Two Moynihan Station nuggets

I have clearly fallen very far off of the blogging wagon, but I do continue to try to keep a good chronicle of news relating to the long-delayed Moynihan Station project in New York. The most recent post in that group is here, and all of them can be found here.

Today’s updates are modest, but worth noting…

  1. An August 16 story from NY1 discussing the work performed on the station so far. Concolidation of postal space, a 30% increase in vertical transportation capacity to and from the platforms, the coversion of a loading dock into a taxi stand, etc. The article includes this serious understatement: “But the train hasn’t left the station yet, so to speak. Funding is not set for the more than $1 billion needed for the new transit hall. However, officials are confident real estate money for the private spaces in the new station will fill the hole.” It also includes this two minute video.
  2. Crain’s reports that: “The state and the city have re-entered negotiations with Vornado Realty Trust and The Related Cos. over the sale of 1 million square feet of air rights associated with the new Moynihan Station, says the new president of the Moynihan Station Development Corp., Tim Gilchrist.” The suggestion follows that the commercial construction could begin and finish before the new Moynihan Station is ready for travelers. Funny how much faster the city moves when profits are at stake. Here is the rest of this piece:

The developers entered into a memorandum of understanding with the state in 2006 to develop the Farley Post Office into a new train station and to use the air rights to build an adjacent mixed-use development topped by a 67-story tower.

But the plan, including $110 million from the sale of the air rights, was never approved by the Public Authorities Control Board.

The recession forced the state to split the development into two phases. Eventually, federal stimulus funding provided the final $83 million needed to build the $267 million first phase, which entails linking the Farley building to expanded Penn Station platforms to give passengers another exit.

The initial construction contracts were approved Monday, and now attention is turning to funding the $1 billion second and final phase.

That’s where the sale of air rights comes in. The Farley building—which occupies the square block between 31st and 33rd streets and Eighth and Ninth avenues—comes with 2.5 million square feet of transferable air rights. While Related and Vornado have dibs on the first 1 million, the remaining 1.5 million square feet are up for grabs.

If an air-rights agreement with the two developers is reached, the 1 million-square-foot “Penn West” could begin rising before construction on the station’s first phase is completed in the next three to four years.

“We have a way to move forward, we just have to negotiate the pieces,” Gilchrist says. “I’d love to get money to build [the station].”

Time is ticking: The agreement that gives Related and Vornado exclusive development rights expires in 2012.

Moynihan Station Approved by Key State Board

From the Eliot Brown article in the New York Observer:

Plans for an expanded Penn Station received a boost today as the Public Authorities Control Board—a state-run board that previously blocked a different version of the project—approved a first phase for the plan, known as Moynihan Station.

With each additional approval (of which there are many), it’s actually looking like the project, which would eventually move Amtrak into the Corinthian column-lined Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue, will see the start of construction. The long-sought expansion, which has been in the works for two decades, has become a symbol of the tortured progress of New York public works projects.

The approval today was for $267 million in infrastructure construction that would expand a concourse and complete ventilation work–most certainly not the sexiest or visually appealing part of the project. On its own, this probably isn’t worth $267 million in value for riders, as the spending rests on the assumption that the state will eventually find money for the rest of the project.

Back in 2006, the PACB, which is controlled jointly by the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, blocked Governor Pataki’s plans for the project, as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stood in the way of the plan. Complete with the project’s narrative of ever-overreaching visions, the incoming Governor Spitzer then championed a larger version that involved moving Madison Square Garden to the post office, which more than a year later fell apart, due largely to the tremendous level of complication involved. (In retrospect, this plan approved today isn’t all that different from what the PACB was being asked to approve three-and-a-half years ago. Of course, that was before tens of millions of additional spending on consultants, borrowing costs, etc.)

This time, however, all the legislative leaders were on board with the spending, which was mostly federal money earmarked for the project. (Here’s the PACB agenda.) In the past year, state officials reworked the plan to be able to construct the project in chunks, as opposed to the prior strategy of waiting until all the various moving pieces fell into place. Should construction actually begin, it will be in large part due to this new strategy.

Still on the table, in theory: the sale of at least 1 million square feet of air rights over the Farley Building to a venture of developers Vornado and Related, which would build a tower across the street next to 1 Penn Plaza. (That, too, would need further approvals.)

Moynihan Station receives $83 million grant

Despite my recent slow blogging, I cannot ignore a big development in the New York Penn Station/Farley Post Office/Moynihan Station morass, which has been a recurring topic here at Quod Ero Spero. Past posts on this topic have highlighted Amtrak’s amnesia over its involvement in the project (and its rejection of it under David Gunn), linked to the Municipal Arts Society’s (apparently formant) site advocating for Moynihan Station, examined the whereabouts of the old station’s original stone eagles, looked at the lobbying budgets of the developers associated with the effort, noted a refutation of the idea that the death of the original Penn Station gave birth to modern preservation efforts, presented an overview of the then-current efforts to develop the Farley Post Office, lamented the delays and cost-increases imposed by New York’s political inability to execute this project, noted Sen. Schumer’s desire to shakedown Amtrak for $100 million, remarked on Amtrak’s oddly pivotal role in this whole mess, been amused by the unspeakable nature of the Farley effort, compared the inept, 16+ year public effort to build a station with the original, successful six-year private effort by the Pennsylvania Railroad, contrasted the Farley effort with NJT’s own troubled-yet-nonetheless-advancing effort to build a new tunnel under the Hudson, terminating in a deep, controversial, commuter-only station, and discussed the all-New York cabal behind Amtrak’s decision to rejoin the project in September 2009.

I provide the above summary to ensure that you, gentle reader, come to this week’s announcement with a full sense of the last few years’ developments as they relate to the Farley/Moynihan effort.

On Tuesday this week, New York Senator Chuck Schumer announced that the Moynihan Station project had received $83 million in grant money from Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER). Grrr. Further news emerged from the Friends of Moynihan Station group, run by the late Sen. Moynihan’s daughter, which explained what the grant covered: building two new entrances to Penn Station’s platforms from West of Eighth Avenue through the corners of the Farley Building; doubling the length and width of the West End Concourse; providing 13 new “vertical access points” (escalators, elevators and stairs) to the platforms; doubling the width of the 33rd Street Connector between Penn Station and the West End Concourse; and other critical infrastructure improvements including platform ventilation and catenary work.

In comments quoted in the New York Times, Sen. Schumer went further: “The money is there for phase one, and every major hurdle has been cleared. This was the last step, not the first step.”

Really, Chuck? This project has been percolating since 1994, has seen its scope go from roughly $450 million to $1.5 billion, and you believe that a grant that amounts to approximately 5% is the last step? The New York Department of Transportation has pledged $14 million to the project, and apparently the Port Authority has committed to some as well. There’s still going to be a lot of passing the hat ahead of them for these agencies to get from well under $200 million to the full $1,500 million for which they are aiming.

Still, Wednesday saw Governor Patterson charging the Empire State Development Corporation with managing the project, and heralding a signed memorandum of understanding with Amtrak president Joseph Boardman. Just what Amtrak and the state of New York understand was not clear from the Governor’s statement, but it seems to cover cooperation with the construction involved in Phase I.

I should not let my skepticism confuse the fundamental issue here, which is that I think this is a good project that should proceed. I just marvel at the pace, cost, and political nature of this effort. Yes, how could it be otherwise in the heart of New York city – I know. Yet doesn’t it take more nerve than you thought anyone actually had for Schumer to look at this tiny down payment and declare it the “last step?”

Here’s hoping he’s not just arrogant, but prescient, as well.

Amtrak Buys Back in to Farley Station

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

Amtrak reached a preliminary agreement to move to an annex of Pennsylvania Station planned for the James A. Farley Post Office Building, state, federal and railroad officials announced on Sunday.

It offers this detail behind the progress: “The breakthrough was made possible by the government’s agreeing to Amtrak’s request to share revenue from retail outlets in the expanded station and to make some design changes.” To place this into full context would require quite the essay, but please recall my first post on this topic – in August 2007 – when I noted Amtrak’s statement: “We were belatedly brought to the table in recent months.” The irony in that 2007 comment is that Amtrak had been involved in this effort for three years when I played a minute role in it in 1995, so any suggestion of Amtrak’s lack of involvement has always sounded hollow to me. It was David Gunn who torpedoed Amtrak’s role in the redevelopment, noting with some merit that Amtrak had no money to commit to such a plan. Former Amtrak President and then director of New Jersey Transit George Warrington stepped into the breach, claiming a flagship role which has become less and less appealing to NJT as they commit to the tunnel and associated station in the ARC project. (More on that here.)

Back in March, New York Magazine offered an update on the negotiations (post here) in which an unnamed source was quoted saying:

Amtrak, which would move from Penn to Moynihan, won’t commit until all three elected officials [Bloomberg, Paterson, and Corzine] are onboard. “Amtrak is the trickiest part,” one Moynihan negotiation veteran says. “If it sees even a crack of daylight between the mayor, the governors, and the Port Authority, they’ll drive an Acela right through it and kill this chance.”

Looking again at yesterday’s NYT article, with the above comment fresh in your mind, I cannot help but focus on this statement:

Senator Charles E. Schumer, who has been trying to resuscitate the project, said on Sunday that he and Gov. David A. Paterson had been negotiating with Amtrak for six months and had found the new Amtrak chief, Joseph H. Boardman, formerly the New York State transportation commissioner, “far more helpful” than his predecessor.

Looking back at the last time Schumer made waves over Farley, covered here, it seems his contention then was that Amtrak should be the source of substantial stimulus funds as part of the project. Since Gunn’s time, Amtrak’s contention has been that Amtrak would not be a part of the project. I can only assume that the quid pro quo for Amtrak to secure a share of the retail revenue in exchange for contributing stimulus funds towards the project. Curious, is it not, how easily the New York politicians found it to work with Amtrak’s new New York president to spend Federal dollars on a New York project that will not improve the speed of any of Amtrak’s trains? (Admittedly, it should increase capacity in New York, but that is not nearly as beneficial to Amtrak as it is to NJT and LIRR.) I’m sure there are many Amtrak riders far from the NEC who could have found different ways to spend that money, but no one asked them.

Good primer on Moynihan Station

For those of you who have not been following the New York Penn Station saga for the last fifteen years or so, the Municipal Arts Society has compiled a very useful video that explains where this enormous project stands and the major obstacles before it.

Prior coverage of this issue here on QES (including a little amnesia on the part of the nation’s passenger railroad): 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Via: New York Videocasts