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Spike Lee, Silent Athletes Defend MSG Against Its Enemies

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In a four-hour-long hearing today to determine the fate of Madison Square Garden?its 50-year special permit to operate runs out this year?the City Council's Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises basically got nowhere. A dwindling number of members were, however, privy to 30-plus testimonials why, on the one hand, MSG should be given the right to stay in its spot in perpetuity because of its status as the World's Most Famous Arena and the $1 billion it just poured into renovations, and why, on the other hand, it's a Hideously Ugly Blight that limits the basic functionality of the city's busiest transit hub. The latter's stance, spearheaded by the Municipal Arts Society? That it would be best to move the stadium somewhere?anywhere?else nearby to make way for a design-centric, starchitect-designed, brand-spankin'-new Penn Station (like, oh, say, one of these).

But the Garden brought in some star power to fight back. Director Spike Lee testified, while ex-Knicks Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Walt "Clyde" Frazier, and John Starks folded their very tall bodies into seats behind the podium, their mere altitude constituting their support.

After explaining that his father used to take him to basketball games, where they'd sit in the blue (read: cheap) seats, Lee stated his unequivocal defense of the arena. "I don't understand?they own the land and they have to move. To where?" he asked. "It's called the world's most famous arena... The Garden is just as important as MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center." He stressed that he was not being compensated to testify, that he pays for his own Knicks season tickets, and that he was "here to speak as New Yorker." Added Lee, "For me, the Garden is being blamed for what's happening underneath."

My, how these native New Yorkers disagree. After the hearing, Speaker Christine Quinn officially joined the MAS, borough president Scott Stringer, the local community board, and others who want to limit Madison Square Garden's new permit to 10 years, allowing some time to figure out a relocation plan and a proposal for that new Penn Station architects are so excited about. They've got Barry Diller and Bette Midler on their side, so the limited permit advocates do have a couple of celebs on their side, too.

Meanwhile, council members appeared baffled about where the funding for such a project would come from, and seemed adamant to stay focused on the permit decision at hand, without the possibility of spaceship-shaped transit hubs getting in the way. The City Planning Commission wants to limit the permit to 15 years, with some conditions that would require MSG to work with New Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad, and Amtrak to improve the existing station. The Garden, which has said it cannot "be forced to move", wants a permit with no expiration date.

Given that, by the end of the meeting, only the committee chair, council member Mark Weprin, was left seated and listening to public testimony, we think that everyone's pleas were falling on deaf ears. Or no ears, to be precise. The committee?and the council, for that matter, which usually follows the committee's verdict anyway?has yet to vote, so MSG's future hangs in the balance until, later this summer, it does.
· Four Plans For A New Penn Station Without MSG, Revealed! [Curbed]
· All Penn Station coverage [Curbed]
· All Madison Square Garden coverage [Curbed]