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.

Should have built it sixteen years ago

A further update to one of the stories I follow around here – New York’s slow, halting efforts to renovate the Farley Post Office into a ‘new’ Penn Station.

The New York Observer reports today:

Plans to expand Pennsylvania Station across the street into the Farley Post Office face fresh hurdles, as a new cost estimate for the project, known as Moynihan Station, leaves a funding gap of up to $1 billion. … The Port Authority of New York and New Jerseycompleted a preliminary cost analysis of an expansion, coming up with a price tag of $1.4 billion… more than twice the construction cost estimate given in 2006, though it includes new underground components that were not previously includeIn the works since it was pushed by Senator Daniel Moynihan in 1992, the planned station has proved repeatedly to be a textbook case of the inability to execute large-scale public projects in New York City. There has long been support from civic groups and key politicians — four governors and three mayors have endorsed it — and even full funding has been lined up on previous occasions (though costs rose). But each plan has successively faltered before a shovel even hit the ground.

If they had committed to the plan as it existed in 1994, at twice the estimate as it stood then, they would have come out ahead and had a fabulous station to serve the city for more than a dozen years. Instead, people continue to scurry through the existing Penn Station, which now serves 600,000 passengers per workday for Amtrak, LIRR, and NJT. What a mess.

penn_station3The irony here is that plans for the original Penn Station were announced by Pennsylvania Railroad president Alexander Cassatt (brother of the painter Mary Cassatt) in December 1901, construction of the tunnels began in June 1903, and the station itself was underway in May 1904. Train service began in November 1910. The $114 million the project cost all come from the Pennsylvania Railroad alone (in 2007 dollars, that represents a $2.5 billion dollar expenditure – such things occurred in an era before corporate taxation.) Depending on the milestones then, the original Penn Station – from train yards to tunnels to the station itself – took nine years from plan to operation. I cannot help but think Cassatt would marvel at modern New York’s inability to get its act together.

The project that dare not speak its name…

[I realize it has been a long quiet time around here. I apologize for that. Life is busy, but even more than that, I am of a mixed mind what I want to do with this site. While I ponder that thought, I cannot help but pass on a link to one of the stories I follow around here – New York’s slow, halting efforts to renovate the Farley Post Office into a ‘new’ Penn Station.]

farley_thumbBack in March, the Farley station issue cropped up again as Sen. Schumer suggested Amtrak be compelled, er, encouraged to chip in $100 million in stimulus funds towards the station (which it backed out of when Amtrak was under David Gunn‘s direction, allowing NJT to enter the scene under another former Amtrak president, the late George Warrington), rather than fund the station out of the $21 billion in stimulus funds being directed towards the state of New York. I have not heard another peep about that idea since then, so I was curious to see the following item on the blog of WNYC radio. I am leaving their aside in, as I would have made the same snark, but WNYC has saved me the trouble.

The chiefs of economic development for the city and the state spoke before construction industry executives this morning, trying to reassure them that all was well even in these hard times… New York Times reporter Charles Bagli, one of the moderators, brought up another hibernating project: Moynihan Station – which was first conceived in the early 1990s as a renovation of the Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue, exploded in scope, and has since returned to smaller, but indeterminate, shape. (Bagli called it the project that “none dare call its name.”)

Marisa Lago, the state economic development chief, threw cold water on Senator Schumer’s idea to convince Amtrak to devote $100 million of its stimulus funding to the station, saying officials had not figured out what part of Moynihan could qualify as “shovel ready.”

There you have it: More than 15 years, and three-and-a-half environmental reviews later, Moynihan Station still isn’t shovel ready.

“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.

Schumer pokes at the Moynihan Station mess

I have previsouly covered New York’s laborious efforts to convert the James Farley Post Office, across the street from Penn Station, into a new passenger station that would serve as an homage to the original Penn Station. It is a great idea, and somehow only in America could an idea like this, with so much support, manage to languish for so long. To get a sense of where this has been, please see the articles found here.

New York’s Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer gave an interview this weekend in which he offered his opinion that $100 million of stimulus funds should be directed towards finally getting this project underway. As much as I am inclined to agree with him, I find it ironic that he wants to see that money come out of the $1.3 billion set aside for Amtrak or the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail, and not out of the $21 billion earmarked for the state of New York. Go figure. Curiously, his desire to see Amtrak as the central tenant in the new station ignores the fact that Amtrak, under David Gunn, told New York to take a hike, permitting New Jersey Transit, under former Amtrak President the late George Warrington, to sweep in and secure for itself the central position.

Articles here and here.

[As an aside, NJT hopes to build new tunnels into Manhattan from New Jersey (the first in over 100 years) and plans to do so in a very odd way that seems designed to limit future flexibility. Perhaps the whole Hudson tunnel, New York passenger station, Amtrak/NJT ruckus can be solved but I continue to suggest one not hold one’s breath.]