News from the Front: The Tide Is Turning
THE future of the neighborhood around Pennsylvania Station looked bleak when Lynn Ellsworth and Sam Turvey organized the Empire Station Coalition during the early days of the pandemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo treated the Vornado Realty Trust like Lola in Damn Yankees (“Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets”), and when Governor Kathy Hochul replaced him, she seamlessly slipped into the Patriarchy that runs New York like a Real Estate State.
But there’s more and more evidence that New Yorkers are changing their hearts and minds about the plan. New York politicians like State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams are speaking out, writing op-eds, and introducing opposition bills. And when the Empire Station Coalition held a protest and press conference on the steps of the Church of St. John the Baptist to protest the state-sponsored Vornado Land Grab, Fox5News, PIX, and WBAI covered the protest. The links and quotes below show how much coverage the situation is getting online and in print.
Of course there are still miles to go. St. John the Baptist, a neighborhood institution that’s provided community services since 1870, is under threat of seizure by eminent domain. If Governor Hochul’s old-fashioned, urban-removal plan moves ahead, the church is only one of many historic buildings that will fall to the wrecking ball. Thousands of residents and small businesses will be evicted. The famous Hotel Pennsylvania — once the largest hotel in the world, with the phone number PEnnsylvania 6-5000 — is already coming down. It was a beautiful design by the great McKim, Mead & White.
Please consider the following:
- Vornado already has the right to build tall Class A office towers. But Governor Hochul proposes a massive upzoning for one of her largest political donors. Why is that legal?
- The US DOT indicated the Federal agency might pay as much as 80% of the cost of renovating Penn Station. A state spokesman quickly turned down the free money, saying that Manhattan needs the supertall office towers.
- The city doesn’t need the towers: 40% of Manhattan office space is empty, and no one knows the future of office space in Manhattan; Chase, which is building a supertall itself, announced they will reduce their future office space by 30%; the office towers next door at Hudson Yards took 75% of their tenants from other Manhattan buildings, and they’re still doing badly; and last but not least, Vornado’s earnings are falling: Office-return worries drive Vornado stock to a new low – “CEO Steven Roth needs the Penn Station plan to materialize fast,” Crain’s wrote.
- If the US DOT will pay 80%, why does one of the richest cities in the world need to smash zoning regulations and displace thousands of residents and small businesses to pay for a renovation that isn’t far enough along to have a price tag?
- The answer is that since the start of the century, New York City and New York State have proposed public-private partnerships with the richest developers as the way to get things built. But one of the first big projects, Atlantic Yards, appears to be failing. It is years behind schedule, and there seems to be no way to pay for the affordable housing that is supposed to be built there. Hudson Yards is said to have cost the city billions of dollars. Considering the state of the office market, “the Vornado Penn Campus” could be the biggest loser of all.
That’s only the beginning. Read all about it below. And please consider signing the Empire Station Coalition’s petition.
State Senate wants answers on Kathy Hochul’s controversial Penn Station redo
New York Post“ State lawmakers will hold a hearing next week to address concerns about Gov. Kathy Hochul’s controversial plan to use the tax revenues from 10 new skyscrapers to fund renovations at Penn Station.”
“Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) said the June 24 hearing will address the “many questions that have arisen about the financing of the package.”
“Rather than pursuing this dog-and-pony show for a much-needed new Penn Station, Gov. Hochul needs to stop the Steve Roth plan to build 10 megatowers around Penn Station, which will devastate the neighborhood and enrich a massive donor to the governor’s campaign at the expense of New Yorkers and the millions who commute through Penn Station every year,” said Sam Turvey, chairman of ReThinkNYC.
New York Daily News Opinion: Slam the brakes on state’s Penn Station project
By Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman
“We’ve asked for an analysis of this project from the Independent Budget Office. In the meantime, Mayor Adams and the City Council should be appalled. New Yorkers and commuters should be aghast. And most importantly, Gov. Hochul should continue correcting the mistakes of her predecessor by pumping the brakes on this runaway train.”
New York State’s Plan to Use New Development to Fund Penn Station Improvements Leaves Many Open Questions for New York City and State
New York City Independent Budget Office
“ At the request of State Senator Brad Hoylman, Reinvent Albany, former City Councilmember Ben Kallos, BetaNYC, Manhattan Community Boards 4 and 5, Common Cause NY, and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) examined ESD’s proposed General Project Plan for Penn Station and other related documents. IBO found that the plan, which is to be revised and presented to an ESD board vote in coming months, lacks many of the basic and important details needed for a robust analysis, and leaves many open questions about the impact on state and city finances.”
New York Daily News Opinion: This Penn Station plan is a train wreck
By Layla Law-Gisiko
“If you are scratching your head asking what a huge real-estate deal has to do with fixing Penn Station, you are not alone. The governor is no alchemist; she cannot turn office towers into train tracks. On Monday, the city’s Independent Budget Office issued a scathing report that underscores what critics had been saying: The plan is opaque and gives no details or clarity on the funding solvency or even its need. The report notes: “many key questions remain unanswered under the state’s current proposal, particularly around the construction cost, timing, financing, and risk management of the projects.” In short, the plan could keep taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars, à la Hudson Yards.”
“”The Penn Station Area project is not a transit project,” the letter said. “It’s a secretive state maneuver to unilaterally take future NYC property tax dollars to pay for the state’s refurbishment of Penn Station and possibly provide extremely large subsidies to the politically connected Vornado Realty Trust.’”
“Vornado, which will build and manage new buildings, is owned by Steven Roth, a top political donor to candidates including Donald Trump and Hochul herself.”
“Gubernatorial hopeful Tom Suozzi says a mega-developer donated campaign funds to Gov. Kathy Hochul and former President Donald Trump to delay Penn Station’s proposed renovation — and enrich itself.”
“Vornado Realty Trust and its chairman, Steven Roth, have worked to stymie the project so that the state would be more reliant on funding for it from local taxes — which would mainly come from the developer’s planned new buildings that need OKs, says US Rep. Suozzi (D-NY).”
“Suozzi fired off a letter Monday to the US Department of Transportation’s Inspector General requesting an investigation into Vornado’s relationship with both politicians.”
“Here’s the worrying question: Are we setting ourselves up for a repeat of the Hudson Yards scenario, in which taxpayers had to cough up nearly $400 million to Wall Street bondholders after property-tax and other revenues failed to meet targets? ‘This plan is fatally flawed,” Layla Law-Gisiko, a Community Board 5 official, told Crain’s.’”
MTA Not Banking On Federal Grant For Penn Station Revamp
“It has become abundantly clear now that this real estate proposal that is pushed forward under the guise of providing funding for the train station is not needed,” Law-Gisiko added. “The share of the non-federal funding becomes very manageable [with the grant], whether it’s shared with another state or not.”
A Neighborhood is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Chelsea Community News
“I would ask the proponents of the Governor’s plan to take to heart the advice of Fran Lebowitz when we think about New York: ‘Pretend it’s a city.’ New York is not a corporate campus, nor is it a grab bag for the personal enrichment of some. We should refrain from using specious arguments about economic necessity and climate change to give a progressive political veneer to radically regressive urban renewal policies that are destined to fail. New York is a city, and if you cannot see that, please at least try, and pretend.”
“Turvey is prepared to file a lawsuit to halt the project arguing the project’s fragmented rollout makes it impossible to publicly comment on the entire project, which may violate federal environmental review laws. Turvey believes the project should be presented holistically, not with the MTA in charge of some aspects and the state in charge of others…. ‘The lawyers we’ve spoken to feel this is one of the strongest cases to prevail on that theory that they’ve seen,’ Turvey said.”
Penn Station Needs a Master Plan
Municipal Art Society
“The Master Plan should cover the entire area directly affected by the transit and public realm improvements and the potential development, including 30th Street on the south, 34th Street on the north, Herald and Greeley Squares on the east, and Ninth Avenue on the west. It should contemplate at least two phases of station development. The first phase would cover the reconstruction and redesign of Penn Station and the public realm improvements. The second phase would anticipate the redevelopment or relocation of Madison Square Garden and the subsequent station and public realm improvements. For the redesign of Penn Station, the Master Plan must show a coherent, architecturally significant single station, including prominent entrances on Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue.”
“It’s no surprise that the area surrounding Penn Station is on this year’s “Seven to Save” list. Vornado’s Empire Station Complex plan aims to redevelop the blocks surrounding the station into glassy office and commercial buildings. Forty historic buildings and structures are at risk of demolition and thousands of residents and businesses are set to be displaced. The historic Hotel Pennsylvania designed by McKim, Mead & White is already being demolished and many other historically significant buildings are at risk, including the Penn Station Powerhouse.“
“In the years after World War II, American planners did as much damage to American cities as Allied bombers had done to German cities. There was less bloodshed, but a lot of urban centers emerged looking almost as two-dimensional as Cologne’s. Failing department stores and janky rowhouses were wiped away and streets spread into parking lots, all in the hope that companies would salivate at the sight of all those nice bare squares and start building headquarters in desolate downtowns. It must be tempting, when you’re gazing at a city from above, to dream of clearing the board and setting up the pieces from scratch.”
“A similar spirit animates Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan to raze a thick wedge of midtown around Penn Station (roughly between Sixth and Ninth Avenues from 30th to 34th Streets) and replace it with a set of shiny extra-large office towers.”