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Quinn Calls for 10-Year Limit on Madison Square Garden Permit

By Alan Neuhauser | June 19, 2013 3:52pm | Updated on June 19, 2013 4:06pm
 The Department of City Planning granted Madison Square Garden a 15-year renewal on its special permit to operate as a large-scale arena.
Planning Commission Recommends 15-Year Pemit for MSG
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MIDTOWN — City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn wants to boot Madison Square Garden from its home atop Penn Station 10 years from now as a way of expanding one of the world's busiest rail hubs.

The City Council is currently reviewing The Madison Square Garden Company's request for a permit that would allow the arena to operate in its current home "in perpetuity," but Quinn announced Wednesday that she would only support a 10-year permit for the arena.

In a letter to the company's president and CEO Hank Ratner, Quinn called for the creation of a "Commission for a 21st Century Penn Station," charged with finding a new location for Madison Square Garden.

"Significantly improving Penn Station while Madison Square Garden sits atop it has proven to be an intractable problem," Quinn wrote in the letter. "Finding a new location for the Garden is likely the only way to address the ongoing capacity and safety issues at Penn Station."

Quinn's office distributed her letter in the wake of a star-studded City Council subcommittee hearing held earlier Wednesday on how best to renew Madison Square Garden's permit to operate as a large-scale arena. The permit, granted in 1963, expired in December, and the arena has been operating under a temporary certificate of occupancy ever since.

At Wednesday's hearing, former New York Knick players and current MSG Network broadcasters Walt "Clyde" Frazier and John Starks, along with director and die-hard Knicks fan Spike Lee, argued against relocating the arena.

Local officials, community leaders and advocacy groups, by contrast, have strongly opposed granting the arena a never-ending permit. Instead, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Community Board 5, the Municipal Art Society and others have urged the city to limit any new permit to just 10 years, which they say would force the arena to find a new home and, in so doing, free-up space for a much-needed expansion of Penn Station.

The Department of City Planning, seeking to find "a balance," recommended May 22 that the city issue a 15-year permit, one that would allow Madison Square Garden to obtain a permit "in perpetuity" if it reaches agreements with the three rail agencies that use Penn Station — Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and the MTA — to improve accessibility at the transit hub, which serves more than 600,000 passengers a day.

The Madison Square Garden Company slammed the 15-year limit, claiming the arena is "effectively being held hostage" by a restriction that is "arbitrary...inappropriate, unfair and unwarranted."

The City Council, if it plans to amend the Department of City Planning's recommendation, must issue a decision by mid July. Votes, if held, will take place in the council's Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, followed by the Land Use Committee and finally the City Council.

The Madison Square Garden Company declined to comment.

Amtrak, which owns Penn Station, issued a joint statement with New Jersey Transit and the MTA, saying the three agencies "look forward to continuing to work with all parties to develop meaningful improvements to the customer experience at the nation's busiest rail station.”

Vikki Barbero, chairwoman of Community Board 5, released a statement Wednesday afternoon praising Quinn's stance.

"New York needs a world-class train station and a world-class arena and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves to make it happen," Barbero said.