The Moynihan Station redevelopment project has changed dramatically in scope and scale since its conception in the early 1990s. At the project’s core is the intent to improve the functionality and appearance of Pennsylvania Station and boost the commercial potential of the underutilized West Side of Manhattan near the station. Pennsylvania Station (between 7th & 8th Avenues and West 31st & 33rd Streets in Manhattan), which more than 550,000 people utilize every day, serves as a key nexus of Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and the New York City subway lines.
The original Penn Station, once located where Madison Square Garden (MSG) currently resides (along 8th Avenue between West 31st & 33rd Streets), was demolished in 1964 after only fifty years of operation despite the fact that the old Penn Station was a famous Beaux Arts building featuring marble, granite, murals and soaring glass and steel concourses. According to the Municipal Arts Society, its demolition “left a deep and lasting wound in the architectural consciousness of the city.” The Penn Station that replaced the old station has been widely criticized as an ugly and inefficient subterranean maze since its completion in 1968.
In the early 1990s, then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) sought to restore the former glory of Penn Station by once again transforming the facility into a premier transportation gateway to New York. In 1993, Moynihan proposed relocating the facility across the street in the Farley Post Office (8th Avenue between West 31st & 33rd Streets), a grand building designed by the same architects that designed the old, demolished Penn Station. His original plan called for the façade of the Post Office to be maintained, while the internal structure would be completely redesigned.
Despite Moynihan’s vision, plans foundered throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, partly due to Amtrak’s financial troubles and changes within the US Postal Service. In the beginning of 2005, the plans for Moynihan Station took a new shape when a rezoning of the area was approved by the City Council. The rezoning included millions of square feet of development rights within the Farley building and millions of square feet of transferable air rights over Penn Station. These provisions were intended to incentivize the construction of a new station by subsidizing the cost of development.
In mid-2005, two private developers, Vornado Realty Trust and the Related Companies, formed a partnership known as the Moynihan Station Venture and won the Request for Proposal (RFP) to transform Farley into Moynihan Station (in conjunction with government agencies and transportation groups). The RFP included the expansion of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) and NJ Transit lines, a new transportation facility, retail development, and 1 million square feet of transferrable development rights for either office or residential use. While the Moynihan Station Venture was slated to contribute over $300 million, public funds – including federal, state, and city money, as well as $35 million from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and $145 million from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey – were to make up the balance of the nearly $900 million project.
Although the project appeared to gain steam under then-Governor George Pataki (R-NY), the proposal was rejected in October 2006 by the Public Authorities Control Board at the urging of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-NY), partly because he felt the plan would only benefit non-New Yorkers and partly because the plan did not include the relocation of Madison Square Garden (MSG) in the Annex of the Farley building. Many saw MSG’s relocation as a crucial piece for Moynihan Station to succeed.
In addition to the plan that went before the Control Board, an alternate plan, “Plan B”, was developed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, then-candidate-for-Governor Eliot Spitzer, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and the Moynihan Station Venture. Plan B was a significantly expanded proposal for Moynihan Station that included the relocation of MSG to the Farley Post Office and the replacement of the existing MSG with a train station and commercial towers that would include 5.5 million square feet of Class A office space. After the Control Board rejected the Pataki-era plan, then-Chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) Patrick Foye and the Spitzer Administration pursued Plan B as the new proposal for Moynihan Station when Spitzer assumed his term as Governor. On March 30, 2007, the ESDC purchased the Farley Post Office for $230 million from the US Postal Service, with the Port Authority paying $140 million, the ESDC paying $35 million in borrowed money, and the Moynihan Station Venture paying the remainder.
Plan B, a joint effort between the City and State, Amtrak, the Port Authority, NJ Transit, the MTA, and the Moynihan Station Venture, created a massive expansion to the scope and cost of the Moynihan project, increasing the proposed cost from nearly $1 billion to $14 billion (with the inclusion of several commercial/residential towers). Although the ESDC formally initiated the public review process for Plan B in October 2007 when it released a Draft Scope of Work for the project, financing stalled beyond the $1.15 billion committed by the public and private stakeholders. This committed amount failed to even cover the cost estimates for renovating the old Penn Station and expanding into the Farley Post Office, which had ballooned to an estimated $2.2 billion. The massive scope and scale of the project, combined with rising construction costs and a weakening credit market, put the future of the project in question and made the proposed 2018 completion date unlikely. Sufficient funding for Plan B never materialized. A major blow to the developments plan occurred in March 2008, when MSG’s owner Cablevision announced its intention to spend $500 million renovating MSG at its current location. Losing MSG as a key piece of Plan B precipitated the collapse of the massive plans.
Amidst the current recession, Governor Paterson (D-NY) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have attempted to refocus Moynihan Station redevelopment efforts on creating a transportation hub – the original intention of Senator Moynihan. Paterson’s vision for Moynihan Station would convert the Farley Post Office into the new transit hub, with 5-6 new train tracks. The Governor supports making the Port Authority the key figure in planning, construction, and oversight; Mayor Bloomberg opposes this strategy, citing concerns that the Port Authority is already overburdened by the World Trade Center redevelopment. For now, the Farley building continues to function as a working post office. In a preliminary cost analysis done by the Port Authority in May 2009, estimates for the project rose to $1.4 billion.
Schumer has argued that moving 200,000 square feet of Amtrak and NJ Transit office operations space out of the existing Penn Station would allow for key improvements, even without relocating MSG into the Farley building. The trimmed down transit-oriented proposal is expected to cost $1 billion. In February 2010, Schumer secured $83.3 million for renovations from federal stimulus funds allotted to high-speed rail and Amtrak. Amtrak agreed to operate out of a new hall in Farley Post Office; New Jersey Transit will relocate to the post office as well. In March 2010, the state approved the updated plans and phase I of construction is underway.