Company kicked off LICH project takes crack at Penn Station

The development would be AirRail's first

Rendering of Penn Station (inset: Larry English)
Rendering of Penn Station (inset: Larry English)

A newly formed development company has set its sights on the massive redevelopment of Penn Station as its first-ever project. Why?

“Because we’re crazy?” joked Larry English, founder of AirRail, the leader in a group of companies that responded to the state’s request for proposals for the project last week.

This isn’t exactly English’s first rodeo, which perhaps makes his pursuit of a major public project even more surprising. English’s former company and Air Rail’s predecessor — English Consulting Group — organized the Brooklyn Health Partners (BHP), the team that bid and won the right to negotiate for a chance to develop the the Long Island College Hospital site. The project, however, didn’t pan out: The State University of New York ditched BHP, leading to a fierce legal battle and the selection of two different successors. BHP, SUNY said at the time, couldn’t deliver on its proposal to build a 300- to 400-bed hospital, which had made the company the most attractive contender for the project. The state then tapped the Peebles Corporation, but that deal also fell through. The Fortis Group is the latest developer chosen to take on the project and plans to build a residential development.

English said losing that project didn’t deter him from pursuing another large-scale public development. The fact that BHP was selected out of a pool of well-known developers, instead, has emboldened them.

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“Even though in that experience, we didn’t end up with the outcome that we hoped, it gave us the confidence that we could play with the big boys,” he said. “[Penn] be our first project, but you have to start somewhere.”

English will likely be facing off with some of the biggest names in real estate. Requests for proposals (RFPs) for the redevelopment of Penn Station and the James A. Farley Post Office were due last Friday, capturing the interest of several major development companies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued the plans in January, temporarily dropping Vornado Realty Trust and Related Companies from the Farley project, known as Moynihan Station. Related and Vornado are expected to continue to vie for the redevelopment and likely have a leg up on the competition.

The jettisoned developers were tapped by Gov. George Pataki in 2005 to jointly develop Farley. Dozens of architecture firms, construction and development companies toured the post office and train station in February and March, according to a list of attendees provided by the Empire State Development Corporation. It’s not yet clear how many design-build teams went out for the RFP.

AirRail is leading the Transportation Consortium of New York, a team that includes Manning Architects and Ozanne Construction, companies that have design-build experience. Ahead of forming this team, English changed his company’s name from English Consulting to AirRail. Sarah Wu, who previously worked for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and was just named AirRail’s CEO, said the name change was just a “continuation of the company’s strategic direction,” which is focusing on infrastructure projects. The overarching idea of AirRail, however, is to promote minority-led companies, English said.

“They’ve been kind of pigeonholed on the subcontracting level,” he said “We wanted to create a new paradigm, that minority firms are able to step up and address these complex projects.”