content area






Dare We Start Feeling Optimistic?

The Times' editorial board thinks there may be hope that the dream of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and now Senator Schumer, may be realized. With the leadership of Senator Schumer, federal stimulus money and a major role of the Port Authority, New Yorker's may finally get the train station they deserve. Below is their statement in its entirety.

The Senators’ Railway Station

After years of starts and stalls, replacing New York City’s gloomy, subterranean Pennsylvania Station with an elegant transit hub suddenly looks possible again. Veterans of this project and its many iterations see a glimmer of hope that the grand old Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue can still be converted into a splendid new railroad hall named for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

That renewed hope is there for two main reasons. First, Washington is handing out money. Second, Senator Charles Schumer, New York’s high-energy force on Capitol Hill, has moved the Moynihan project up on his priority list.

In a speech last week to business leaders, Senator Schumer laid out a cogent plan for making the new station come to life. Amtrak’s new leadership would have to play a major role and agree to make Moynihan the point of departure and arrival for its Northeast Corridor trains.

As a grand open hall — more a renovation with a new skylight than some of the dramatic and complicated schemes of the past — Farley would then become the uplifting gateway to New York City. The overall scheme would also allow for major renovations to the existing Penn Station, now an intolerably confusing maze.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would also be asked to play a major role. The authority has many items on its to-do list, including rebuilding at ground zero and creating a new tunnel under the Hudson from New Jersey. But as Mr. Schumer and others argue, it makes sense for the authority to coordinate what is essentially a major Midtown transportation project.

Mr. Schumer suggests, rightly, that the authority could contribute at least $1 billion of the money it now has earmarked for city projects. That would be added to $250 million designated for Moynihan that’s been sitting in the bank for years. Finally, Mr. Schumer and others want to move swiftly to get their hands on some of the money for high-speed rail and Amtrak included in the new stimulus package.

Mr. Schumer’s point, and one that deserves repeating, is that in the Great Depression, New Yorkers went for the sky. They built the Empire State Building. Now it’s time to reach again, to use the present economic crisis to fulfill Senator Moynihan’s enduring dream of a great railway entrance into New York City.

Read The Senators’ Railway Station in the New York Times.


MAS Response to Paterson's Moynihan Station Plan

Today Governor David Paterson announced conditions related to the future of Moynihan Station at New York Building Congress forum. Kent Barwick, President of Municipal Art Society, commented on the Governor's plans:

“The original Penn Station, while architecturally spectacular, was primarily a visual symbol of a great transportation system. The tunnels that lead into that station, which connected New York City to the mainland for the first time, were engineering marvels of the time. The Penn Station architecture was important and beloved, but the infrastructure it housed was a critical element of New York City’s rise to its position as the nation’s greatest city.

“Paterson reminds us that, at this time in our history, it’s time to revive the railroad, and we couldn’t agree more with his priorities. We must put transportation first. Penn Station was built in the beginning of 20th century, and we are confident that it is possible now, at the beginning of the 21st century, to accomplish the Governor’s transportation priorities while also creating the great entryway into New York City that Senator Moynihan envisioned.

“Paterson’s plan of investment in the economy and our rail system shows a comprehensive grasp of all of the issues that the station embodies, from infrastructure to architecture. When MAS conducted a poll last year, we learned that people were dismayed with the inefficient and sloppy management of Penn Station. We know it will be difficult to work through the management problems with the three railroads, but we are confident it is possible.

“We support the Governor’s approach and vision and we are pleased that the Port Authority has been given responsibility for this project -- they have the capacity, resources and management to bring this project to fruition. We look forward to deputy secretary Gilchrist’s plan of action.”


Paterson Wants More Transportation Improvements at Moynihan Station

This morning Governor Patterson addressed the future of Moynihan Station, among other issues, at the Crain’s New York Business breakfast forum. Below is his response to the question "Will Major Infrastructure Projects – Like Moynihan Station - Be Completed In Your First Term"?

What is essential to Moynihan Station is that it be a viable transportation hub. That if it doesn’t include the transportation, its value diminishes considerably as far as I’m concerned,

We are still trying to get Amtrak and our local transit systems to agree on how we could reroute transit and turn this into what would really be, in a sense, a favorable investment of our resources.

I believe shortly Governor Corzine and I will probably go and meet with AMTRAK, because one of their plans, coincides with ours -- the ARC plan and we’d like to try to that get done.

Everyone understands that the economy is a problem but my project must go forward. I don’t see how they can all go forward. The resources aren’t there. The capital isn’t there. And everybody wants to come to the government to be part of the solution. And right now the government is floundering because we have these huge deficits that we have to ameliorate.

It sounds positive that Governors Paterson and Corzine are talking to Amtrak. Perhaps this means there's potential for the ARC/Penn Station connection. Let's hope they announce a plan to move forward soon.

Read "Paterson Argues for Spending Cuts" on Crain's site.

Read "Paterson Won’t Rule Out Tax Increases" by Nicholas Confessore in The New York Times.


Who was Moynihan?

Those of you who have watched our short video about Moynihan Station know that the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the man who first envisioned a new train station in the Farley building, worked as a shoeshine boy in the original Penn Station. Most citizens are familiar with the legacy of their former senator, but many young New Yorkers and recent arrivals may be asking: “Who was Moynihan and why are we naming a train station after him?”

The brief bio is that Moynihan grew up poor in Manhattan, served in the Navy, and went on to earn a Ph. D in Sociology before pursuing a career in politics. His political life included stints in the Kennedy and Nixon administrations, the U.N. Ambassadorship, and the U.S. Senate from 1976 to 2000. He was a scholar-statesman willing to take on pressing urban issues. Early in his career he helped revitalize Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue and he remained a great supporter of historic preservation throughout his life.

In the 1980s he proposed a new gateway to the city in the Farley Post Office and said: "You don't get a second chance like this often. We must do it."

The current issue of Urban Land contains an excellent profile of Moynihan called “An Urban Philosopher on Capitol Hill.” N.J. Slabbert writes that Moynihan was a statesman who saw the city “less in terms of buildings, spaces, and physical infrastructures, than as a human enterprise whose success or failure must be measured by the lives and achievements of the people who inhabit it.” The article continues:

Because of this perspective, Moynihan was on some levels a confusing figure to his admirers and detractors alike. He was an urban thinker, and yet, in the very act of elevating metropolitan issues to a high level of discourse, he transcended the customary vocabularies of planners, architects, and other disciplines most commonly associated with urban questions.

Slabbert concludes:

Moynihan’s political talents also differed from those of [Robert] Moses, whose need for a constant flow of impressive and immediate results prevented him from occupying himself with national matters, where the magnitude of the task often requires an individual to exercise great patience and persistent persuasion to obtain results. The individual must also realize that the primary objective is not to win praise in the short term, but to accomplish an advance in attitudes that will be valuable for generations to come. This is the difference between a politician and a statesman. Moynihan was a statesman.”

Moynihan once said, "the belief that good design is optional...does not bear scrutiny." Let's hope the long wait for Moynihan Station will result in a development that embodies this and other values and attitudes the late Senator Moynihan advanced during his brilliant career.


Why Moynihan Station Should Use Historic Tax Credits

Historic tax credits for the redevelopment of the Farley building could lighten the financial burden on New Yorkers by up to $250 million. But it’s unclear whether the developers and MSG are willing to preserve enough of the historic features, like the lobby’s ticket windows and the brick walls of the future train hall, to qualify.

The MAS strongly supports the use of the federal rehabilitation tax credit in the redevelopment of McKim, Mead & White’s Farley Post Office, a city, state and national landmark, for two main reasons:

First, adhering to the rehabilitation standards required to qualify for the tax credit will safeguard the Farley building’s historic fabric, including significant interior areas.

Second, the tax credit would be a significant financial boost of Federal funding to the project – especially when faced with rising construction costs, tightening lending conditions, and the ever present danger of “unexpected” costs and delays.

Since 1976, the federal rehabilitation tax credit has encouraged the preservation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings by offering federal tax credits to owners. The tax credits represent a dollar-for-dollar reduction of federal taxes owed based on 20% of the cost of the rehabilitation project.

We think utilizing the rehabilitation tax credit is in the best interest of both the developers and the public. Here is how it could work:

Basically, there are 4 factors that determine whether a rehabilitation project meets the basic application requirements for the 20% tax credit. With a strong commitment from the developers to preserve the interior and exterior of the Farley building we believe it is possible for the project to meet all 4 factors:

1. The historic building must be listed in the National Register of Historic Places or be certified as contributing to the significance of a "registered historic district."

2. After rehabilitation, the historic building must be used for an income-producing purpose for at least five years.

3. The project must meet the "substantial rehabilitation test." In brief, this means that the cost of rehabilitation must exceed the pre-rehabilitation cost of the building. Generally, this test must be met within two years or within five years for a project completed in multiple phases.

4. The rehabilitation work must be done according to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. These are ten principles that, when followed, ensure the historic character of the building has been preserved in the rehabilitation. (Source: U.S. Department of Interior)

We can check off factors 1, 2, and 3. The big question mark is #4 - whether the developers are willing to complete the project according to the Standards for Rehabilitation. The developers of Moynihan Station will have to work closely with the State Historic Preservation Office to determine which interior and exterior features define the building’s historic character. They must commit to preserving those features in the rehabilitation project.

For example, the rooftop addition over the western annex for the new MSG will have to be appropriately set back from the historic façade and not highly visual from the street. The lobby’s ticket windows must be preserved – not blasted through for new hallways. Another hurdle could be the “Wall Retention Requirement,” which requires the project to retain “at least 75 percent of the internal structural framework.” Some early renderings of the train hall showed the historic brick walls of the interior replaced with glass.

Due to complex tax rules, it’s likely the Moynihan Station Venture would syndicate the credit rather than redeeming it themselves. Syndication typically means “selling” the tax credit to an investor or group of investors exempt from passive loss rules (typically a large bank, corporation, or other institutional investor). The “investor” enters the partnership and provides upfront equity to the project in exchange for the right to redeem the federal tax credits. In other words, if the developers can’t use the tax credits, they find an entity that specializes in using them, and the developers form a partnership with them. As a result, both the public and the developers benefit from more federal funding.

Please let us know if you disagree or see some other way to leverage the tax credits. We'll have more info on preserving the Farley building throughout the week.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation

A guide to the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program

The National Trust’s Guide to Rehabilitation Tax Credits