Battle Emerging Over MSG Special Permit Renewal

Land Use

On Wednesday, the owners of Madison Square Garden (MSG) will appear before the City Planning Commission to renew their special permit, in perpetuity, which allows them to operate an arena above Penn Station.  The original special permit, which authorized the use as an over-2500 seat arena, was granted for 50 years.  It recently expired.

Critics, including civic groups, political leaders and transit advocates, however, would like the owners of MSG to relocate the arena, arguing that it is an eyesore, and it hinders the expansion and upgrade of Penn Station, one of the busiest transit hubs in the country.  While some have been pushing for a near-term move, there has been recent consensus forming around a 10-year permit renewal instead of a renewal in perpetuity.

While the owners have been pouring significant money into the aging building, critics argue that a 10-year renewal may give the owners enough time to amortize the cost of the improvements.  It would also provide sufficient time for the design and location of a new arena.  In fact, as recently reported, the Municipal Arts Society has enlisted prominent architects to find MSG a new home, and would like their plan incorporated into the present discussion before the City Planning Commission, and eventually, the City Council.   Nevertheless, the owners want nothing less than perpetuity, and MSG CEO Hank Ratner stated in an article in Crain’s that MSG’s biggest asset is the strength of MSG’s legal case in pursuing a perpetual permit, since anything less, would be tantamount to the City seizing the property.

Aligned with many of the civic groups and political leaders, the local community board recommended denial of the permit unless certain parameters are met, including limiting the term to 10 years, among others.   Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer also supports the 10 year term limit.

Whatever the outcome, there is no doubt that this is no longer a simple rubber-stamp City Planning Commission special permit renewal.  Please stay tuned for updates on this story as it evolves.


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