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Scott Stringer Urges City to Reject MSG Bid for Permanent Permit

By Alan Neuhauser | March 27, 2013 12:25pm

MIDTOWN — It's a full-court press.

Citing massive overcrowding at Penn Station, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer urged the City Council Wednesday to conditionally reject Madison Square Garden's bid for a never-ending special-use permit.

Stringer, who is a Democratic candidate for comptroller, instead joined the chorus of voices calling for a 10-year renewal that would ostensibly force The World's Most Famous Arena to find new digs within the next decade and, in so doing, open space for an expansion of Penn Station.

"it is time to build a more spacious, attractive and efficient station that will further encourage transit use, reduce driving into the city and spur economic growth throughout our city and our region," Stringer said in a statement.

"While we need to ensure the Garden always has a vibrant and accessible home in Manhattan," he continued, "moving the arena is an important first step to improving Penn Station."

The borough president added that the City Council should also conditionally disapprove Madison Square Garden's application to install four 8-story LED signs around the exterior of the arena.

Stringer issued his recommendations as part of the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for Madison Square Garden, which began after the arena's 50-year permit to operate as a large-scale venue expired Jan. 24. The Garden has since been operating under a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy issued by the Department of  Buildings.

Madison Square Garden's permit renewal and LED-sign applications next proceed to the City Planning Commission, which has 60 days to issue it recommendations. It goes before the City Council for a final decision thereafter.

The Madison Square Garden Company, in a statement, said it "is being unfairly singled out" and castigated Stringer's recommendation.

"MSG meets all required findings for this permit and operates in a city where no sports arena or stadium has a time limit to its use," the company stated.

"Adding an arbitrary expiration for reasons unrelated to the special permit process or requirements would not only set a dangerous and questionable precedent, but would also hinder our ability to make MSG and New York City the long-term home of even more world-class events, and would harm a business that has served as a significant economic driver for the City for generations."

Community Boards 4 and 5, by contrast, which voted against renewing Madison Square Garden's permit in perpetuity, praised Stringer's finding.

"It's an important step forward," said Wally Rubin, district manager of Community Board 5, which supported a 10-year limit on the Garden's permit.

Community Board 4 District Manager Robert Benfatto agreed.

"We did think that perpetuity was way too much," he said. "We don't support any changes to the current signage law. They got big signs there now. It's not like you don't know the Garden's there when you see it."

Madison Square Garden's location atop Penn Station "has stifled" the transit nexus' "ability to grow," Stringer's office stated. Underground columns supporting the arena above, for example, prevent Penn Station from expanding packed subway platforms, and the station's various waiting areas for New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad overflow with travelers during rush hour.

With more than 640,000 riders a day, the station is operating over 100 percent capacity, reports have found, and its use is only expected to rise.

"A number of new regional transportation plans are currently under way, including East Side Access, a potential Metro-North train expansion to the west side, the Gateway tunnel project and extension of the 7 Line. All will add dramatically to the number of travelers who pass through Penn Station each day," Stringer's office said.

"Failing to account for Penn Station's current and future needs could have devastating effects and enervate New York's ability to compete with world cities," he added.