Cuomo’s Penn Pals?

Breaking down the governor’s “Empire Station” proposal and what it means for local property owners

Feb.February 01, 2020 01:00 PM

Andrew Cuomo and Penn Station

The latest proposal to expand Penn Station — given new urgency by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month — includes plans to acquire a full city block to the south for an entirely new terminal with eight tracks.

The governor now has his sights on West 30th and West 31st streets between Seventh and Eighth avenues for the “Empire Station Complex” megaproject.

The proposed terminal would connect to both Penn Station and the Moynihan Train Hall, which is expected to open this year in the James A. Farley Post Office. Extra trains would boost capacity by an estimated 40 percent, drawing another 175,000 commuters on top of the 650,000 who already pass through daily, and the additional station would ease overcrowding.

But that plan would require clearing the entire block — a somewhat shabby mix of prewar office buildings, low-slung restaurants, tenement-style apartments and Victorian-era churches — through negotiated purchases or eminent domain.

All told, the block has 51 properties, including 30 condo units. The plan would also wipe out 763,000 square feet of commercial space. One asset — a six-story industrial property — already belongs to Amtrak.

It remains to be seen which developers Empire State Development, which is overseeing Penn Station’s expansion, will pick to lead the project, but real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust would have a built-in advantage in the bidding process. Steven Roth’s firm owns millions of square feet of property in the area that would greatly benefit from the project, allowing Vornado to undercut other firms and make up any losses through increased property values.

Meanwhile, the Gateway Program to improve tunnels and bridges crossing the Hudson River remains in limbo because of opposition from the Trump administration. But Cuomo is plowing ahead regardless.

Here’s a closer look at some of the key numbers behind the Penn Station expansion plan.

7.4M sq. ft.

Steve Roth

The total amount of office space that Steven Roth’s Vornado controls around Penn Station. The REIT also owns local retail space, including the 1.12-million-square-foot Manhattan Mall, and the Hotel Pennsylvania.


The combined “market value” of all 51 properties on the block targeted for acquisition, according to an analysis of Department of Finance estimates. Seven Penn Plaza, an 18-story prewar office building owned by the Feil Organization, is pegged at $112 million. But the city’s numbers, which do not factor in air rights, are likely far below what the properties would actually sell for: Amtrak and the governor have said it may cost upwards of $1 billion to purchase all the buildings.


Moynihan Train Hall

The year New York state bought the landmarked Farley building for $230 million with plans to convert it to the Moynihan Train Hall, though construction wouldn’t start until 2017. Besides new platforms for Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road, the full-block redevelopment is slated to add 120,000 square feet of retail space and 740,000 square feet of offices when it opens at the end of this year.


The total estimated cost of the Gateway Program. Washington was supposed to pay half of the bill, while New York and New Jersey would split the other half. But Donald Trump has refused to pick up the federal government’s tab and slashed the amount already allocated to $325 million from $650 million in his 2020 budget.


How much more the construction of a new terminal could cost than the original Penn Station, which was built in 1910. The total price tag for the original station — including land purchases and the Hudson River and East River tunnels — was $114 million, or just over $3 billion in today’s dollars. Building a new terminal south of Madison Square Garden is projected to cost as much as $6 billion.

3 years

The amount of time left on Madison Square Garden’s special operating permit before James Dolan’s firm will have to secure a renewal or relocate the arena. Cuomo has suggested converting the arena’s Hulu Theater — a 5,600-seat concert venue that’s hosted Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Elton John — into a new entrance for Penn Station.


The portion of the block in Cuomo’s sights controlled by Amtrak, the Archdiocese of New York and Gordon Property Group, which owns a 1,500-space parking garage. That those three parties control a third of the block may be welcome news for state negotiators, though officials would still have to contend with other, smaller stakeholders.


The number of development firms that responded to RFPs to upgrade Penn and the surrounding area in 2016. The list included Extell, Silverstein Properties and JDS Development, according to news reports, but Cuomo tapped Vornado and Related Companies for the project the following year, and Vornado bought out most of Related’s share in 2018.

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Stuart Elliott

Editor’s note: Déjà vu all over again

Editor’s note: Déjà vu all over again
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