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John Massengale

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What Kind Of City Do We Want To Live In?

Join the Empire Station Coalition for a rally on the steps of the threatened church of St. John the Baptist to demonstrate for the right to live in the city we want.
Tuesday, June 15, 11:30 AM

GOVERNOR HOCHUL and the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) have a plan for Penn Station: give Vornado, the largest office-building developer in New York, the right to ignore zoning and erect supertall, Class A office towers around the station; in return, take from the developer an IOU that only comes due if he uses those rights; leave the amount owed vague, because no one knows the cost of the renovation; nevertheless, turn down a potential offer from the US DOT to pay up to 80% of the reconstruction costs for the station; use the power of New York State to override local zoning and public process for the economic benefit of one of the Governor’s largest donors; and use the power of New York State and the Federal government to take property like the Church of St. John the Baptist with the power of eminent domain. This complicated tale will all be explained at the rally.

At least two things are clear: Hochul and the ESDC are in a hurry to give a private developer the right to build what he wants, as tall as he wants, regardless of what the public and zoning regulations say; and thousands of local residents, businesses, and private groups like the church will be evicted.

The Capuchin Franciscan Friars who run the Church of St. John the Baptist take a vow of poverty and pledge to serve the community, where they’ve been since 1870. St. John the Baptist runs a food pantry and works with local businesses to provide free services for the needy in the neighborhood.

To see what Vornado wants to build in what they call “the Vornado Penn Campus,” walk next door to Hudson Yards. New York City and its Economic Development Agency worked in a public-private partnership with the richest developer in New York that gave his company billions of dollars in subsidies to build what is probably the most unpopular development in New York City.

Hudson Yards opened one year before Covid and has not been financially successful. The luxury condominium towers at Hudson Yards compete in a market where there are too many luxury towers, many of them nearby. The Class A supertall office buildings were in a soft market before Covid: most of the tenants came from other midtown office buildings. Now office towers are 40% empty, and major corporations like Chase talk about permanently reducing office space by 30%.

The Vornado Campus towers would be right next door to Hudson Yards. When the US DOT potentially offered to cover the cost of the Penn Station renovation, the head of the MTA quickly made a statement rejecting the free money. A former developer, he said that New York needed the towers and that making a public-private partnership with Vornado is the best way to pay for station renovation.

We have the right to decide if we want New York to be a shiny city of luxury supertalls built for international investment or an evolving version of the complex, complicated city New York has always been — and that all good cities are.

Please join us. If you cannot, there will be a Livestream on Facebook.

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