On Thursday, June 15, a new entrance to Penn Station opened its doors. A single new entrance may not seem like a big deal, especially since it opened on a Thursday of all days. However, this one underwhelming event signals the beginning of the end for Penn Station’s numerous transit troubles in recent months.
The doors that opened Thursday lead from the Eighth Avenue façade of the James A. Farley Post Office down into Penn Station’s redesigned West End Concourse, which now sparkles with new video monitors, bold colors, and an LED ceiling made to look like the sky. The remodeling of Penn Station and the annexation of certain parts of the Farley Post Office are part of a larger project slated to encompass 700,000 square-feet of retail space and a new 255,000 square-foot train hall. The repurposed post office will be known as the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Station, and the two stations together are tentatively being called the Empire Station Complex.
Preparations began in September of last year, when Governor Cuomo contracted with Related Companies, Vornado Realty Trust and Skanska to manage this project. The governor and the development companies settled on a price tag of $1.6 billion dollars, $630 million of which will come from the developers, $550 million from Empire State Development, and the remaining $420 from Amtrak, the Port Authority, and the MTA, as well as other state and federal sources.
Critics of the Station conversion point to several questionable decisions made by the governor in commissioning this project. First, the Municipal Art Society and the Regional Plan Association (among others) have argued the governor’s plan does not go far enough to fix the congestion of Penn Station. Their solution: move Madison Square Garden elsewhere. Other critics have called it unwise for Governor Cuomo to commence this project during the current transit crisis. Amtrak is already devoting extensive money and resources to repairs – they cannot afford even more costs, or to close down any additional tracks. Likewise, the MTA’s money is better apportioned to improving New York’s decrepit subway infrastructure. Finally, the Village Voice has criticized Governor Cuomo for using taxpayer money to build what is essentially a 700,000 square-foot mall. Sure, Penn Station may suffer in the short-term, but the governor and his team are hopeful. Governor Cuomo has called this a new “iconic civic space for Manhattan’s West Side” that will “result in the creation of thousands of new construction and permanent jobs….”
There may be something underwhelming about the current image of the Empire Station Complex: one lonely doorway. But development is not stopping. Next, the Long Island Railroad Concourse may be renovated, then it may be the new Train Hall. Pretty soon, Penn Station will no longer be an urban dungeon, and the Farley Post Office will facilitate the fast and efficient delivery of millions of New Yorkers to their destinations around the country.