“Our leaders seem blithely unaware that we have a one-of-a-kind opportunity within our grasp to create a hub worthy of New York, which many of us still consider ‘the greatest city in the world’.”

Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The entrance to the LIRR at Penn Station

A vibrant New York neighborhood is a terrible thing to waste, and that’s precisely what would happen if the Empire State Development Corporation (ESD) and Governor Kathy Hochul prevailed in their ill-conceived plans to revamp Penn Station and surroundings.

It seems clear that they want to demolish the block between West 31st and 30th Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenues, among many other sites, so that Vornado Realty Trust can build a forest of super tall tower redwoods. The goal is apparently to fund unspecified improvements to Penn Station itself, including its underground expansion from West 31st and 30th Streets.

Fortunately, State Senator Leroy Comrie, the New York State Public Authorities Review Board and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli did their part this week and did not let this fatally flawed proposal take flight.

Read the opposite view: Penn Station’s plan is a job well done. It’s time we recognize that

The only fault of the neighborhood is that it is not “Park Avenue”. Thousands of inhabitants, small businesses, Capuchin friars and irreplaceable architecture will be thrown to the winds so that a plethora of super tall Class A office towers can be erected around Penn Station like a noose around the neighborhood. Empire State Development (ESD) says it will meet its unilaterally derived aspirations to have Class A office towers from river to river, even if monolithic business districts following this model fail wherever they are. tried.

Artistic representation of the area around Penn Station

Rendering by Patricia Melvin

The Hotel Pennsylvania, Hotel Stewart, 7 Penn Plaza, Church of St. John the Baptist, and the original Penn Station Service Center would all be removed as part of the ESD and the Governor’s plan.

Such a neighborhood “replacement” program was strange and aberrant before COVID-19; it is even more so now. Our people, our small businesses and our historic structures deserve better. They have as much right to live and flourish in this city as developers.

What remains of the Penn District, if any, will be turned over to the Vornado Realty Trust on highly business-friendly financial terms. In return, New Yorkers, through ESD and the Governor, will get an uninspired and abjectly mediocre Penn Station and surrounding area that will harm the city, state and region, when they need it. with a bullet in the arm. This plan is a blown opportunity for the ages.

Our leaders seem blissfully unaware that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a hub worthy of New York, which many of us still consider “the greatest city in the world.” They should implement a unified regional transportation plan, reforming Penn Station’s tracks to accommodate it, giving the city a large above-ground station to complement Grand Central and the Moynihan Train Hall across the street.

Instead, they propose a transit paradigm that might have made sense in 1950, but no longer does. Adding insult to injury, they want our great station to remain an underground affair, a glorified subway station, with all the charm of the Port Authority bus station. And they tell us that we should all be grateful or be called “NIMBY” if we object. We know they use the ad hominem because their posture is indefensible.

In terms of cost, on the transit side, there is at least $8 billion in waste in their proposal. This comes from the cost difference between the implementation ReThinkNYC’s modern complete operating model in relation to the ESD/Hochul Plan’s proposed expansion of terminal tracks south of Penn Station.

Our Modern Execution Plan Costs $8 billion less than the ESD/Hochul plan.

Artist rendering by ReThinkNYC

A derelict post office mail platform (top left) can be repurposed to allow NJT southern platforms to move west (top right) and cross all lanes from existing Penn Station and save $8 billion in unnecessary costs to expand Penn Station south to 31st Street. Implementing ReThinkNYC’s continuous model also eliminates the need to demolish 31st and 30th Streets.

The actual cost differential will likely be much higher, as the route does not require the intense and deep tunneling of the proposed terminal tracks and station. Deep tunnel projects are the most prone to cost overruns and delays.

The costly construction of a Penn Station South would require the demolition of a city block and a half in the downtown area, including a bustling mixed-use neighborhood housing thousands of residents, small businesses, and historic structures. The Biden administration has made clear its commitment to transit fairness. It is therefore unacceptable for the federal government to be unwittingly complicit in the free chloroforming of a vibrant area of ​​the city.

The project’s developers declared the area around Penn Station “ravaged”; it has nothing to do. Everyone, including the Daily News Editorial Board and Chief of the 34th Street Business Improvement District Daniel Biederman, acknowledges that declaring the neighborhood of Penn “rusty” is actually a big lie. The only bane at Penn Station is the station itself.

Grotesquely, the main developer, Vornado Realty Trust, intends to build its own self-proclaimed “campus” on the rubble of the Penn Station neighborhood. Company President Steven Roth boasted of letting buildings fall to ruin so that the government gives them more money for sanitation. Such a lack of integrity is pervasive in the funding of this project. It’s the old bait and switch that, unfortunately, New Yorkers have seen before; it will leave the state finances in complete disarray.

It is commendable that the Department of Transportation and many others are trying to reverse the multiple infrastructure and urban renewal mistakes of the 1950s. These tragic mistakes were often inflicted on less influential neighborhoods that lacked proper postcodes. Why are the ESD and the Governor now visiting this dishonorable practice in the Penn district?

President Biden, Transportation Secretary Buttigieg, and Assistant Secretary Trottenberg need to keep their eyes on the ball! A New York that espouses and embodies sound urban design principles for the rest of this century and into the next will be to their credit, if they step in at this critical hour.

No more than New Yorkers do they need a New York frozen in outdated and obsolete ideas from Robert Moses’ playbook. We need to rethink what makes cities livable, how to sustainably renew them, and design new transit plans that promote environmental health, regional economic equity, and ease of use for all.

Obscenely, the ESD and the Governor want to bail out Mr. Roth who hopes to resurrect his failing stock — already down pre-COVID — by delivering the “promised land” of Midtown West to its shareholders. But we don’t need a Vornado vanity project when real solutions at Penn Station are calling.

Please help what is still “the greatest city in the world” and its people – locally and regionally – get around this dated, mean-spirited, divisive and deeply corrupt plan.


Sam Turvey is president of RethinkNYC, an advocacy and education group dedicated to the broader impacts of public transit infrastructure and governance issues. He is also co-coordinator of the Empire Station Coalition, a group of more than 15 civic, environmental, and neighborhood associations opposed to Governor Hochul’s plans for Penn Station. Turvey is a lifelong community activist and sits on numerous charitable boards, including the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and the Noble Maritime Collection in Staten Island.