At a press conference inside Penn Station on Monday afternoon, Governor Hochul and rail officials announced that the design process for a new Penn Station has officially begun. The announcement included the release of new concept renderings of what Penn Station and Madison Square Garden may look like. “We’re going to be open now to any architect, any design firm, any engineer, to allow them the opportunity to compete for a position to perhaps be creating this world-class masterpiece,” Hochul said.
These renderings presented were created by architecture firms WSP and FXCollaborative, with noted architect John McAslan. McAlsan has worked on similar projects in other world cities like Sydney, Belfast, and New Delhi, most notably a reconstruction of the Kings Cross Station in London which brought light into the historic station with a new skylight.
New designs for a renovated Penn Station will seek to address major issues that have plagued the dark and crowded transit hub, the busiest not just in New York City, but in the entire western hemisphere. A new design must provide “safe and efficient movement of passengers,” remedy the “underutilization of property such as the mid-block taxiway,” and of course bring in more light. “The project will dramatically upgrade passengers’ experience by increasing ceiling heights, bringing in natural daylight, and creating better wayfinding and access to platforms,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber.
In addition to kicking off the design process, Hochul announced that this $7 billion Penn Station Reconstruction project will move forward independent of the controversial Pennsylvania Station Area Civic and Land Use Improvement Project General Project Plan (GPP) adopted by Empire State Development. This decoupling comes as the GPP has stalled, while the need for upgrades to Penn Station has become increasingly more urgent with the anticipated arrival of Metro-North service by 2027.
Instead of using funds from GPP, the reconstruction of the train station will move ahead with $1.3 billion from Governor Hochul’s office, as well as additional funding “anticipated via cost-sharing among the railroads that use the station and federal grant programs being aggressively pursued.”
Hochul made clear in her remarks that though the two projects will now be on two separate tracks, the redevelopment of space surrounding Penn Station – which includes the potential acquisition of land on City Block 780 which is bounded by Seventh and Eighth Avenues and West 31st and 30th streets – is not dead and that office space will be built. Plans for much-maligned office towers by Vornado Realty Trust have been put on hold.
Though this announcement marks a step forward towards a brighter future for Penn Station, critics of both plans still have concerns about the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Chief among those concerns is the destruction of landmark-eligible buildings that would be demolished to make way for the new towers, including the original Penn Station Powerhouse. Critics are also concerned that no real improvements to the transit infrastructure of Penn Station can be made while Madison Square Garden still stands atop the station.
“We hope a better plan for Penn Station can emerge, including an above-ground station. While this whole effort involves a train station, it is truly stunning that no mention is made of how to modernize transit operations via through-running. Transit modernization should come first not last,” said Sam Turvey, Chairperson of ReThinkPennStationNYC, a not-for-profit organization “dedicated to applying innovative thinking to the future of New York and its region.”
Remnants of Penn Station
Many creative reimaginings of what Penn Station could look like have been proposed in the past, with and without Madison Square Garden attached, and many new versions are sure to still be seen.