It appears that Madison Square Garden, which bills itself as the most famous arena in the world, has lost its bid to operate permanently on top of Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
On Monday, two New York City Council committees voted to grant Madison Square Garden Entertainment a five-year operating permit, half the length of the current 10-year operating permit that expired last month.
If the full City Council defers to the committees’ stance as expected when it votes in September, it will give the Gardens the shortest permit in its history; Its initial permit was for 50 years.
“At this time the council cannot determine the long-term viability of an arena at this location, so five years is an appropriate term for this particular permit,” said Manhattan Councilman Eric Boucher, whose district includes Madison Square Garden.
At issue is the Garden’s association with Penn Station, the nation’s most heavily used train station and an inescapable curse for millions of New York City commuters. Generations of reform attempts have failed, in no small part to the presence of a 20,000-seat arena at the top, which presses down on many of the support pillars in the station below.
For years, urbanites and civic leaders have dreamed of relocating Madison Square Garden elsewhere in Manhattan, to free up the station below for a real overhaul. The Dolan family, which controls the Gardens, have considered the idea only momentarily.
After years of disappointment, some of those same urbanites have given up on that dream. Others are still clamoring for it.
New York City has a major lever in forcing Madison Square Garden to come to the table: the city requires venues with more than 2,500 seats to obtain a special permit to operate, though land-use specifications has exempted many other sectors from those requirements.
In July, the New York City Planning Commission, most of whose members are appointed by the mayor, recommended that the Garden’s permit be renewed for a decade, provided the Garden improves the pedestrian experience outside the station and integrates with the railroads. Let’s work Critics worried that the city would have difficulty enforcing that provision.
According to the City Council, this short-term deal required Madison Square Garden to develop a plan to improve truckloading operations at the Garden, which now depended on the use of local roads, “effectively privatizing” them. The Garden will have to report on its progress to the Planning Commission within six months. The planning chair could theoretically punish Madison Square Garden for failing to develop an adequate plan by revoking its operating permit. It appears that the City Council’s plan does not require the Garden to improve the public space around Penn Station by installing planters and benches.
“The short-term special permit serves no one’s best interests and undermines the ability of Penn Station and the surrounding area to improve immediately,” Madison Square Garden said in a statement. “The committees have done a grave injustice to New Yorkers today in a short-sighted move that will further contribute to the degradation of the City – that is true now and will be true five years from now.”
Those lobbying for an even shorter term include three state legislators who represent the neighborhood, as well as good-government groups, which argue that fewer renovations will keep the Gardens on tighter hold.
At 9:30 a.m. Monday, one of those legislators, State Senator Liz Krueger, received a copy of a resolution she said was supported by the governor and the City Council.
The state and council leadership wanted Ms. Krueger to persuade local councilman Eric Boucher to support the deal, which her allies could avoid, he said.
Ms. Krueger protested, citing the hurried nature of the proposal, which included a complicated operating permit renewal process, which she found difficult to understand.
Ms. Krueger said, “I came out of the Cuomo era.” “I think there’s a bunch of poison pills I don’t want to go near.”
Negotiations continued throughout the day on Monday, causing repeated delays in committee votes.
The brevity of the new permit could theoretically strengthen the hand of the city and state in negotiations with the Dolan family, creating an uncertain business environment for area owners unwilling to invest serious money in the Garden. which have no guarantee of rectification. over a long time frame.
But the Dolan family has shown itself to be adept at bending the will of the government to further their interests, especially when the various branches of government are not on the same page.
For the time being, policymakers are embroiled in a separate debate over how best to proceed with Penn Station’s renovation while the Gardens remain in place.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has a plan. Its chief executive, Janno Lieber, has indicated that the MTA would like to lead the process. An Italian infrastructure firm, ASTM North America, has proposed an alternative concept, which has won the support of some local elected officials. That firm was headed by Patrick J. Foye, who, as former chief executive of the MTA, was Mr. Lieber’s boss on paper.