West Side to grow around old Garden?

Apr.April 04, 2008 03:55 PM

A subdued display of renderings at Madison Square Garden seems to have softened the stance of city, state and federal officials who opposed plans to renovate the old arena, instead of moving it to make way for the planned Moynihan Station, sources said.

Insiders familiar with the negotiating process told The Real Deal that these public officials, who recently demanded that the Garden would have to accommodate Moynihan Station, are now shifting tack, suggesting that the train hub and the planned office development around it could move forward with the Garden in place.

The Dolan family, which owns the Garden, broke on March 27 from talks about the plan to transform the Penn Station-Garden area, which faces a $2 billion funding shortfall. A joint venture of the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust planned to pool private equity into a city-state-federal effort to convert the landmark Farley Post Office into a long-distance train hub on one side and a new Garden further west. Garden senior vice president Barry Watkins called an on-site renovation, which the Dolans’ Cablevision would pay for itself, “the only viable option” for the aging venue.

Advocates of the Moynihan Station plan angrily accused the Dolans of bluffing, blustering or being short-sighted. Some suggested that with developer Bruce Ratner promising the Frank Gehry-designed Nets arena in Brooklyn by 2010, Cablevision couldn’t afford to stick with a modest rehab of an old arena. Now, as Garden executives show off a relatively modest $500 million plan to make the arena’s interior bright and full of luxury suites, officials are changing their tune, both in private and public.

“We’re taking a close look at this and will remain in close discussion with all parties, with a goal of building the best Moynihan Station possible and developing the West Side,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, a longtime advocate of revitalizing the area.

The developers, who had broached the idea of folding the Garden into their plans three years ago, remain optimistic.

“Our joint venture remains committed to this tremendous opportunity to rebuild Pennsylvania Station,” Vishaan Chakrabarti, who runs the Related-Vornado venture, said in a statement. “While we understand the frustrations of Madison Square Garden, we have every faith that our City, State and Federal leadership will enable this project to become a reality for all New Yorkers.”

The Related-Vornado venture has long contemplated building offices with air rights over the Garden site to profit from its planned investment in the train station. Because the city must rezone the area once the station’s plans are hashed out, the developers could still find ways to create office space in the area, possibly by promoting the idea of a continuous office district between Moynihan Station and nearby Hudson Yards, where Tishman Speyer plans to build about 8 million square feet of office space.

But with no clear leader behind the project and no clear signals from Gov. David Paterson, the Moynihan Station plan faces a ream of questions before the rezoning process even begins.

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