A new 10-year operating permit for Madison Square Garden approved by the City Planning Commission is designed to ensure the arena owners’ collaboration with plans to rebuild Penn Station beneath it, officials said Wednesday.
“We have secured a number of important commitments from Madison Square Garden that will make a real difference to New Yorkers,” City Planning Director Daniel Garodnick said before the commission approved the permit 9-1, with three absences.
The permit now goes to the City Council for a final vote.
Garodnick said the special permit helps define “how MSG relates to Penn Station,” including a requirement for collaboration with the MTA, NJ Transit and Amtrak on the station’s reconstruction.
“These are all vast improvements from this body’s vote to support a special permit 10 years ago, when MSG made no such commitments,” he said.
“I guess this is a vote for hope,” said Commissioner Gail Benjamin when voting in favor.
The Department of City Planning gave its recommendation on Monday for the 10-year special permit with a number of caveats attached. In recent months the permit application has emerged as an opportunity for the city to secure promises from the Garden related to badly-needed fixes for Penn Station.
Under the terms approved by the commission on Wednesday, the Garden will have to return to City Planning six months after the permit gets final approval so the agency can ensure public realm improvements including new bike racks, lighting improvements and other fixes are being made.
MSG will also have to return to City Planning once redesign plans for Penn Station are 30% complete.
The Garden has long sought a permanent operating permit. In 2013 the City Council approved a 10-year permit which expires later this month.
Without the rules set down in the proposed permit, Garden owner James Dolan would “have no reason” to work with the city on Penn improvements and other issues, said Layla Law-Gisiko, chairwoman of the Land Use Committee of Manhattan Community Board 5. The board voted in April to recommend moving the venue entirely to make room for Penn Station.
“[MSG] is a business company, and their job is to be accountable to their shareholders,” Law-Gisko said. She sees the special permit as “leverage that can be used to get them to be a better partner, a better operator and a better owner.”
Last month a critical report from Amtrak, NJ Transit and the MTA found that Penn Station and the arena above it were no longer compatible.
The report by the agencies that use the station stopped short of saying the Garden should move entirely — but that’s what transit activists and many area businesses and residents have long hoped for. MSG’s opponents believe the arena must be uprooted before a new Penn Station can be fully realized.
The rail agencies’ search for a new Penn Station plan is ongoing.
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A proposal from ASTM North America that would wrap the Garden in a stone and glass structure has been gaining traction in recent months, but Gov. Hochul has made it clear that the state is open to other plans.
MTA Chairman Janno Lieber has been critical of the ASTM plan, arguing it would be too generous to Madison Square Garden.
As part of the permit process MSG agreed in a letter last month to collaborate with the agencies “on long-term improvements to Penn Station.”
The City Council will have the final say in the process when it votes on the MSG permit in the coming weeks.
City Planning isn’t the only agency that has been scrutinizing MSG.
A report by the Independent Budget Office released this week found that the city has lost nearly $1 billion since 1982 because of the Garden’s controversial property tax exemption.
The tax exemptions were were designed to keep the Knicks and Rangers in New York at a time when other city teams were leaving, but the department concluded that it’s unlikely the exemption is the “determining factor” keeping them put.
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