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Continued Questions About Towers Around Penn

Today’s New York Times story focusing on Governor Hochul’s push for 10 new supertall office towers around Penn Station points out many questions raised by “one of the largest real estate development projects in American history.”

The Times highlighted the “severe uncertainty gripping the office market.” They note that nearby Hudson Yards has failed to meet expectations. They also note that “key details about the complex financial arrangements,” and the potential impact of such massive development, are missing.

It’s good that the Times is finally devoting more analysis to this profoundly anti-urban development proposal. The editorial boards of the New York Post and New York Daily News have already come out against it.

That said, the Times failed to note that only a small percentage of projected development revenue would fund any improvements to Penn Station. The bulk would fund above-ground improvements around the towers. The plan still needs additional approvals from the State Public Authorities Control Board. The August PACB vote was scaled back after the State Comptroller urged a delay, citing the lack of financial data.

Perhaps future Times stories will focus on the calls for a Penn Station worthy of New York, rather than the modest improvements proposed by the Governor, and focus on the jobs, homes, local businesses and landmark quality buildings that would be erased for more huge glass boxes. An August 26 opinion piece in the Daily News covered both those issues.

“There are two separable planning issues raised here,” wrote Robert Paaswell, “and it doesn’t serve anyone to casually lump them together.” Rethinking Penn Station is key, he said, the redevelopment may or may not go hand in hand.

Paaswell, former leader of the Chicago Transit Authority, said Penn didn’t need more tracks, but electrified rights of way for the most modern rail equipment. He also urged through-running, where trains continue through to other destinations. “New York must become the center of high-speed rail for the East Coast,” Paaswell insisted.

While New York is in competition with London, Shanghai and other cities, Paaswell said New York “must retain some of its unique characteristics… including the incredible diversity of its built environment, work and jobs.”

“Jane Jacobs and many others would rightly scoff at a vertical moat that says wealthy office tenants are in, others are out.” Paaswell states.” That is highly inequitable and anti-urban.”

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