A City Council zoning committee has approved a five-year renewal for Madison Square Garden’s special permit, which allows it to operate above Penn Station.
The move slashes previous permits, is less than the 10-year recommendation by the city’s Department of City Planning recommended earlier this summer and well short of the permanent permit requested by the Garden owner James Dolan.
In pushing for five years, Manhattan Councilmember Erick Bottcher said the shorter permit will force officials to move faster on making long term upgrades to Penn Station.
“It’ll give us the space and the time to come up with an answer and to solve this puzzle, but not too much space and time,” Bottcher said following the meeting Monday. “It’ll also set a clock to help get everyone to the table to figure this out.”
Monday’s vote was approved unanimously 6-0. The full City Council is expected to approve the extension next month.
A spokesperson for Madison Square Garden said they were disappointed in the shorter permit but declined to speak publicly. But in the past, Dolan has threatened to move the NBA’s Knicks and NHL’s Rangers if he’s not happy with the deal above Penn Station.
Bottcher rebuffed that possibility.
“I’m going to be the guy that helps get us a new Penn Station,” he said. “I think we can do it, and I think we can do it in the next few years.”
A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget office said it was unlikely that Dolan would relocate the Knicks or Rangers, and that special tax breaks at the Garden have amounted to $1 billion over 41 years.
Comptroller Brand Lander said this permit – the shortest to date – was “an indicator of how seriously the city should take the issues caused by the facility.”
“While I agreed with the local Community Board that a three-year permit would be preferred, I am grateful the City Council committees approved five years rather than the proposed 10,“ Lander said in a statement.
Bottcher and other councilmembers locked themselves behind closed doors negotiating the details of the permit up until minutes before the vote. Following the vote, community members hugged Bottcher, saying they were shocked, and calling the day “momentous and historic.”
“We already felt that having a permit for 10 years was a good start, but getting it reduced to five years is incredible,” said Layla Law-Gisko, chair of the land use committee on Manhattan’s Community Board 5.
Madison Square Garden’s cooperation is needed to make much needed improvements to the transit hub below the area which has operated at the same location since the 1960s, when the original Penn Station was demolished.
The approved permit amendment is being called “a clean permit” meaning it doesn’t have any conditions placed on it. The Department of City Planning recommended requiring the Garden to make aesthetic upgrades to its surrounding area and to work with the MTA on its planned $7 billion overhaul of the transit hub — even if that means giving up some property.
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