“The one thing that unites all New Yorkers is our collective disdain for the derelict old Penn Station. That’s why it makes no sense why some would come out against a plan to actually make it and the surrounding district better.”
Gov. Hochul’s Office
Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiling the state’s plan to redevelop Penn Station and the surrounding blocks, at a press conference in November 2021. CityViews are readers’ opinions, not those of theillinois.news. Add your voice today!
The one thing that unites all New Yorkers is our collective disdain for the derelict old Penn Station. That’s why it makes no sense why some would come out against a plan to actually make it and the surrounding district better.
Those attacking Gov. Kathy Hochul’s General Project Plan for Penn Station are ignoring evidence right in front of their eyes of the brilliant effect that renovation of older structures, and the construction of new office buildings, can have on the daily experience of train riders, as well as the street life of a neighborhood.
Moynihan Train Hall, which is the work of Amtrak, MTA and Vornado Realty Trust, is the result of a General Project Plan with the State’s Economic Development Corp and is now clearly the best station on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, with the abrupt recent decline of Union Station in Washington. Passengers are flocking to it, and the streets surrounding it are much more orderly than they were until its opening in 2020.
The same kind of train professionals and architects who worked with the railroads and Vornado have exciting rebuild plans for the “old” Penn Station, east of Eighth Avenue—plans that are being held up by an influx of NIMBYs, many from outside the neighborhood, who never previously showed much interest in our street conditions.
At the same time, we have a model of how well-designed office projects on formerly empty sites can have the same positive effect: Brookfield’s Manhattan West. The project is not even finished, and yet Ninth and Tenth avenues are immensely more pleasant to walk through. When Vornado’s comprehensive renovation of Penn 1 and Penn 2 is completed in a year or two, the effect on both 34th Street and Seventh Avenue will be the same.
What are the arguments against the General Project Plan by its opponents? First, they insist that Madison Square Garden be moved. The time to consider this was before MSG spent $1 billion on a spectacular renovation. And moving the Garden won’t improve train or passenger capacity at Penn Station.
Next, they say anything short of rebuilding the original Penn Station can never approximate the glory of historic, traditionally-styled European train hubs. The fact is that there are several modern stations in Europe that are a pleasure to travel though.
And a secret I’ve never disclosed: the great urbanist William H. Whyte Jr., who certainly had superb preservation credentials, confided to me in the mid-1980s that the great McKim, Mead & White architecture of the original was not all that great a pedestrian experience. That won’t be an issue with the new Penn Station, which will incorporate dozens of new entrances, elevators, escalators and critical accessibility improvements.
Last, the opponents of the GPP have suddenly become seers of future real estate markets. They extrapolate a two-year blip in leasing due to COVID into the 15-20 year period that GPP will cover. All those who make their living buying and leasing office space know that such trends can’t be foreseen that far out.
The GPP wisely plans for the future—not tomorrow, not next week, but decades from now.
The public debate on this plan, in the form of 18 marathon “working group” sessions, many public hearings, and the spilling of much ink on Op Ed pages, has gone on long enough, far longer than a conventional ULURP review would have lasted.
It’s time for legislators to recognize the good work and good intentions of those of us who have been investing and working in the neighborhood for decades by approving the General Project Plan for Penn Station’s revitalization.
Dan Biederman is the president of the 34th Street Partnership.
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