News & Reviews News Wire Hearing on Madison Square Garden sees sharp disagreement, no decision

Hearing on Madison Square Garden sees sharp disagreement, no decision

By | June 10, 2023

MSG representative says rail operator are trying to improve negotiating position on Penn Station improvements

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Rendering of Penn Station renovation with Madison Square Garden arena
Madison Square Garden is prominent at the right in this rendering of Penn Station renovations released in 2021. Officials from the Garden and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority squared off this week over the arena’s request to renew its special-use permit. Office of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

NEW YORK — A representative for Madison Square Garden argued at a Wednesday hearing that a recent report by Penn Station’s rail operators saying the arena and station are “not compatible” is a negotiating ploy by the rail agencies as the arena seeks a permit to continue operations.

The six-hour hearing before New York City’s Planning Commission was on the Garden’s request to extend a special permit that allows it to hold events with up to 20,000 people at the arena located above Penn Station. Without that permit, which expires July 24, events would be limited to 2,500 people.

The Planning Commission will vote on the permit at a later date, but the ultimate decision will rest with the New York City Council.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Amtrak, and NJ Transit combined on a report for the Planning Commission saying that, for the arena to be compatible with safe and acceptable operation the station, MSG should engage in a land swap that would allow for improvements at the station, and should contribute to those improvements [see “Rail operators’ report calls Madison Square Garden ‘not compatible’ …,” Trains News Wire, June 5, 2023].

But the Our Town newspaper reports that Garden Executive Vice President Richard Constable told the hearing that the issues at Penn Station “do not arise out of arena use. … They exist because the MTA would like to use land it does not own to construct its proposed improvemtn. The MTA is blatantly attempting to use their compatibility report, much of which is outside the scope of the special permit process, to further their negotiating position.”

Jamie Torres-Springer, president of MTA Construction & Development, countered that it is “standard and undertaken very often by this commission that in exchange for certain benefits … there are commitments that are made,” noting other projects that had made transportation improvements as part of their right to build.

Both sides agree the Garden benefits from its proximity to the station, the newspaper reports, with Torres-Springer saying the station improvements sought by the MTA, Amtrak, and NJ Transit would benefit the arena, which should there for support them with “contributions proportionate only to benefits that MSG receives … We’re not saying that MSG msut move. What we are saying is MSG must work with us to take steps to address these constraints and meet the needs of transit users.”

Constable, however, said the plan by the rail agencies is not detailed enough for MSG to comment upon, calling it “a concept piece,” according to “There’s no concrete engineering, no concrete mechanical, no concrete electrical,  no concrete structural, that we can look at and respond to.” Torres-Springer, however said it was “somewhat absurd” that the “MSG simply cannot even comment on whether the master plan would be good for Penn Station or MSG unless they have some unknown, unspecified amount of additional design.”

The amNY report notes that at least one group has sought to force the Garden to relocate from the site, which is more than the rail operators are asking. Manhattan Community Board 5 — a locally appointed volunteer board which reviews planning issues, among other duties — voted in March to ask the Planning Commission to approve renewal of the arena’s special use permit for just three years, after which it would be required to move. The head of that board’s Land Use, Housing and Zoning Committee said at the time that the arena is “a true impediment to Penn Station.”

11 thoughts on “Hearing on Madison Square Garden sees sharp disagreement, no decision

  1. So this is about the money? And another thing, where are the city planners and their lack of foresight?

  2. I commented previously but feel it is needed to be a big part of the decision. At the present location of MSG it is easy for people to get there by great electric powered trains and subway. If it is to relocate it most likely would be in a location that would have more people drive to any new arena. If the government is truly interested in carbon emissions reduction then MSG at its present location is the best location. Just to show how new arenas can work against using transit just look at the new arena next to Belmont Park. There is an existing Long Island station at Belmont Park that would easily serve the new arena. But instead the LIRR decided to build a new station farther away to serve the racetrack and arena other than on Belmont stakes day. The number of people going by train is rather small than driving. While this arena replaced an older suburban location it most likely made not much difference. But replacing an arena in the heart of the city to a less transit oriented location will most likely raise the use of cars to get there.

  3. Is this a frantic attempt to undo the mistake made 60+ years ago?

    Most indoor sports venues built over sixty years ago would have have been demolished by now.

  4. All this discussion and arguing over either another new Penn Station proposal or MSG looking to gain a new arena with funding most likely from taxpayer support. While all this is going on, the most important element that needs to be addressed is being ignored and that is the replacement and upgrade of the exisiting tunnels under the Hudson River as well as a new set of tunnels to be constructed and while we are at it the East River Tunnels need to be upgraded as well as new tunnels added especially to handle the projected increased train service and traffic with Metro North trains operating into Penn Station. A new and fancy and modern Penn Station don’t mean anything if the tunnels suddenly collapse or burst or have to be taken out of service. It is like planning and building a modern home and neglecting the foundation that it will be built on. Let’s concentrate the tunnels and tracks leading into and out of the present Penn Station before planning for a new and ritzy Penn Station that might not have any trains serving it if the tunnels were to suddenly be taken out of service or some major disaster were to occur cutting off all train service.
    Joseph C. Markfelder

  5. Did the city buy the land from the bankrupt Penn Central estate? I’m unclear how it went from PRR ownership (bought up all the parcels prior to the construction of Penn Station) to PC after the merger, then where? I thought PRR only sold the air rights when Penn Station was demolished, not the underlying land. No?

  6. MSG is 70% owned by the Dolan family. It pays no property tax.

    The building should be seized using eminent domain, Dolans get paid for a fully depreciated 60 year old buildin and razed.

    MSG is a prime example of the failure of capitalism to provide necessary public goods.

    1. GREGG, thanks for your post. My thoughts exactly. You might modify the last sentence to read ” …. the failure of corrupt to the core governance to provide….. “

  7. Yikes, how are we non – New Yorkers to sort through this dispute. It seems from the article that MSG owns the land and MTA is there by rights. (Or else that’s what MSG’s Constable contends.) The city is trying to deny MSG’s occupancy permit because MTA wants concessions — which has nothing to do with the number of event attendees that can safely occupy MSG.

    If my understanding is correct, there are two paths forward: negotiation or court. Where “negotiation” is the process through which the amount of money to change hands is determined.

    Typically sports venues from the 1960’s have been demolished. (I.E. in the Detroit area, Cobo Arena from that era is gone, the much more recent Joe Louis Arena is gone, and the even-newer Palace of Auburn Hills is gone. Milwaukee’s Bradley Center lasted only about thirty years before demolition.) So MSG probably wants a new building somewhere in New York, they just want MTA to pay a big share of the cost.

    1. As a former New Yorker, I think you are correct. My only modification would be that, as with many sports venues, the bill would go more broadly to taxpayers for the new arena, and not just to the MTA.

    2. No. The city owns the land and leases it to Madison Square Garden. The Garden’s current lease was limited to 10 years in 2013 to give MSG time to relocate. []

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