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Empire Station Complex Would Dwarf Hudson Yards

Urban Renewal Doesn’t Deserve a Comeback

The Conservancy gives Governor Cuomo great credit for fulfilling the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s vision of a dramatic train hall in the former Farley Post Office. But we cannot support his profoundly anti-urban proposal for an Empire Station Complex at Penn Station.

Senator Moynihan believed in revitalizing buildings. The Governor’s proposal reverts to urban renewal, a Robert Moses-like approach that demolishes buildings and displaces businesses and residents.

We voiced our opposition in a statement submitted to Empire State Development ahead of Thursday’s deadline for submitting public comment.

Empire Station Complex illustration. – Click here to enlarge map and go to report

The proposal undermines a century of City zoning and threatens eminent domain to tear down five large parcels and an entire block around Penn Station. The state claims these areas of offices, hotels and community facilities are “substandard and insanitary” with “bland, nondescript retail offerings.” The area is, in fact, a lively commercial district that includes more than 50 historic buildings.

The Governor would replace them with giant office and hotel buildings without height limits, creating more total space than Hudson Yards. This development is supposed to fund transit improvements and a revitalized Penn Station. But the proposal lacks all details about how the money will be raised and administered.

We understand the need to improve Penn Station. But a project that would have such a significant impact should follow the City’s well-established process for zoning applications and ensure public input. Urban renewal was discredited a long time ago.


Empire Station Complex Would Dwarf Hudson Yards

July 21, 2020

And we thought Hudson Yards was huge. If the State gets a go-ahead for a proposed “Empire Station Complex” around Penn Station, it will dwarf Hudson Yards. The proposal calls for 14 million square feet of new office space, 800,000 square feet of retail and nearly 1,300 new hotel rooms. The Complex would overrule local zoning and impose no height limits on new buildings.

Empire State Development (ESD) began advancing the proposal yesterday, holding a virtual “scoping session” that drew speakers pro and con. A Community Board 4 member criticized “a Robert Moses like approach” displacing residents and businesses. Many persons said the proposal emphasized density over transit and criticized a lack of information about transit improvements. Community Board 5 called for federal funding to allow less density and protecting a view corridor to the Empire State Building. Others called for including affordable housing and community services. There was support for saving historic buildings and adapting other buildings in the area. Business groups and unions spoke in support.

Under the plan, which Governor Cuomo announced in January, the State would buy, or take buildings by eminent domain, on eight large sites. ESD describes the area as “substandard and insanitary” with “outdated office buildings” and “bland nondescript retail offerings.” The area also contains several historic buildings on, or eligible for, the National Register of Historic Places. These include a power station service building on West 30th Street that is the last building remaining from the original Penn Station, a West 31st Street church designed by noted architect Napoleon LeBrun, and the Hotel Pennsylvania.

The stated goal is for the new development to provide funding for improvements at Penn Station and public realm benefits. There are no details yet on how the money would be raised, spent, or administered. Yesterday was the start of a lengthy public review process. We will participate and report on how it progresses.

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