MIDTOWN — In a resounding blow, the City Council's Land Use Committee overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to limit Madison Square Garden's new operating permit to just 10 years, setting the stage for the World's Most Famous Arena to move and make way for an expansion of Penn Station.
The committee also eliminated a loophole that would have allowed the arena — whose original 50-year permit expired in January — to win another permit lasting "in perpetuity" if it improved accessibility at Penn Station.
The vote, 18-1, marked one of the final stages of the months-long brawl between the Garden and a coalition of community organizations, arts groups and neighborhood politicians, which had pushed for a 10-year limit to allow for a much-needed expansion of Penn Station, one of the nation's busiest and most overcrowded transit hubs.
The vote must be approved by the City Planning Commission and the full City Council to go into effect.
"We're thrilled by the support from the committee," Community Board 5 District Manager Wally Rubin told DNAinfo New York.
The Land Use Committee, in recommending a 10-year permit significantly limited a May 22 recommendation by the City Planning Commission, which had called for a 15-year deal.
The measure also included an important caveat: Madison Square Garden could win an indefinite permit without City Council approval, the commmission said, if it upgraded the staircases, escalators and elevators at Penn Station, then got approval from the commission and the three rail agencies that use the transit hub: Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the MTA Long Island Rail Road.
Community groups such as the Municipal Art Society railed against the caveat, which they called a "fatal loophole." But the push for a shortened 10-year permit with no chance of an indefinite extension truly gained steam last week, when Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose district includes Madison Square Garden, announced that she, too, supported a shortened, straightforward permit.
"We're very gratified by the support [from] Speaker Quinn," Rubin said.
The permit application now heads back to the City Planning Commission, which has 15 days to decide whether the committee's amendments are still within the scope of Madison Square Garden's original application, and if they measure up to an environmental review.
If the commission signs-off on the committee's changes, the Garden's application goes before the full City Council for a floor vote.
If the commission rejects the amendments, however, the application returns to the Land Use Committee's Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises for an up-or-down vote on the application as it was recommended by the commission — with the 15-year limit and loophole intact.
The Madison Square Garden Company, which had previously claimed it was "being held hostage" by the City Planning Commission's 15-year limit, declined to comment.
Amtrak, which owns Penn Station, also declined to comment on the Land Use Committee's vote, instead reissuing the joint statement it distributed with New Jersey Transit and the MTA on June 19.
“Amtrak, MTA Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit," the agencies wrote, "look forward to continuing to work with all parties to develop meaningful improvements to the customer experience at the nation's busiest rail station."