New York City’s Penn Station is its only Amtrak train station, as well as the hub for Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit commuter trains. Although it’s the nation’s most-used station, it is entirely underground after the magnificent original station was demolished in favor of the construction of Madison Square Garden, a basketball arena, in the 1960s. As art historian Vincent Scully put it, in the first building, “One entered the city like a god. Now one scuttles in like a rat.” For years, proponents of a new Penn Station have been pushing for the demolition of the sports facility or the reuse of the existing James A. Farley post office facility across the street for a new train terminal, but in the face of the huge real estate downturn, those plan seemed no longer in the realm of the possible. Now Senator Chuck Schumer is working to reactivate them.
That latter proposal, called Moynihan Station after Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a proponent of a new station, would renovate the facility into a grand new gateway to the underground tracks, with an above-ground courtyard, offices and shops. A proposal two years ago by a group of developers would have redeveloped the post office and torn down Madison Square Garden and built a new station as well as two huge new office buildings at a cost of $14 billion (analyzed by Regional Plan Association). The ambition of those developers will not be fulfilled until the next real estate bubble at the earliest.
But The New York Times reports that New York senior Senator Chuck Schumer is encouraging the state and city to ask for $100 million in federal stimulus funds to pay for the Farley building’s renovation. He also wants the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to contribute $1 billion to the project, which it has been asking to take over for years. Mr. Schumer does not envision using the state’s transit formula funds for the operation but rather thinks Amtrak should contribute some of its $1.3 billion – or that the state should apply for some of the bill’s $8 billion dedicated to “high-speed rail.”
Renovating the post office makes a lot of sense – it’s right on Eighth Avenue, just above the A, C, and E subway lines, as well as on top of some of Penn Station’s existing platforms. Providing new public space would be a great relief for the station’s users and make the experience there as nice as that at the wonderful Grand Central Terminal. But while I’m happy to hear Mr. Schumer enthusing about the potential redevelopment of the station, unless the Port Authority gets on board, $100 million isn’t going to be nearly enough to make this project possible. Mr. Schumer’s aptitude for grand gestures without much backing won’t get the project built; only the enthusiasm and financial commitment of New York’s government will.
Image above: James A. Farley Post Office, proposed for the new Moynihan Station