Last week, the City Planning Commission voted to renew Madison Square Garden's permit for 15 years, with the option to extend the permit in perpetuity if the Garden agrees to make improvements to Penn Station. On its surface, this plan may seem like a step in the right direction for the arena's relocation, but New York Times' archicritic Michael Kimmelman, a vocal opponent to keeping MSG where it is, points out the plan's "fatal flaw," a loophole that allows the commission's director to extend the permit without any further public review.
The loophole comes in the part of the plan that says MSG must play nice with the railroads it sits atop if it wants to extend its permit forever. The garden's owners and railroad officials are allowed to come up with a plan to improve the outdated train station by themselves, and the commission director can approve it without any public input. "The commission's report requires some safety improvements, but sets no performance standards, no milestones to be met," writes Kimmelman. "This is an open invitation to a back-room deal and to wholesale compromise of the sort that has made what should be a showcase gateway for the city into a blight and a safety hazard. What the city deserves is a new, safer, up-to-the-minute station and the next Madison Square Garden."
City Council has two months to vote on the commission's 15-year recommendation, and Kimmelman, like many others, thinks the permit should only be renewed for 10 years, and, obviously that this loophole must be closed. "City Council should seize this opportunity, setting real benchmarks for the arena and the railroads during the next decade," writes Kimmelman. "[...] Penn Station and the woefully inadequate century-old rail tunnels below the Hudson River are perennial illustrations of our failing [infrastructure] system. Such a crucial hub could instead become a model of commitment to the future."
· A Critical Moment for Penn Station [NYT]
· Madison Square Garden coverage [Curbed]
Photo by Eric Kono/Curbed Flickr pool