By Alex P. Vidal
“In the music world, concerts unfold strictly according to plan. But, as I’d been finding out, in the book world, things keep changing by the second.”—Dan Hill
I HAVE pointed this eerie view many times this year to several visiting friends in New York City who happened to pass by between 31st and 33rd Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues on Manhattan’s West Side.
Developers failed to move the big round, colossal elephant in the room sitting on top of the decapitated remains of a once-great Pennsylvania Station, also known as New York Penn Station or simply Penn Station, when the main intercity railroad station in New York City, was torn down for massive repair early this year.
I’m referring to the very popular Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan located on top of the busiest transportation facility in the Western Hemisphere, serving more than 600,000 passengers per weekday as of 2019.
When Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. rushed to the Garden to watch the concert of Eric Clapton on September 19, 2022, he was reportedly shocked to see the “cannibalized” Penn Station that tarnished the Garden’s once magnificent façade.
Alexandros Washburn had written for Daily News on January 31, 2022: “The conventional wisdom is that Penn can’t be fixed or improved and elevated into the beautiful public space New York City deserves without moving the Garden. And moving the Garden, the thinking goes, even with recent hints that the owners might consider it, is a nonstarter.
But what if moving Madison Square Garden were the best thing not just for the train station but for the arena itself—for those who perform and play in it, for those who own it and, most importantly of all, for those fans who crowd it?”
“We moved Yankee Stadium across the street. We moved Shea Stadium across the parking lot (and gave it a new name). Why not move Madison Square Garden across the street, where some want to build new office buildings? (Do we really need more office buildings?) A sports arena adjacent to a transit hub is immeasurably better than one sitting awkwardly on top of it. Hear me out,” thundered Washburn.
Mr. Marcos reportedly watched the last 30 minutes of Clapton’s concert and must have paid $6,949.89 for the front row ticket.
Clapton, an English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter and regarded as one of the most successful and influential guitarists in rock music, is Mr. Marcos’ favorite since the Philippine president was teenager.
The 77-year-old singer, recently diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, a condition that occurs when nerves carrying messages to and from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body are damaged or diseased, reportedly sang 16 songs including the hit song “Tears in Heaven” and of course, “Wonderful Tonight.”
Mr. Marcos’ attendance in the Garden came a week before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), in partnership with NJ Transit and Amtrak, approved a contract for the redesign of Penn Station, a project that could cost the city $7 billion.
The joint venture project team reportedly includes architect of record FXCollaborative, global engineering firm WSP, and British design studio John McAslan and Partners, which will serve as a design consultant.
The base contract is valued at $57.9 million and includes preliminary design of the new station, improvements to nearby subway stations, and engineering support as station reconstruction moves forward, according to New York Yimby.
FX Collaborative and WSP reportedly worked together on the Penn Station Master Plan unveiled in 2021.
According the New York Yimby, the full scope of work includes replacement of the current station with a 250,000-square-foot, single-level facility with improved interior organization and more space for an estimated 650,000 daily commuters.
The facility will reportedly include a train hall about the combined size of Moynihan Train Hall and Grand Central Terminal’s main concourses.
The new station will also include retail and dining options, improved ticketing and waiting areas, additional elevators and escalators, and more station entrances and exits.
The facility will also reportedly have an underground connection to the 34th Street-Herald Square subway station.
The current renovation does not include any added train capacity.
Outside the station, plans call for the construction of a 30,000-square-foot public plaza, increased bike lanes and docking stations, and widened sidewalks, the New York Yimby stressed.
The masterplan also reportedly includes the construction of high-rise residential towers that could create 1,800 apartments including 540 permanently affordable homes.
“The time to fix Penn Station is now, and this is an important step in the right direction. New York City deserves a 21st-century transit hub as great as the city, and we are taking advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reconstruct Penn Station and revitalize the neighborhood,” said New York City mayor Eric Adams.
“Our administration will continue working closely with our state partners to get stuff done.”
In line with the MTA’s mission to encourage the growth and development of certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE), the MTA’s Department of Diversity and Civil Rights has assigned a 22.5 percent DBE goal to the contract, added the New York Yimby.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)