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May 27, 2006
Developers Try to Sway City on Complex at Garden Site
New York Times

Sam Falk/The New York Times

Part of the demolition at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan in the 1960's.

Two developers with a long-rumored plan to move Madison Square Garden to make room for a grander Pennsylvania Station opened a full-scale lobbying effort this week with a trip to City Hall and meetings with some civic leaders.

The proposal — a commercial complex that would rival Rockefeller Center in scope — is sprawling, expensive and fraught with political consequences. But after years of discussions between the developers and the owners of Madison Square Garden, the specifics are finally emerging.

On Tuesday, the developers — Steven Roth of Vornado Realty and his partners at the Related Companies — sought to convince Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg that moving the Garden one block west to Ninth Avenue would open up a historic opportunity to transform a dowdy and claustrophobic transit hub, overhaul an important corner of the city and generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

A new, flashier Garden would be the fifth incarnation of the storied sports palace, built inside the western end of the James A. Farley Post Office. The post office, bounded by Eighth and Ninth Avenues, between 31st and 33rd Streets, is itself being transformed into Moynihan Station, a transit hub extension of Pennsylvania Station with echoes of the original that was torn down in 1963.

On the site of the old Garden, a new entrance to Penn Station would be built at Eighth Avenue, near 31st Street, according to a conceptual plan shown to the mayor and described by an official who attended the meeting. From there, a soaring glass canopy would stretch diagonally to 33rd Street, near Seventh Avenue, bringing sunlight below to a grand intermodal hall, which would lead to the train and subway platforms of what is one of the country's busiest transit hubs.

Up above, and on either side of the canopy, the developers would build three soaring towers in a complex akin to the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. The towers would contain a mix of luxury stores, apartments, office space and a hotel.

"It is an intriguing and bold vision for what is first and foremost an important transportation project for New York City," Deputy Mayor Daniel L. Doctoroff said yesterday. "We look forward to exploring the details of the proposal."

The proposal faces a number of daunting hurdles, not the least of which is figuring out how to pay for a makeover of Penn Station that will almost certainly cost hundreds of millions of dollars. State officials are also reluctant to delay other long-awaited transportation projects to enter protracted negotiations with the Garden. But the decision to bring it to City Hall was a step forward.

The developers' lobbying effort was also a mission of delicate diplomacy. According to city officials and real estate executives, Mayor Bloomberg has not forgotten that the owners of the Garden insulted him in a very public way, sabotaging one of his most important initiatives: the effort to build a $2.2 billion football stadium on the Far West Side.

Still, City Hall considers the idea worthy of consideration, as a transportation project, rather than a favor to the Dolan family, which controls the Garden. Indeed, officials, who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters, said the mayor has indicated he would not block the project.

But officials on both sides added that Mr. Bloomberg intended to use the move to strip the Garden of a property tax exemption worth more than $10 million a year.

Mr. Roth declined comment other than to confirm that the meeting with Mayor Bloomberg took place. His partner, Stephen M. Ross of Related, also declined, as did Barry Watkins, a spokesman for the Garden.

Given the mayor's sensitivity, the Dolan family, the majority shareholders in Cablevision, which owns the Garden, has left it to the developers to strike a deal with City Hall, said one Garden executive who was also granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the company.

Yesterday, executives from Related provided representatives of the Regional Plan Association, the Municipal Art Society, Friends of Moynihan Station and the New York Landmarks Conservancy with a more condensed version of the proposal.

The proposal threatens to split the ranks of civic groups and preservationists, who have long lamented the 1963 demolition of the original Penn Station, widely considered to be a Beaux-Arts gem.

Although they all welcome the opportunity to overhaul the dim, confusing, obstacle-laden corridors of Penn Station, some fear that the Garden's new home will overwhelm another state-sponsored project dear to its heart: transforming the post office into the $930 million Moynihan Station.

"There's a heightened sensitivity because of what happened in 1963," said Robert D. Yaro, president of Regional Plan. "It's an historic opportunity that comes along every half-century or so. We're interested in making it work."

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the United States senator and diplomat, championed the project until his death in 2003 as a way of creating a grand public entrance to New York City and atoning for the 1963 demolition. The post office was designed by McKim, Meade and Wright, the same architecture firm that worked on the original Penn Station.

Last year, the state selected Mr. Roth, whose company owns many of the buildings surrounding the Garden, and Mr. Ross, the most active developer in the city, to do the Moynihan project, which includes retail and office space. State officials and the developers are working on a final agreement so that construction can begin before the end of the year.

"The primary purpose for the redevelopment of Farley is to build Moynihan Station, a much-needed expansion for passenger comfort and efficiency," said Charles A. Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation.

But under the Garden proposal, the arena would take up about 60 percent of the landmark post office building and rise well above it. The owners of the arena also want a major presence on Eighth Avenue, at the top of the grand staircase leading to 20 Corinthian columns, each 53 feet tall, at the entrance. Although a planned grand concourse would remain, the intermodal hall would be moved across Eighth Avenue.

The developers noted that 80 percent of the transit activity would still take place in the current Penn Station, which needs to be refurbished. But critics contend that the Garden is threatening to swallow the train station for a second time.

"What started out as a great public project has turned into a real estate deal," Frederic S. Papert, a member of the Municipal Art Society, said yesterday.
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