Madison Square Garden Faces Opposition to Renewing Permit

By Heather Holland on February 12, 2013 6:32am 

MIDTOWN EAST — A little-known special permit that has allowed Madison Square Garden to operate as an arena for the past 50 years quietly expired on Jan. 24, and now the arena is looking to renew the permit indefinitely — a move that some in the community oppose.

The Garden’s special permit, which was issued by the City Planning Commission 50 years ago, allows the arena to accommodate seating for more than 2,500 people, according to a City Planning document.

Without the permit, the arena has been using a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy, issued by the Department of Buildings, to continue operating as an arena. The latest TCO is due to expire in April.

The expiration of the permit prompted MSG to appear before Community Board 5's land use committee last week, seeking the committee's support for renewing the permit permanently — but that didn't sit well with some of the members.

CB5's land use committee said it would only give its blessing if the permit expires after 10 years, allowing the community and city another chance to weigh in on the fate of the arena, which the committee says shouldn’t be sitting on top of Penn Station anyway.

"The 10-year renewal is an attempt to create a planning period to figure out another location for the Garden," said Raju Mann, acting chairman of CB5's land use committee. "The reason we would like MSG to relocate is because the Garden sits atop Penn Station, which is North America's most important train station, but is unfortunately woefully over capacity."

Improvements to the arena, as well as the transportation hub underneath, now must be made more slowly because they are sitting on top of each other, Mann said.

"The goal is to try to figure out how we can improve transportation and also build a great new arena," Mann said.

But Elisa Wagner, a spokeswoman for MSG, said there's no reason to build an expiration date into a permit for one of the city's best-known venues.

“They don’t understand why the special permit expires,” Wagner said of Madison Square Garden. “For an ongoing business, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Any arena, stadium or auditorium residing within a manufacturing district, including MSG, requires the special permit to hold more than the 2,500-person limit, said Michael Shilstone, a spokesman for the City Planning Commission.

MSG is going through the city's ULURP (uniform land use review procedure) process to renew its special permit, and it is currently in the 60-day community review stage of the process.

Community Board 5 will vote on the decision to renew MSG's special permit at a full board meeting Thursday.

After community review, the application must be signed by the City Planning Commission, and ultimately voted on by the City Council. Advisory opinions from Community Board 5 and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer are taken into consideration.

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