City negotiating to keep Madison Square Garden in place

Mayor seeks benefits for granting Dolan’s wish to stay put

From left: Dan Garodnick and James Dolan with Madison Square Garden
From left: Dan Garodnick and James Dolan with Madison Square Garden (Madison Square Garden, Getty)

It is no secret that the owners of Madison Square Garden want it to stay put. Now, the Adams administration appears to be on board.

James Dolan’s MSG Entertainment filed an application Thursday to renew its special permit to operate the 22,000-seat arena. Though the request does not include a specific time frame, MSG has indicated that it will ask the city to make the approval permanent.

The City Planning Commission is filing a text amendment in tandem with MSG’s proposal, seeking changes to the permit agreement that, among other things, ensure the arena’s operation does not interfere with future improvements to Penn Station.

While MSG’s application lays out public improvements it will undertake in response to the text amendment, the particulars of how the arena interacts with the Penn plans are less clear.

In its application filings, MSG notes that “the MTA has not yet obtained the requisite public approvals, financing, or property interests for implementation of this proposal, nor has it released architectural drawings,” to determine if the arena is compatible and consistent with the larger Penn plans.

The state is seeking to renovate and eventually expand Penn as part of a broader vision to create 18 million square feet of commercial space and at least 1,172 apartments around the station. Though a state board signed off on a plan to pay for part of the Penn improvements, the project is a long way from being fully funded or approved.

City zoning requires a special permit for any arena with more than 2,500 seats. MSG’s first permit was approved in 1963 for 50 years. Though the arena sought a permanent permit in 2013, the City Council only granted it 10 years.

At the time, Council leaders thought that would create time and leverage to negotiate a deal to relocate the Garden and undertake a more substantial renovation of the transit hub than if the arena remained on top of it.

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However, the Cuomo, Hochul and de Blasio administrations made little or no effort to do that.

Calls to relocate the arena and overhaul Penn Station have nevertheless persisted. Community groups, including those suing the state to block its megadevelopment around Penn, have long pushed for changing the hub from a terminal to a through-running station.

But the city wants the arena to stay put for at least the foreseeable future, having pitched MSG to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention. When asked by reporters this week if the city would try to get Dolan to move the arena, Mayor Eric Adams said the venue is “a real win for the city” and “is very much in our DNC plan.”

“It was clear that being able to have an arena that size is allowing us to do some great things,” he said. He added that heading into negotiations with Dolan over the special permit, his administration will be “a hard negotiator for the people of the city to get the best deal.”

In a statement, MSG said there have been “no substantial” conversations about moving the arena, and that doing so would hit taxpayers with an “unfathomable” bill, citing state estimates that relocation would cost $8.5 billion in public money.

“Calls from various parties that link the extension of the permit with an opportunity to move the Garden are misguided,” the company said. “The fact is, MSG Entertainment has full ownership of the arena, the land it sits on, and the air above it. There is no public lease of any kind.”

MSG’s special permit application must go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which means the City Council will have final say over the arena’s future. The text amendment will be approved separately, but will likely follow a similar timeline.

The City Planning Commission is expected to certify the arena’s application next week. Public review would take six or seven months.

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