Located on 8th Avenue between West 31st and 33rd Streets, Madison Square Garden (MSG) was built in 1968 on the site of the old Pennsylvania Station. MSG is the busiest sports and entertainment arena in the United States and features various sporting, cultural, and entertainment events.
Home to the New York Knicks, Liberty, and Rangers, it is now the second-oldest arena in the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League. Cablevision, the company that owns MSG, has been interested in improving the existing arena or building a new one for years.
In 2005, New York City rezoned sixty blocks on the West Side of Manhattan, including the MSG site. The new zoning allows for 2.6 million square feet of air rights, which would enable the construction of approximately 5 million square feet of office space on-site.
The rezoning also provided a 2.7 million square feet bonus to incentivize the construction of a train station on the MSG site. The new zoning was part of a larger plan, initiated by former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to encourage the utilization of the Farley Post Office (located across the street from MSG) for a new use.
As private developers and public authorities became increasingly involved in the future of Moynihan Station, constructing a new MSG in the Farley Building began to be seen as the key piece of the Moynihan Station project. Indeed, in October 2006, the Public Authorities Control Board rejected a Moynihan Station proposal in part because the proposed plan did not include the relocation of MSG in the Farley Post Office.
Following the rejection, an alternate plan, known as Plan B, was developed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (D-Manhattan), then-candidate for Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-New York), New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-New York), and the Moynihan Station Venture – a collaboration between private developers Vornado Realty Trust and The Related Companies. Plan B laid out a significantly expanded vision.
At a total cost of $14 billion, Plan B proposed relocating MSG to the Farley Post Office and replacing the existing MSG with a renovated Penn Station and several office buildings. The massive scope and scale of the project, combined with rising construction costs and a weakening credit market, inhibited progress on the proposed project.
In March 2008, Cablevision announced its intention to spend $500 million to renovate MSG at its current location instead of relocating to the Farley Post Office. A week later, MSG officials released renovation plans created by the architectural firm Brisbin Brook Beynon. In July of 2008, Cablevision further solidified its commitment to on-site renovation by naming Skanska AB as the construction manager and announcing its intention to begin renovations in the spring of 2009.
Plan B has collapsed with the loss of MSG’s relocation to Farley Post Office. Most observers speculate that the slow progress of the Moynihan Station project prompted Cablevision to abandon the idea of new construction in the Farley Post Office. However, it is still possible that MSG will relocate the WaMu Theater, currently located underneath MSG, to the Farley site.
The $500 million renovations planned for MSG is expected to be complete by the 2011-2012 Knicks and Rangers season, with no disruption for either team along the way.
However, MSG officials have announced that the women’s basketball team, the New York Liberty, will have to play a season elsewhere. Renovation plans include doubling the size of MSG’s 7th Avenue entrance and concourses, though the building’s footprint and seating capacity will stay the same (around 20,000 fans, depending on the event). Improvements include better seats, improved sightlines, expanded restroom facilities, new concessions, revamped locker rooms, and a new Upper Party Deck near the ceiling.
Whereas the current interior of MSG locates all 89 luxury suites at the top of the arena, the renovated MSG will include three layers of 125 box suites, with 20 located at the playing surface level. Almost all of the renovations will occur on the interior, though some exterior work will be done to allow views of the city from the concourses. Cablevision will be paying for its renovations in full.
It is unclear what effect, if any, the worsening economy has had on MSG’s renovation plans. Construction is slated to begin in the spring of 2009, yet no formal announcement of groundbreaking has been made to date. The City of New York has stated that it will proceed with plans for Moynihan Station under the assumption that MSG will not be relocating to the Farley Post Office.