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NYT: Moynihan Station Close to Failure

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On Saturday, Charles Bagli of the New York Times reported that Moynihan Station “is in danger of collapse because of the softening economy, shortfalls in government financing, political inertia and daunting logistical problems, government officials and real estate executives involved in the project said this week.”

“The project’s linchpin, moving Madison Square Garden one block west to the Farley Post Office, may fall out of place. Frustrated by the delays and rising costs, Madison Square Garden has revived plans to renovate the 30-year-old arena instead of relocating. Garden officials have told real estate executives and civic leaders that they plan to announce the renovation plans in early March.”

“During discussions in December, Garden executives, developers and government officials agreed that if they did not make progress over the next two months, they would part ways, according to two people who have been briefed on the talks. Garden officials did not attend a scheduled planning meeting on Thursday.”

“The plan to build a grand train station and erect the skyscrapers was always dependent on the demolition of the current Garden, the brown doughnut-like structure that sits over the crowded corridors of Penn Station, where the station would be built. More than 550,000 passengers pass through the station every day.”

“Some government officials involved in reviewing the project contend that the Garden’s threat to renovate could be a bargaining posture intended to gain concessions on the design of the new arena in the Farley Post Office. Those officials say that the state and the city have leverage over the Garden, which would need a variety of state and city approvals to renovate the arena.”

“In any event, the governor said Friday that he was highly confident that his deal was going ahead.”

“There are also a raft of design issues, ranging from what the new Penn Station would look like to how a new arena for the Garden would fit into the Farley Post Office. The developers have proposed inserting 1.2 million square feet of shops and department stores into the station, which critics say would turn the building into a shopping mall rather than a monumental train station like Grand Central Terminal.”

Eliot Brown has a similar story on the Observer’s Real Estate blog:

“Though, in recent weeks, advocates, community members and others involved with the process have expressed increasing concern that the Garden could throw a wrench in the whole process, said to be frustrated by the slow-moving bureaucracy and the intransigence of preservationists who are concerned about major alterations to the historic Farley building.”

“In a meeting yesterday with community groups, advocacy groups, the state and project developers, representatives from Madison Square Garden were curiously absent from the gathering, part of a federal process known as Section 106 that deals with alterations to historic buildings. When the developers’ project manager, Vishaan Chakrabarti, was asked about the Garden’s absence, he said the Dolans had decided not to be part of the Section 106 process, according to a person at the meeting and two people familiar with his remarks. Mr. Chakrabarti also said at the meeting that he was hoping they would join the process in future meetings.”

“‘It feels like it’s kind of on a knife’s edge right now—there’s very little margin of error,’ said Tom Wright, the executive director at the Regional Plan Association. ‘The state needs to be creating a process that brings people to the table and figures out how to hammer out a compromise.’ If the Garden did pull out of the project, it would invite a return to late 2006, when the Pataki administration wanted to push through an expansion of the train station into the Farley building, leaving the existing Penn Station as is. Such a move would be a major disappointment to city, state and elected officials and to the developers, the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust, who have devoted countless hours and tens of millions of dollars into the plan thus far—a plan that would create, both directly and indirectly, billions of dollars of surrounding new development.”