Added by Scott Stiffler
BY YANNIC RACK
January 13, 2016.
In a double win for the West Side, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled two multi-billion dollar plans last week that would expedite the stalled redevelopment of Pennsylvania Station and the James A. Farley Post Office on Eighth Ave., and expand the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. One big announcement chased the other, as Cuomo unveiled a slate of ambitious projects.
“There is so much in this game plan, this agenda, that frankly we couldn’t fit it into one day and one speech, and we’re announcing it in components all throughout this week,” the governor said at the Javits Center on Jan. 7. “What happens tomorrow depends on what we do today. Let’s be as bold and ambitious as our forefathers before us,” he added.
A few days later, in his Jan. 13 State of the State address, Cuomo made the case for his Built to Lead infrastructure program as the key to developing a new system of transportation “for the next 100 years.”
“The mass transit access point in New York City is Penn Station. Penn Station is grossly over capacity and under-performing. Penn, in a word, is miserable. It is un-New York, it is unwelcome, and it is unacceptable,” the governor said. “We’re gonna build a new Penn-Moynihan complex, finally.”
Plans for both Penn Station and the Javits Center have a less-than-glorious past. A few years ago, Cuomo was considering scrapping the Javits Center altogether, and the Penn Station overhaul has been stalled for a decade. Last week’s announcements, however, promise to bring even more activity to an area already bustling with development.
“The governor came into town and really made a big splash,” said Delores Rubin, the new chair of Community Board 4, whose area of coverage includes the convention center as well as the Farley Post Office.
Cuomo’s dual plans for West Side expansion earned praise from local elected officials, who said the momentum of other projects in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen surely played a part in jump-starting these new developments.
“There’s a lot of excitement about the future of the West Side,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, invoking the rapidly rising Hudson Yards neighborhood, as well plans for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal and the already completed 7 train extension — whose Hudson Yards stop provides Javits Center visitors with a walking distance option. “That’s no doubt a driver for these projects,” he said.
“A new Penn Station, a new Moynihan Station, the Gateway Tunnel project, Hudson Yards rising, a renovated and expanded Javits Center, and a new Port Authority Bus Terminal,” noted City Councilmember Corey Johnson, “are projects that are transformational not just for the neighborhoods, but also for the entire region.”
Between the governor’s two announcements, he added, “This has been a great week for the West Side.”
The renovation of Penn Station is part of Cuomo’s larger plan to revitalize New York’s infrastructure, which includes expanding the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) as well as building a new Tappan Zee Bridge and LaGuardia Airport.
The Penn Station plan would essentially renovate the existing station maze below Madison Square Garden, build a new train and retail hub within the block-long general post office across Eighth Ave., and eventually link both facilities underground, to create what the governor has dubbed the “Empire Station Complex.”
“Penn Station is the analog to LaGuardia,” Cuomo said, referring to the troubled airport whose reputation once inspired Vice President Biden to assert that a blindfolded visitor would, upon the reveal, mistake it for “some Third World country.”
“Let’s be honest,” the governor added, “Penn Station has been wholly unacceptable for a long, long time.”
He said the terminal — the busiest in the country and notoriously overcrowded — is expected to double its traffic over the next 15 years. It already serves 650,000 people every day, which is more than triple the traffic it was originally designed for (and more than that of Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports combined).
What a redeveloped Penn Station might look like, viewed as a cross-section of the underground terminal along Seventh Ave. Courtesy Office of the Governor.
The state, along with Amtrak, put out an expedited Request For Proposals (RFP) last week, which gives potential developers 90 days to come up with viable ideas for the redevelopment.
Possible options suggested in the governor’s presentation include the creation of a grand, glass-walled entrance to Penn Station on Eighth Ave., which would entail razing the 5,600-seat theater beneath Madison Square Garden. The addition of new entrances on Seventh Ave. and W. 33rd St. is also an option.
According to a statement from the governor’s office, the project will “widen existing corridors, reconfigure ticketing and waiting areas, improve connectivity between the lower levels and street level, bring natural light into the facility, improve signage, simplify navigation and reduce congestion, and expand and upgrade the retail offerings and passenger amenities on all levels of the station” — which could go a long way in addressing decades-old complaints about the layout of the terminal.
The state and its partners will also solicit a developer for the long-stalled plan to turn the nearly vacant James A. Farley Post Office into a train station and waiting room for Amtrak, LIRR and New Jersey Transit passengers, ringed by shops and offices.
At 210,000 square feet, the train hall will be roughly equivalent in size to the main room at Grand Central Terminal.
Developers can submit proposals for either or both of the buildings, and the overall project is estimated to cost more than $3 billion.
For the last decade, two of the city’s largest real estate developers, Vornado Realty and Related Companies, have tried in vain to transform the post office into what was to be called Moynihan Station — named after the New York senator who first put forth the idea in the early 1990s.
Under a previous agreement with the state, they sought a tenant for the space, and even proposed moving Madison Square Garden across the street, but no real progress was made, culminating in last week’s announcement that the playing field was once again open for new proposals.
Over the past year, construction already started underneath the Farley Building to expand Penn Station’s West End Concourse, as well as the existing underground corridor below Eighth Ave. to the subway and the terminal.
A view of the proposed Farley Post Office redevelopment, from the new train hall. Courtesy Office of the Governor.
This portion of the plan — which also includes new entrances at the W. 31st and W. 33rd St. corners of the post office — is scheduled for completion this fall.
The overall redevelopment would be finished in the next three years, the governor said, with Farley opening before Penn Station’s revamp is complete.
“There has been inaction and complacency around coming up with a substantive, workable plan for Penn Station and Moynihan Station,” said Johnson. “And what [the governor] has put on the table is really a game changer, because he has been able to bring key parties to the table who have acceded to work something out — Amtrak, Madison Square Garden and the MTA.”
“The RFP has already been issued, so the governor is wasting no time,” said Hoylman.
A spokeswoman for Related confirmed in an email that the company expects to respond to the solicitation.
“We continue to passionately believe in the project and are reviewing the materials,” she said. “We applaud the governor’s focus on the revitalization of Penn Station and Moynihan Station.”
Vornado declined to comment.
Cuomo has already said that $325 million for the project would come from government sources, while “nearly all of the work” will be privately funded by the chosen developer — in exchange for an interest in the long-term revenue stream generated by the retail and commercial rents.
Such creative funding streams won’t be needed for the Javits Center, however. Cuomo said the complex’s $1 billion expansion, for which construction will kick off later this year, would be financed “within existing resources.”
A rendering of what the Javits Center will look like after its $1 billion expansion, with the new addition at its northern end visible to the right. Image: Architect, FXFOWLE Epstein / Rendering: Neoscape, Inc.
“The Javits Center has long been an economic generator for this state, but we want to build and expand it to ensure it remains a premier venue for the next generation,” he said in a statement. “The new Javits Center will continue to garner millions in economic activity, create jobs and keep New York’s economic momentum moving forward.”
The proposal will add a glassy 1.2 million-square-feet extension at the center’s northern end (it currently stretches six blocks along 11th Ave., from W. 34th to W. 40th Sts.), resulting in a fivefold increase in meeting and ballroom space.
In addition, a four-level, 480,000-square-foot garage will be built to accommodate the thousands of trucks flood the neighborhood every year to service the convention center, which is the busiest in the country.
“There is a massive problem right now, on Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh Avenues, of just choking truck traffic. And any plan that is going to move some of these trucks off of the streets is going to help from many standpoints — air quality, pedestrian safety, traffic,” Johnson told Chelsea Now. “So this is a big deal for local residents.”
Last year, the facility hosted more than 2 million visitors, which the governor’s office says supported 17,500 local jobs and generated an estimated 478,000 hotel room reservations, with an overall economic impact of $1.8 billion.
Although the convention business is often written off as contributing comparatively little to the economy, Cuomo said that the expansion would help bring more trade shows, jobs and tax revenue to New York.
Particularly, he asserted, it would add 4,000 full-time, 2,000 part-time, and over 3,000 construction jobs, and generate an extra $393 million in annual economic activity.
“More convention centers are coming online, and if you want to remain competitive, you have to grow and you have to increase to stay ahead of the competition, and that is just what we want to do with this plan,” Cuomo said. “This will be the convention center of the next generation.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a $463 million makeover for the convention center two years ago, which included the addition of Javits North — a semi-permanent structure that will be replaced by the truck garage.
The state previously had plans to nearly double the size of the publicly owned center in 2008, but backed out after the predicted cost exploded.
The proposal will add a glassy 1.2 million-square-feet extension at the Javits Center’s northern end (it currently stretches six blocks along 11th Ave., from W. 34th to W. 40th Sts.). Image: Architect, FXFOWLE Epstein / Rendering: Neoscape, Inc.
And just four years ago, the governor wanted to raze the Javits Center entirely and replace it with a $4 billion convention center in Queens, a plan that was ultimately scrapped as well.
“If they move with this expansion in the same thoughtful way as previously, I think our community will be pleased with the outcome,” CB4’s Rubin said of the new plan. “We do have a meeting planned with the Javits Center, so we’re pleased that they do want to involve us in that conversation.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has also started putting together a task force — comprising community board members and local elected officials — to weigh in on the Penn Station development.
“We really plan to be very active in the conversation — because it’s important not just for the millions of commuters that come in, but also the thousands of residents that live in and around that area, that are directly affected by any change,” said Rubin.
“There’s more than these two projects going on, and the biggest hope is that we don’t look at all of them in isolation.”
She added that, with the predicted population influx from residential projects like Hudson Yards in the future, conversations should start early about neighborhood services that may be needed down the line, like additional school seats and transportation.
Hoylman, who said he is looking forward to working with the Penn Station task force, went even further, and suggested the area may benefit from a construction command center, like the one that was used to coordinate the rebuilding of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.
“We’re talking about a decade-plus of major construction, and we need to make certain that local residents and community boards have input into everything,” Hoylman said.