City Council should call a short time-out

Monday afternoon, a City Council committee votes on how long to extend Madison Square Garden’s “special permit” to keep operating at its decades-long site above Penn Station; here’s why that extension should be short.

The MTA, NJ Transit and Amtrak this month raised a new alarm about the impossibility of evacuating the Garden and the station in any major emergency: They demand major changes that could cost MSG’s owners hundreds of millions.

And the MTA has threatened to use eminent-domain laws to evict MSG “if necessary.”

But the Dolan family, who control the Garden, are fighters: Expect a legal battle for the ages if the MTA goes down that road.

As it is, the Dolans have asked the council to extend the “special permit” forever (which it won’t).

Plus, New Yorkers certainly don’t want to just lose Manhattan’s only major concert venue and sports arena: The threat of moving the Knicks out of town was enough for the Dolans to win a lucrative tax exemption on the Garden a few decades back.

Nor can the public afford to spend a dime on building a new MSG, as some “Move the Garden” dreamers seem to assume.

The MTA, NJ Transit and Amtrak have demanded MSG's owners make changes to allow MSG and Penn Station to be able to be evacuated in case of an emergency.
The MTA, NJ Transit and Amtrak have demanded MSG’s owners make changes to allow MSG and Penn Station to be able to be evacuated in case of an emergency.
Taidgh Barron/ZUMA Press Wire

Heck, the nascent proposal for the MTA to buy the Hulu Theater beneath MSG and build a beyond-useless new Penn “grand entrance” on Eighth Avenue would be a stupider use of taxpayer funds than even the white-elephant “Oculus” PATH station downtown.

All this, as the multibillion-dollar deal Gov. Kathy Hochul inherited from Andrew Cuomo to remake the whole Penn area is totally dead (though she’s still pretending otherwise).

That (and the temporary-we-hope woes of the city’s commercial-real-estate market) has left developers (especially Vornado) sitting on prime real estate in the area with no good use for it.

One more wild card: Mayor Eric Adams is finally pushing to rezone the nearby Garment District, whose woefully underused “manufacturing” areas could be prime residential ones.

We’d argue for just leaving Penn and the Garden as-is if so many other issues didn’t confront the huge swath from Chelsea through Penn and into Herald Square.

But far too much is up in the air right now for an extension even as long as the 10 years the City Planning Commission suggested.

A three- or four-year one, with stipulations that the Dolans at least settle the urgent evacuation issue, seems the wisest course.

This is also an opportunity for Adams or Hochul to show leadership with some grand bargain that satisfies all the stakeholders — perhaps the (just-updated) vision from the Grand Penn Community Alliance, which sees a more-lucrative new MSG like the Dolans’ Vegas Sphere between Herald Square and a Penn Station made gorgeous and accessible.

Everyone will likely have to settle for far less, but a short permit renewal that leaves all options open is the best hope to move beyond the bickering.

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