By Jill Colvin
MIDTOWN — Building Amtrak's proposed Gateway tunnel project could result in the razing of an entire Midtown block lined with restaurants, businesses and churches, DNAinfo has learned.
The Amtrak "Gateway Project" [PDF] project, which is still in its preliminary planning phases, calls for the construction of two new commuter train tunnels under the Hudson River from New Jersey into a new, expanded Penn Station.
According to Gateway Project plans released by New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a new station, called "Penn South," would be built just south of the existing transportation hub between West 30th and 31st streets between Seventh and Eighth avenues.
But if the project gets the green light, the entire Midtown block needed for the site would likely be razed to build the new tracks and station under, an Amtrak spokesman confirmed.
Businesses in the path, who at first welcomed the news of more foot traffic, were shocked to hear about the proposed plan.
"Wow. You've got to be kidding," said Alfredo Marty, 45, the manager of the Blarney Stone, an Irish pub on Eighth Avenue that has been serving locals and sports fans from Madison Square Garden for more than 50 years.
Blarney Stone regular Les Carney, 69, said that it would be a shame to see the place close.
"It's one of the few bars that is still a mom-and-pop space," said Carney, who lives in the neighborhood and has been a regular at the bar for 20 years. "Everything else seems to be going upscale."
The Gateway Project is Amtrak's answer to the stalled Access to the Region's Core (ARC) plan, the massive tunnel project killed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie that was supposed to double rail capacity between New Jersey and Midtown.
"The preferred scenario will be to raze the existing buildings, excavate the block, build the new train station, construct a deck over it and then build new commercial overbuild on top," Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said.
Juan Delrosario, 40, the manager of Amadeus Pizza on Eighth Avenue, said that closing the restaurant would have a huge impact on the men and women who work at the shop.
"There's a lot of families here. A lot of families," he said, shaking his head.
Still, Delrosario said he doubted something so large would ever get off the ground.
"It's a lot of money to knock down all these buildings," he said. "Anything is possible, but I don't think it will happen."
Other businesses that would be impacted by the plan include a liquor store, a small recording studio, office buildings, small residential buildings, and numerous bars and restaurants, including the club Rebel, the upscale Parlour lounge, the Flying Puck Bar and Grill and Harrington's on Seventh Avenue, and another long-time neighborhood pub, the Molly Wee Pub, at the corner of Eighth Avenue and West 30th Street.
Also on the stretch are two churches that stand back-to-back: The Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist on West 30th Street and the Capuchin Monastery of St. John the Baptist on West 31st Street facing Madison Square Garden.
The stalled ARC project would have displaced more than 90 Manhattan businesses, including some that had served the neighborhood for decades, in order to build station entrances and air shafts. But because the ARC station was set to be built so deep underground, the buildings directly above the station would have been saved.
Amtrak is now waiting for word on a $50 million grant request from the federal government to fund a design and engineering study for the project, which would take an estimated four years to complete. The company would then need to secure an estimated $13.5 billion to build the new tunnels and station.
The door is still open for changes in the plan because design and engineering studies for the project have yet-to-begin and construction is still years away.
"As the engineering work progresses, it may be determined that alternatives are preferable and these scenarios could change," Cole said.