In his annual State of the State address on January 3, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reaffirmed his commitment to a large-scale renovation of Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station, the busiest rail hub in North America with 650,000 passengers daily. Calling the current underground facility the “seven levels of catacombs” (“nine circles of hell” would have been more accurate), Cuomo implied the state could use eminent domain to take control of Madison Square Garden (MSG) and other nearby buildings, replacing them with a new terminal that would recapture the glory of McKim, Mead & White’s original 1910 masterpiece.
Some changes at Penn Station are already under way: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is finally carrying out the long-planned renovation of the Beaux-Arts James Farley Post Office, a landmarked building across the street behind the Garden, converting it into a train hall to ease congestion underground. Still, preservation groups, including Rebuild Penn Station, cheered the governor for what seemed to be an even grander vision.
“I was very pleased with Cuomo’s speech,” says Rebuild Penn Station chairman Sam Turvey, “because I think he’s recognizing that the Farley, while a great addition, doesn’t solve the problem of Penn Station. While he didn’t say directly that the Garden needs to move, he did say something major needs to happen there.”
MSG’s lease expires in 2023, at which point the City Council has ordered it to find a new location, and there are already multiple ideas for repurposing the lot. Vishaan Chakrabarti of Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, for one, suggests the stadium be stripped down to its skeleton and glazed, becoming a giant atrium. “Commuters now languishing in a fluorescent-lit cave would see natural light and city views,” Chakrabarti wrote in a New York Times op-ed. Such a renovation would avoid the costs of an entirely new volume while still allowing for the removal of some 200 columns that support the arena, which hinder the expansion of Penn Station’s underground concourses.
Turvey says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of moving MSG, noting that big changes are bound to be contentious. “It’s what needs to happen, though,” he said. “You’re never going to realize the full potential of this region if you continue to funnel people through that hellhole. You can only dress it up so much.”