City and MSG look like they’re headed toward showdown over stadium relocation

MSG has just five years left on its special operating permit, but has announced no plans for a move

From left: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Madison Square Garden, and Andrew Lustgarten (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and MSG)
From left: Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Madison Square Garden, and Andrew Lustgarten (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and MSG)

UPDATED, Sept. 6, 5:22 p.m.: The City Council and James Dolan’s Madison Square Garden Company appear to be headed toward another clash over plans to relocate the iconic sports stadium.

Madison Square Garden is now at the midway point of the 10-year timetable the city laid out in 2013 for the stadium to relocate and make way for a modern Penn Station.

But with five years left on its special operating permit, MSG appears to have taken no significant steps toward what would be a years-long process of acquiring a new site and constructing a new stadium.

“We have not provided any public information” on the matter, MSG spokesperson Kimberly Kerns told The Real Deal.

Stakeholders such as the Regional Plan Association and the Municipal Arts Society that have called for the Garden to move said they have not been informed of any plans to do so. Madison Square Garden has not filed an application with the City Planning Commission to extend its special permit, and sources said the City Council hasn’t been made aware of the stadium’s future plans.

The City Council made it clear five years ago that it expected MSG to be gone by 2023, but a Council spokesperson would not say whether the legislative body expected the Garden to stick to the deadline.

“MSG over the years has looked at variety of different options and the Council hopes to work with them and other stakeholders to make sure we address the long term needs of Penn Station and our transit riders,”spokesperson Jennifer Fermino wrote in an email.

When the stadium’s special operating permit came up for renewal in 2013, MSG had requested an extension in perpetuity, but then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed giving the stadium a 15-year extension. And his administration offered a sweetener: It proposed a provision that would allow MSG to stay in perpetuity if the company committed to making improvements to Penn Station access, which would require approval by the City Planning Commission.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

But the City Council took a harder line. It ended up giving MSG only a 10-year permit, and removed the provision that would allow the Garden to stay. Then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she expected MSG to relocate after the special permit was up.

“Significantly improving Penn Station while Madison Square Garden sits atop it has proven to be an intractable problem, and it is my belief that finding a new location for the Garden is likely the only way to address the ongoing capacity and safety issues at Penn Station, as well as to bring this area to its best and highest use,” Quinn wrote in a letter to MSG president Hank Ratner.

But relocating MSG would be a multi-year process. It took roughly three years just for the construction of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. And MSG doesn’t appear to have even so much as selected a site for a new stadium.

A study by New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management in 2016 said it could cost as much as $5 billion to relocate the stadium. The study identified the Morgan Annex of the United States Post Office nearby between Ninth and Tenth avenues from West 28th to West 30th streets as a potential location.

But Tishman Speyer is nearing a deal to acquire a 99-year leasehold on the upper floors of the northern section of the postal facility, as TRD reported in July.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday held a press conference at Vornado Realty Trust’s 2 Penn Plaza office building to announce he planned to create a new entrance for to Penn Station on 33rd Street.

The governor made no mention of MSG’s plans to relocate or stated the projected costs of the new entrance. But following the announcement, the Municipal Arts Society put out a statement calling on the governor to hammer out a plan to relocate the sports stadium.

This article was updated to include a comment from the City Council.