In the future, Penn Station—cramped, claustrophobic, and generally an unpleasant place to commute through—could be at the center of a new transit-oriented district encompassing the current complex, the in-the-works Moynihan Train Hall, and a new terminal just south of the station.
Or at least, that’s the plan for the area as outlined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a speech at the Association for a Better New York. In the lead-up to his annual State of the State address, Cuomo unveiled a proposal to turn the area surrounding Penn Station into “one interconnected Empire Station Complex,” which would link the new and existing transit halls. The idea, according to Cuomo, is to create a hub that would help decrease congestion, encourage mass transit use, and boost economic development in the area.
“This will improve how more than half a million New Yorkers commute, travel and work every day, while transforming Penn into the world-class facility the Empire State deserves,” Cuomo said during the speech.
The plan as outlined by Cuomo has several moving parts: In order to improve track capacity at Penn—which currently has 21 tracks, used by Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit—the state (under the aegis of the Empire State Development Corporation) will work to acquire properties on the block south of the station (between 30th and 31st streets, and Seventh and Eighth avenues) and add eight new tracks there. According to Cuomo, this would increase the current station’s capacity by 40 percent, and create space to build a new, 125,000-square-foot terminal. That would then make it possible to revamp parts of the existing station, making the transit hub—if renderings are anything to go by—more similar to the West End Concourse, which opened in 2017.
But that’s not all: The state will also look into acquiring and repurposing the Madison Square Garden theater into a new Penn entrance. FXCollaborative has already signed on to help envision a plan for the area. Cuomo didn’t provide details on either a timeline or funding for the expansive plan, but did suggest that Amtrak would contribute, and that the state would use payment in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) to capture revenue from new developments.
If the plan sounds familiar, that’s because it is: Cuomo has used the name Empire Station Complex previously to describe the area around Penn Station, and some of the proposals outlined have been in the works for years. Meanwhile, the Regional Plan Association, a civic think tank, recommended this exact course of action in its Fourth Plan for the tri-state region, although its proposal also called for moving Madison Square Garden entirely to a new location.
“We are pleased to see a comprehensive plan that encompasses not only the Station itself, but also the district surrounding it,” Tom Wright, the RPA’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Adding transit capacity and prioritizing safety is critical to the success of the region and for the hundreds of thousands of people that rely on the Station regularly.”
The MTA, which would be one of the project’s stakeholders, cheered Cuomo’s proposal, with chief development officer Janno Lieber calling it “exactly the type of forward-thinking leadership and investment we need.”
But others responded to the plan with more skepticism. “The governor’s Penn Station project shows his commitment to upgrading our infrastructure,” Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance said in a statement. “Meanwhile, like we saw today, the subway still demands the governor’s attention and focus. He must expedite MTA plans to make the subway reliable and accessible for the millions who depend on it every day.”