What happens to the renovation plan for Cuomo’s Penn Station under Kathy Hochul? – Commercial Observer


Former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to redevelop the Pennsylvania Station and surrounding neighborhood was his most ambitious infrastructure project – and one he was least likely to complete. Now, there are questions about the aspect of the sprawling effort – which includes rebuilding the aging station and constructing several new buildings to help fund these upgrades – with Cuomo out of office.

Governor Kathy Hochul, speaking at a breakfast at the New York Building Congress on October 14, affirmed her commitment to renovating Penn Station, calling it “a scary place.” However, neither she nor her economic development officials have revealed details of how they would change the Cuomo Plan or move it forward.

The current version of Penn Station, which was built in the 1960s after the iconic McKim, Mead & White designed station was demolished, has low ceilings and no natural light. It is hampered by Madison Square Garden, which sits above, and it was not designed to serve the 600,000 daily passengers who passed through it before the pandemic struck.

The Cuomo-era development plan – dubbed Empire Station Complex – mainly offers a general overview of what could be built or changed around Penn Plaza. While the zoning has yet to be finalized, it would likely cover several blocks from Ninth Avenue to Avenue of the Americas and from West 34th to 30th Street.

Vornado Realty Trust, which declined to comment for this story, owns several properties adjacent to and above Penn Station, including One and Two Penn Plaza, the Pennsylvania Hotel, and the Manhattan Mall. Working with the Empire State Development Corporation, Vornado helped convert the Farley Post Office building across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station to Moynihan Train Hall. And, in January, the Real Estate Investment Trust – working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – opened a new glass entrance at Penn Station at the corner of West 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue that includes orientation signage for the various train lines. and a curved, online wall map of New York City.

The General Project Plan (GPP), which is a rezoning proposal driven by Empire State Development rather than city agencies, allows up to 10 new buildings to be constructed around Penn Station. The plan predates the pandemic, which casts doubt that many buildings – mostly offices – would fill up fully with tenants, given the shift to hybrid and remote working. More importantly, the state and city have yet to agree on how the owners of the building sites will contribute to the renovation and expansion of Penn Station, which would likely run into tens of billions. .

This could involve landowners making Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS), a controversial mechanism that was also used to finance the construction of the Line 7 extension at Hudson Yards – and left the city to take over. the unfunded costs of the project. Developers would also be able to pay for metro and street improvements – such as cycle lanes, sidewalk widenings and new public squares – in exchange for the right to construct taller buildings, according to GPP documents.

Rachel Fauss, research analyst at the Reinvent Albany watchdog group, lamented the lack of transparency around the proposed PILOT structure and how Penn Station upgrades would be funded.

“The GPP mentioned that the funding structure could include payments in lieu of taxes, but we don’t know the full scope of what they could or would do,” she explained. “One of the limits of an EIS [environmental impact statement]-type of process for these megaprojects is that there is no real obligation to explain the funding. They exempt him from [the city’s] ULURP development process, but at the same time they herald a structure where municipal tax money could be diverted [by the state] to finance the project.

Comparing the Penn Station renovation to Hudson Yards, she asked, “What if development doesn’t go the way the state says it is?” Whether the state or the city pays, it will likely be the city’s taxpayers who will be responsible. I think the public deserves a full public account of how this might work and who is paying for it. “

The MTA unveiled two Penn Station refurbishment proposals in April, but didn’t put a price tag on any of them. Various questions about the station’s renovation remain unanswered, including whether the three railways competing with Penn Station would wish to extend their tracks south. Such an expansion would require the state to acquire several properties along West 31st Street, either through typical real estate transactions or through the long and expensive process of eminent domain. The state could also purchase – at a significant cost – the 5,600-seat Hulu theater at Madison Square Garden, which would allow the MTA to build a new entrance to Penn Station along Eighth Avenue.

“If the premise of all of this is that the development and the pilots would fund the cost of the Penn Station upgrades, we need to know how much the Penn Station upgrades will cost,” Fauss said. “This is the cart before the horse.

Meanwhile, Vornado is preparing to begin construction on one of the largest of these 10 buildings, a 2.6 million square foot office and retail tower on the site of the Pennsylvania Hotel in 401 Seventh Avenue. The 102-year-old hotel was closed in April 2020, and Vornado expects it to take about two years to demolish its 1,700 rooms and begin construction on the new office building. The Foster + Partners designed tower, known as Penn 15, is said to rise 1,270 feet and 57 stories into the air.

The commercial owner is renovating the Long Island Rail Road concourse inside Penn Station, which involves moving the basement retail businesses of Two Penn Plaza 60 feet deeper into the basement in order to widen the hall and raise its ceiling. It is also renovating its public plazas around Penn Station, widening the Seventh Avenue sidewalk, and rebuilding the main entrance in the middle of the Penn Station block along Seventh Avenue to make it wider and more attractive. The New Jersey Transit entrance at the corner of West 31st and Seventh Avenue will remain as it is for now.

Brian Fritsch, head of advocacy campaigns at the Regional Plan Association, noted that funding for the renovation and expansion of Penn Station is in fact governed by law. When New York and New Jersey formed the Gateway Program Development Corporation, which is also responsible for funding and building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, they agreed that 25% of the funding would come from New York, 25% from New York. Jersey and 50 percent of the federal government. He said the same funding structure applied to Penn Station itself.

Although he stressed that Hochul and his administration “have not expressed their position on this project,” he was optimistic that she “will prioritize doing something important for long-term health. of this district, of the city and of the entire region.

“I think there is a ton of value in making a Penn Station healthier, safer, and ultimately productive,” Fritsch said. “It’s the heart of our regional transportation system and it hasn’t worked well for years. Increasing the capacity and improving the older part of the station should be a priority for any administrator. There are a lot of things that should be considered both underground and above ground. “

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