommittee. Rep. James Oberstar (D., Minn.), chairman of the transportation committee, called the vote a historic milestone. “We ought to at least do in America what has been done in France to promote passenger rail service,” he said. The slow-moving U.S. rail network pales in comparison to the popular high-speed routes in Europe and East Asia. But hints of change are emerging. California is poised to vote on a ballot measure this fall that would steer over $9 billion toward the development of a high-speed route stretching from Sacramento to San Diego. Several Midwestern states have teamed up in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which aims to speed up service times between Chicago and cities such as Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis. The federal bill that advanced in the House Thursday would provide nearly $1.8 billion in grants to develop rail corridors between cities where trains can travel up to 110 miles per hour. Another provision of the bill, championed by Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), would have the Transportation Department solicit proposals for high-speed service along the heavily traveled and densely populated New York to Washington, D.C., route. Mr. Mica’s goal is to offer consumers a rail option that would connect the cities in two hours. It takes 2 hours and 45 minutes for Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela Express, to cover that distance.
Read “Railway Legislation Advances in House,” by Christopher Conkey for The Wall Street Journal