Chris Ward on Moynihan Station

From an interview in the Commercial Observer with Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Chris Ward:

What’s the latest with Moynihan Station? Will it ever get done?

We’ve made great progress on Phase I. We want to turn this into a transportation project to start, and not a real estate project. So we have negotiated with our joint venture partners and the federal government for the initiation of Phase I, which is about to kick off in probably late October. And with successful completion of Phase I, a demonstration of that project is going forward. We’ve had good communications with Washington on funding and partnership for Phase II.

But the mistakes with the early Moynihan Station was that it was overburdened with costs and complexity, and it was clear we had to break it down into manageable construction projects and build the transportation benefits over time and then realize the large-scale real estate development afterward.

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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 is the trickiest part”

Building on last week’s post about Moynihan Station, as well as the many before that, note the following from Chris Smith in New York Magazine:

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.”

To add some context to Amtrak’s role in this whole byzantine process, make sure you note this, too.

Never hurry, never worry…

From the New York Sun’s Big Expansion Projects Bring Even Bigger Delays:

A good example of just how long delays can fester sits just a few blocks east of Javits, where the Farley Post Office was supposed to become Moynihan Station years ago. Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit riders have suffered through Penn Station’s dreary and decrepit underbelly since the original facility was torn down in 1963 to make room for Madison Square Garden. Senator Moynihan’s terrific idea was to convert the city’s main post office into a train station.

The New York Times first reported on delays for revamping the nation’s busiest transit hub in this dispatch: “After a delay of a year and a half caused by conflicts over personnel and rising budget estimates, city, state and Federal officials agreed yesterday to move forward with a $315 million project to build a new Amtrak railroad station in the General Post Office at 33d Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan.”

That was July 1997. The cost was $455 million. Opening day was to be in 2002.

More than a decade later, there are no shovels in the ground but plenty of ideas for expanding the project. Amtrak wants nothing to do with the new train station in the post office, meaning new renovations for Penn Station. Madison Square Garden wants to move across the street into a portion of the post office, leaving room for new skyscrapers. There’s talk of a huge retail mall, even a new Macy’s. The latest projected cost is $14 billion.

For earlier posts on the Farley issue, see 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Did New York Penn Station really die in vain?

Preserving New York

All of my regular readers know that I follow the birth pains of the new Moynihan Station in the Farley Post Office (1, 2, 3, and 4). With that in mind, I found the following of note.

Since I first learned of the destruction of Penn Station, I have always heard that the noble old station did not die in vain, and that the horror of her destruction gave birth to the modern preservation movement. Apparently, that is not a universally held cause-and-effect relationship.

In a post on the NYT City Room blog, Sewell Chan covers a new book by Anthony Wood, called Preserving new York. It seems Mr. Wood is “the founder and chairman of the New York Preservation Archive Project and executive director of the Ittleson Foundation, a private philanthropy,” and he has written this book which “traces the history of the modern preservation system all the way back to the City Beautiful movement of the early 20th century.”

As the original post explains:

Mr. Wood noted that two events occurred on Oct. 28, 1963, relating to landmarks preservation: a gathering at the Museum of the City of New York to celebrate Alan Burnham’s book “New York Landmarks,” and the lowering of the eagles from their perch atop the old Penn Station, marking the start of the demolition.

“What grew out of the rubble of Pennsylvania Station was the powerful myth that New York’s Landmarks Law owed its very existence to the loss of that station,” he said. “As wonderful a morality tale as that has become, it has just one problem: It just isn’t true. It’s robbed us of 50 years of wonderful history that is inspiring, informative and instructive.”

He added that his book marked an effort to “reclaim” that history.