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Times Critic Proposes MSG Demolition

Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times architecture critic, wrote a rambunctious article about the handful of New York City the should face the wrecking ball. It's no surprise that Madison Square Garden topped the list.

Ouroussoff wrote:

No site in New York has a darker past than this one. The demolition of the old Pennsylvania Station, the monumental McKim, Mead & White Beaux-Arts gem that stood on this site until 1964, remains one of the greatest crimes in American architectural history.

What replaced it is one of the city’s most dehumanizing spaces: a warren of cramped corridors and waiting areas buried under the monstrous drum of the Garden.

Over the years the city has entertained dozens of proposals to improve the station, but none have amounted to much of anything, thanks to New York’s byzantine development politics.

I propose we demolish the Garden. As arenas go, it is cramped and decrepit. And with it gone we could begin to imagine what a contemporary version of the old Penn Station: a monumental gateway to the 21st-century metropolis.

Well said!

See that blue "WAMU Theater" sign in the photo? It won't be there for long. According to the Times, since the Feds seized WAMU, the theater is going to have to change its name.

Read Name Change Is Likely for WaMu Theater by Richard Sandomir in The New York Times.

Read New York City, Tear Down These Walls by Nicolai Ouroussoff in The New York Times.

Photo: by R. Conrad/The New York Times


Watch Video of the Venture Execs Talking Moynihan

At a recent Conde Naste Portfolio conference Steve Roth, chairman of Vornado, and Steve Ross, chairman of Related – the Moynihan Venture tag team – spoke about the Moynihan Station project.

Read “Vornado’s Roth on MSG Air Rights: ‘Come to Mama’”


Vornado's Roth on MSG Air Rights: “Come to Mama”

After a few quiet weeks in the world of Moynihan, the Farley Post Office emerged unscathed from a two-alarm fire on Tuesday night and Steve Roth, chairman of Vornado, and Steve Ross, chairman of Related – the Moynihan Venture tag team – spoke about the project at a real estate breakfast this morning in New York. The Venture's latest scheme is to get the Port Authority to buy the Garden from the Dolans and liberate the coveted air rights on the arena site. Eliot Brown of the Observer has this report:

In case there was any doubt, Steve Roth and Steve Ross really want Madison Square Garden to move.
This morning, some 13 weeks after Madison Square Garden announced it was renovating and staying in place (i.e. not moving), the developer duo professed, once again, their eagerness to see the Paterson administration pick up the ball and move forward with the large-scale Moynihan Station plan. The plan, in its most recent iteration, would involve the state using Port Authority money intended for regional transportation projects to buy the Garden and its air rights from the Dolan family—that is, if they’re willing to sell (the Dolans have expressed no interest and are moving forward with the renovation).

Mr. Ross is the chairman of the Related Companies and Mr. Roth is chairman of Vornado Realty Trust, the two designated developers in the project that would redo Pennsylvania Station.

Why not let the dream die? The air rights that would be unleashed from the Garden moving, as Mr. Roth reminded the crowd at the Portfolio real estate breakfast at the Four Seasons Pool Room, are of great value.

“Since Vornado owns all the property around it, and half the air rights above Madison Square Garden, obviously, it’s ‘Come to mama,’” he said.

Some other tidbits from the breakfast:

• Mr. Roth was candid as to why he wants the Garden to move to Farley: It’s the only other place they’ll consider besides their current site, he said. “We don’t care if they move to Iowa. ... They can move as far west as they want.”

• Apparently the plan to move the Garden to the rear of the Farley building was the brainchild of Mr. Ross, at least according to Mr. Roth.

• Mr. Ross likes the Port Authority for reasons other than just its money. As he put it, “If the Port Authority does it, there isn’t any additional approvals, and you don’t have to go to the state or Shelly [Silver, the Assembly speaker] to get approvals to make it happen, so I believe that the governor will see it that way.”

• Mr. Ross and Mr. Roth seemed to differ some in how strongly they feel about pushing the larger plan. Mr. Ross said he was optimistic that the whole thing would come together, (rating its chances 8 out of 10). Mr. Roth has previously trumped a scaled-down “Plan B,” though talk of that was absent today (at the end of the discussion on Moynihan, Mr. Roth put the chances of everything coming together at 7.5 out of 10 … though he also added later that the reason the two were so optimistic was there was a tenant in the room, looking squarely at S.I. Newhouse, whose Condé Nast is on the hunt for a new office tower.

Read “For Moynihan, Two Steves Still Want MSG to ‘Come to Mama,’” by Eliot Brown for New York Observer


NHL Seeks to Boot Dolans from League

Today, the NHL “filed court papers Wednesday that included a draft letter from commissioner Gary Bettman proposing discipline against Madison Square Garden, L.P., that could lead to suspension or termination of its ownership of the Rangers,” according to the AP.

Curbed proclaimed: “This one’s for Moynihan…


Observer: Developers Want Port Authority to Buy MSG Block

Eliot Brown has the news on the latest proposal from the Venture to lure MSG back to the negotiating table:

According to multiple people familiar with discussions, the joint venture of the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust wants the Port Authority to come in and buy the current Madison Square Garden, along with its hotly desired air rights, a task that would cost somewhere between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. The developers have told officials that this purchase by the public sector, which would be effectively paid back by the developers should the entire project come together, is necessary to right the troubled large-scale plan. By the public sector taking a risk that the developers apparently find too risky and/or expensive—in the failed plan, billions in funding and numerous agreements for the entire project were needed before the Garden could get a new arena—the developers seem to be reasoning that the Garden would be given enough certainty to be lured back to the table.

Of course, there are many steps before that plan becomes anything more than a concept, as the bistate Port Authority would first need to be convinced that spending nearly $2 billion of highly sought money meant for regional transportation is a worthy investment, one that would come before actually rebuilding a train station. And then even if the Port Authority got behind the plan, it would still require the consent of the Garden.

The Garden has made no signs that it will deviate from its renovation plan, and a Garden spokesman, Barry Watkins, was unequivocal about the company’s intention to renovate.

“We have been and continue to be moving full steam ahead on the renovation of Madison Square Garden,” he said.
The new plan also would require Governor Paterson’s putting the Port Authority in charge of the Moynihan Station project, a step he said earlier this month he would likely take, but has yet to execute. Mayor Bloomberg has publicly criticized the concept of giving the Port Authority control, as has Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the local representative, and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, chairman of the Assembly committee that oversees authorities.

Governor Paterson has set an internal deadline of the end of June for the state to craft a path forward, according to people familiar with talks.

Read “The Accidental Ingenuity of James Dolan,” by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer


Observer: Venture Wants to Give Govt-Backed Loan to MSG

Eliot Brown reports that Related and Vornado (the Venture) have asked the city and state to back a loan to build a new MSG in the annex of the Farley Post Office.

In this option, the state and city could be saddled with the cost of the arena—said to be in the range of $900 million to $1 billion—should the larger redo of Penn Station ultimately fall apart.

The plan for a Penn Station remake, part of a larger proposal named Moynihan Station, seemed to all but fall apart when Madison Square Garden said it was staying in place and proceeding with a $500 million renovation of its arena. Without moving, a complete redo of the station was all but impossible. The Garden said it pulled out because it did not see any realistic hope of the plan coming together any time soon, given the hundreds of millions in unsecured funding.

Under the developers’ latest proposal, the developers could potentially start building the new arena for the Garden before the larger Moynihan plan ever came together, as the state and city would assume the risk on the money for the arena. Previously, the developers wanted to wait until the project came together before proceeding with the arena, as it would cost them hundreds of millions with potentially no gain should the deal have ultimately fallen apart.

A spokesman for Madison Square Garden, Barry Watkins, said the Garden was proceeding with its renovation and had no plans to move.

Read “Vornado, Related Try to Lure Garden Back to Moynihan Station Table,” by Eliot Brown in the Observer


West Side to Grow Around Old Garden?

A story posted Friday in The Real Deal raises a series of questions about the future of Moynihan Station if MSG cannot be brought back to the negotiating table:

Insiders familiar with the negotiating process told The Real Deal that these public officials, who recently demanded that the Garden would have to accommodate Moynihan Station, are now shifting tack, suggesting that the train hub and the planned office development around it could move forward with the Garden in place…Because the city must rezone the area once the station's plans are hashed out, the developers could still find ways to create office space in the area, possibly by promoting the idea of a continuous office district between Moynihan Station and nearby Hudson Yards, where Tishman Speyer plans to build about 8 million square feet of office space.

What does moving forward on the train hub with the Garden in place mean? Is the writer referring to building the Farley station or improvements to the existing Penn Station?

One can reasonably assume that a monumental, spacious, and well-designed train hall – a primary public benefit of the project – will not be possible underneath a renovated Madison Square Garden.

If the Garden renovates in place and the Moynihan East station is abandoned where is the public benefit? How will the developers get the rights to develop “a continuous office district”? And what will happen to our tax dollars?

Read “West Side to Grow Around Old Garden,” by Alec Appelbaum in The Real Deal


Dolans Say They Want to Stay Put

Yesterday, the New York Sun received the following statement from a MSG spokesman when asked about Schumer’s call for the Port Authority to take over the project:

"Madison Square Garden has decided to move forward with our renovation previously announced in 2004. After exploring several alternatives, it has become clear that the only viable option is a renovation. Details will be available in the coming days. Madison Square Garden supports West Side redevelopment and applauds Senator Schumer's involvement."

This set off a flurry of media coverage, which we have listed below along with a few quotes from MAS president Kent Barwick.

From The New York Times:

Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, which has been supportive of the project but critical of the design for the new arena, said the Dolans had chosen an “extremely peculiar” moment to make their announcement, just when it appeared that the project’s financial problems were getting resolved.

“It’s insulting to everybody,” Mr. Barwick said of the Garden announcement. “This is the most significant project on the horizon for the city of New York. There’s no other transportation project that has so much promise to not only strengthen the transportation system but to spark development in a new section of town.”

From the New York Sun:

"I don't know if it's a well-considered move on their part or a negotiating strategy, but it seems like peculiar timing," said the president of the Municipal Art Society, Kent Barwick who called the Moynihan Station project the most important project in New York City. Mr. Barwick said there is no reason why the entire plan should die even if Madison Square Garden backs out, as the required funds necessary to start work on the west end of the project are already in place.

"The Garden doesn't have the power to kill rail travel in New York, but they are not negotiating in good faith or respecting the integrity of the building they want to move into. It really is troublesome and they should be giving as much attention to this as they are to the selection of their next basketball coach," he said.

Barwick also appeared on WNYC this morning. We’ll post a link to the audio clip later today.

Do you think it is possible for MSG to renovate in place? How would it work?

Read “Station Plan Put in Doubt as Garden Opts to Stay,” by Charles Bagli for The New York Times

Read "The Moynihan Station Mess: Who's In Charge Here?" by Eliot Brown for The New York Observer

Read “Madison Square Garden Imperils Moynihan Station,” by Joan Gralla for Reuters.

Read “Garden Move Threatens Moynihan Plan,” by Peter Kiefer in New York Sun

Read “Madison Square Garden backs out of plan to move into renovated Penn Station,” from the AP

Read “Madison Square Garden Abandons Plan to Move to Moynihan Station,” by Henry Goldman for Bloomberg.


After the Steamroller, Focus is on Moynihan

In today’s Observer, Eliot Brown reports that Governor Paterson “faces a host of uncertain economic development initiatives” in the wake of the Spitzer and Foye departures – and “eyes are turning to the Moynihan Station project above others.”

Avi Schick, the Chief Operating Officer of ESDC and former prosecutor in Spitzer’s AG office, has been named interim CEO of the agency. He is said to be friendly with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Governor Paterson’s relationship with Rep. Charles Rangel may help secure federal funding for the project.

Still, Brown thinks “inaction in coming weeks could deal irreparable injury to the projects, especially Moynihan Station, as Mr. Paterson settles into his role and the ESDC goes without a permanent leader.” Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said, “The level of uncertainty on both private and public sides is at unprecedented levels.”

For 14 months, Messrs. Spitzer and Foye had been attempting to lift the project off the ground amid a heavy load of government agencies and complex dealings with landowners, and had seen little concrete progress as they tried to round up between $2 and $3 billion in funding commitments. The clock was ticking, as Madison Square Garden, anxious to shed its second-oldest-arena-in-the-NBA status, indicated it was strongly considering a renovation of the existing facility, a move that would effectively cripple the plans for Penn Station and most of the surrounding development.

Now Mr. Paterson, who has signaled his support for Moynihan Station, faces many of the same challenges as the prior administration, and he will tackle them just as he takes on every other big issue in state government. For the next two weeks, the governor is likely to be spending much of his energy hashing out a budget with the Legislature as the search starts for a new downstate ESDC chairman.

“Without Spitzer there and his sponsorship, it does create a void, and we’d like to see the state continue to maintain a leadership role as it relates to shepherding that project through to fruition,” said Robert Lieber, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development.

While no agreement was on the table and financing was far from secured, Mr. Lieber said he believes the basic elements surrounding Moynihan Station have been advancing.

“We’ve made a lot of progress around the design and a lot of progress around the budget,” he said. “It’s still an incredibly complicated project—it’s going to take funding and it’s going to take commitments from the state and the feds, and having the governor’s support is going to be helpful.”

Advocates of the project also point to Mr. Paterson’s long history with Representative Charles Rangel, who is considered a key figure in obtaining hundreds of millions in federal funding desired for Moynihan.

Read “Fresh Doubts on Mega-Projects as Paterson Supplants Steamroller,” in The New York Observer


Port Authority to the Rescue?

Charles Bagli is back today with another update: Governor Spitzer is making progress on funding, but there is still a gap (click here to read The Observer's primer on Moynihan funding - Bagli reports the city and state share will likely increase). The developers and other unnamed proponents want the Port Authority – with their “pile of cash” - to take over the project.

And then there is the “flip:”

The developers have also come up with a “flip” that they hope would quell criticism from preservationists who complain that the Garden’s proposed arena in the James A. Farley Building, the post office just east of Penn Station, would destroy the historical integrity of the building. Under this concept, the Garden patrons would enter the Farley building through doors at street level, instead of mounting the grand staircase on Eighth Avenue and entering under the colonnade, which would require making changes to the landmark building.

The latest on the Garden? Bagli reports:

Tired of the delays, the Garden has continued talking to Mr. Spitzer, while dusting off their fallback plan: to simply renovate the existing drum-shaped arena between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. In 2004, the Dolan family, which controls the Garden, the Knicks and the Rangers, had announced that it wanted to rebuild the arena’s seating bowel, install new luxury suites, add restaurants and widen the arena’s corridors, at a cost of $350 million.

Under that plan, the Garden has talked to the developers recently about keeping the arena in place, but moving its 5,600-seat WaMu theater from Eighth Avenue to the rear of the Farley building, which would still be converted to an adjunct train station. Advocates say the theater could enliven the Ninth Avenue entrance to the Farley building and would not require many of the structural changes opposed by preservationists.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of PANYNJ taking over? Tell us what you think.

We will be back with a better explanation of “the flip.”

Read “Spitzer Pushes Plan to Save Moynihan Station,” by Charles Bagli in the New York Times