(January 11, 2022) — Governor Kathy Hochul is preparing to relocate Madison Square Garden to a permanent new home on the site of Dewitt Clinton Park, a 5.8 acre city park in a trendy section of Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River between 52nd and 54th Streets. The relocation of the nearly 20,000-seat multi-use arena event center is intended to accelerate Hochul’s sweeping improvement plan for Penn Station, which sits under the 60s-era venue that critics have always lamented as congested and misplaced.
The Governor believes that the new arena’s construction could be completed in as little as three years, and she wants to hire a ‘star architect’ with deep ties to New York to begin designing the facility as soon as possible. Hochul envisions that the arena will ‘sit on-top’ of glassy television studios at street level, which she hopes that businessman James Dolan will populate with nationally-broadcasted sports and entertainment programming on MSG’s television network.
Many of the studio spaces will include in-studio audiences and others will overlook the Hudson River. Hochul believes that national programing will help improve the city’s image, believing that New York City’s waterfront has gone under-appreciated in the national consciousness.
“The new arena is expected to be a super-modern, super-comfortable venue in a corner of Manhattan that is very centrally located but doesn’t feel as hyper-congested and gritty as the 33rd Street location,” an official with Empire State Development explains. “The new arena’s construction cost is expected to cost New York State taxpayers $800 million, which also happens to be the estimated fair market cost of using eminent domain to acquire MSG’s interests in the property.”
Dolan, the longtime CEO of MSG, prefers to collaborate with the Hochul administration, and is likely to ink a public-private partnership deal in order to avoid a costly drawn-out litigation with the State.
Hochul is willing to use eminent domain to acquire the park from the City, but believes she will have the endorsement of Mayor Eric Adams — who shares her goal of expediting transit and public space improvements at Penn Station. While Adams is concerned about the loss of public space in the neighborhood, Hochul plans to replace the 5.8 acres of public space by acquiring and redeveloping additional piers as park space along the Hudson River in the immediate vicinity of the facility.
The facility will accommodate boxing, mixed martial arts, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and national concert tours.
The old Madison Square Garden will be demolished and it’s 250,000-square-foot site between 33rd 31st Streets will be repurposed as a large public square that will sit above Penn Station’s loading platforms and in front of a glassy new entrance atrium that was announced by the Governor last month.
Hochul has been planning to rename Penn Station after a worthy New Yorker, but has been struggling to decide whether to bestow that honor on former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, women’s sufferage activist Susan B. Anthony, former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, the Reverend Fredrick Douglas, or the recording artist Billy Joel. Hochul is likely to name the station and the public square atop it after the same New Yorker, though that could change.
Madison Square Garden was granted a 50-year operating permit in 1963, and was granted a 10-year extension in 2013. That 10-year operating permit expires in 2023. Dolan has previously been reluctant to move from the current site above Penn Station because he was granted a permanent property tax exemption under Mayor Ed Koch in 1983.
“We can’t afford to pass on the once-in-a generation federal infrastructure opportunity under President Biden, and deny New Yorkers a world-class Penn Station while a few planners continue their 30-year-long debate about moving MSG,” Abbey Collins, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority told The New York Post early last year.
Sources say that Dolan is “generally onboard” with Hochul’s proposal, but is concerned that the Dewitt Clinton Park site is located a full four city blocks from the nearest subway station. He thinks the obstacle could most easily be resolved by constructing a 1.5-mile light rail train on 53rd Street, from Dewitt Clinton Park to Second Avenue. That at-grade light rail would transport riders from the arena site to subway stations across Midtown and would cost between $300 million and $400 million.
Another alternative would make use of Amtrak’s Hudson River Line, which runs underground a block away from the Dewitt Clinton Park site and links Penn Station to the northward suburbs along the Hudson River. Using the sparsely used rail line, which currently accommodates only Amtrak’s Empire Service to Niagara Falls, would require the construction of as many as eight new subway stations to access those tracks along the Westside of Manhattan and under Riverside Park.