November 2017
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Progress on the West Side?

potential 32nd street corridor javits center

Monumental changes are coming to Midtown and points west. Two long-standing projects, both named for legendary New York senators, seem to be moving forward. Currently, plans are coming together that might fulfill Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dream of a grand train station on the West Side, but new plans to expand the convention center named for Senator Jacob K. Javits would do more harm than good. Both projects should move ahead, but only with deliberate attention to the potential results.

A Grand Station – When it comes to Moynihan Station, one could say that the Municipal Art Society was present at the creation. Back in the 1980s, Senator Moynihan was promoting the idea of building a new rail station in the McKim, Mead & White masterwork (pictured at right) on Eighth Avenue at 33rd Street. We supported his dream then. In the late 1990s, he asked us to help encourage the notion that New York should once again have a grand train station and inter-modal transportation portal worthy of a great city – something we lost when Pennsylvania Station was razed.

We produced a master plan at his request and helped jump-start the project. Our work led to a statement from President Clinton on March 4, 1998, which announced that an accord had been reached and “plans to restore the James Farley Post Office Building are now underway.” More than seven years later, we eagerly await the specific plans for the project and hope sincerely that they remain true to Senator Moynihan’s essential vision.

Better River Access – The existing Javits Convention Center is a marooned monolith that seals off five blocks of Midtown from the Hudson. Any expansion should avoid extending this wall. More than a year ago, the MAS showed how to expand the center westward over West Street. Our friends at the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association recently demonstrated that a southern expansion to the West Side rail yards is viable.

Both alternative plans provide for comparable amounts of exhibit and convention space, and both could be built in single phases while the center remains open for business. New plans call for a northern extension that would further block Hudson River Park and the new ferry terminal at 39th Street. This is exactly the wrong approach, and it should be changed.

Ties that Bind – As important as these two projects are, neither would be complete unless each is connected to the other and to the surrounding cityscape. To do this, 32nd Street should be reintroduced at a new Ninth Avenue entrance to Moynihan Station and continued on to the Hudson River. The restored street could become New York’s answer to Barcelona’s Las Ramblas – an airy route populated by shops, open space, eateries and a vibrant street scene.

If the Javits Center is not expanded northward, 39th Street can remain a direct and lively connection to the park and ferry terminal. And finally, the construction of a light rail line along 42nd Street connecting the UN, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square and the Theater District to the Javits Center would significantly improve cross-town linkages.

The MAS continues to support the general goal of expanding Midtown westward toward the Hudson. Only well-planned east-west connections will promote successful growth in the area and ultimately define the character of this neighborhood for decades to come. The result will be more sunlight on the streets and sidewalks, better pedestrian and transit connections to rest of the city, and better waterfront access for all New Yorkers.