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Moynihan Station: Second Chances

Pat Moynihan believed that America is the land of second chances. He saw the idea to build a new Penn Station in the landmark Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue from the current “stygian chamber” (hell hole) of a station as New York’s golden opportunity to redeem itself for tearing down the original Pennsylvania Station. He persuaded Congress to allocate the funding so that New York would regain a grand gateway with room to grow.

More than eight years have past since President Clinton, Governor Pataki and the Senator stood on the Post Office’s monumental steps to announce that work would start soon. The latest delay is that the developers now see an even bigger idea.

They would build a new Madison Square Garden in the west end of the Post Office, demolish the current Garden and construct a huge commercial office complex with an upgraded Penn Station underneath. Pat Moynihan would have appreciated the irony that it was the current Garden eyesore that replaced the stunning original station, but he would also have been intrigued with the opportunity.

This complex real estate play envisioned by the developers — Vornado and Related — is a great New York-scale idea in the tradition of the Vanderbilt’s Grand Central City or the Rockefeller’s Rockefeller Center. But dangers are apparent.

Who will guarantee us a grand new train station? What will prevent the Garden from papering over McKim Mead & White’s Corinthian columns with jumbo advertising signs? Will New York’s favorite Post Office become ticket windows for Madonna? Can a train hall be a lobby for the Knicks? These and other questions should not prevent a clear-eyed discussion of the developer’s ideas. But who will be in charge?

Generations ago, the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers were risking their own money. At the station, there’s a lot of our tax dollars at stake. We have to see this is a contract with the future that cannot be compromised by a commercial real estate deal.

A version of this article first appeared in the Daily News.