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Moving the Garden Would Pave the Way for a New Penn Station

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[Visuals by KPF/Marvel.]

Last May, after an epic battle to limit Madison Square Garden's special permit to operate to 10 years, four fantastical sets of renderings depicting what Penn Station could look like without the arena on its top were unveiled, courtesy of a big "what if" exercise spearheaded by the Municipal Art Society and the Regional Plan Association. At MAS's summit this morning, a group of architects and city planners unveiled the next phase of research (and, of course, shiny new visualizations) in a 42-page report that details their quest to drastically improve the city's grossest transit, massively overcrowded hub by 2023. Their conclusion? That, in an ideal world, the Garden would relocate to the Morgan postal facility between 28th and 31st streets and Ninth and Tenth avenues.

After introductions by architect Hugh Hardy, MAS's executive director Margaret Newman, and RPA's Thomas Wright, which focused on the unsustainability of the current transit hub (Penn sees three times more people than La Guardia and JFK combined) and boosted the concept of a one new ("a bold plan that even skeptical New Yorkers can embrace"), Jill Lerner, a partner at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, presented the Morgan plan, as laid out above in renderings and graphics.

She emphasized how an arena in that currently underused location, accompanied by a public plaza plus retail shops, cafes, and other enlivening elements, would connect Chelsea Park to its south, the High Line and Hudson Yards to the west, and to Penn Station to the northeast. Much was made about the proximity of the Morgan postal facility to the existing arena.

As part of the Penn 2023 initiative launched last fall, architects at Woods Bagot were tasked with envisioning another solution to the Penn problem. What improvements could be made if the Garden did not move, but rather stayed in place as renovations evolved around it?

Director Jeffrey Holmes discussed removing the theater that sits under MSG on the Eighth Avenue side and opening up that facade to be a big entrance hall with steps down to the concourses. The floor of the arena, which is currently elevated, would serve as the hall's ceiling. A similar move could apply to Seventh Avenue, resulting in a more prominent entry hall there, too, which would "open up the center of the site" and bring light down to the concourse level.

Woods Bagot's proposal also included a revamp of the streetwall along 33rd and 31st streets to include shops and other activities. The last part of this proposal was a landscaped rooftop around MSG's perimeter—rendered as a new, glassy enclosure—that could be publicly accessible. "This proposal certainly doesn't solve all the challenges of the site," Holmes said, "but it solves many."

Meanwhile, Grimshaw Architects examined the feasibility of turning Midtown West into a cultural district of sorts. Partner Vincent Chang explained that "the boundary between a transit environment and a neighborhood has become that much more blurred" and that train stations are"not the cauterizing elements they once were." By letting his staff roam the area on Friday afternoon to collect "thousands of data points" with what kind of businesses, shops, and institutions line the long blocks there, they were able to determine that while some parts were barren, there was a groundwork that, if bolstered by the relocation of the Garden and a new Penn, would improve the vibrancy of street life.

A common criticism with last year's pie-in-the-sky renderings was that funding and feasibility were not taken into account, and this year roster of ideas doesn't include solutions that allay those fears, either. The only mention of financing comes in the context of the many development opportunities in the area, with a vague idea that developers of commercial or residential projects could be incentivized to support the project, either with money or street-level improvement projects. (And there are a ton of developable sites there.)

For many more graphics and details, check out the full report:

MSG & the Future of West Midtown by The Municipal Art Society of New York

· Madison Square Garden: Shaping the Future of West Midtown [MAS]
· Civic planners suggest a new home for M.S.G. [Capital]
· Four Plans For A New Penn Station Without MSG, Revealed! [Curbed]
· All Penn Station / Madison Square Garden coverage [Curbed]