While most of us were preparing for the holiday weekend last Thursday, the State Economic Development Corporation (ESD) took another step toward full approval of the State’s plan to level blocks of Midtown around Penn Station for giant glass towers.
The ESD approved the Federal Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) it prepared on the project in a 6-0 vote with no public testimony. ESD is expected to give final approval later this month despite a slew of unanswered questions about financing and what improvements will be made to the Station.
The New York Post Editorial Board had a message for Governor Hochul this morning: “Whoa. Slow down, Gov.” While acknowledging the need to overhaul Penn Station, the editorial said “Alas, what they’ve presented so far is cause to worry.”
The Post is hardly alone in its concerns. The Citizens Budget Commission, New York City’s Independent Budget Office, architecture critics Michael Kimmelman, Paul Goldberger and Justin Davidson, former Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward, and several other groups question counting on future revenue from giant office buildings, and question what the public actually would get from the $7 billion price tag for the Station makeover.
When Governor Cuomo, and then Governor Hochul, addressed the plan, it was easy to assume that the plan, and Station improvements, were integrated. Now it is clear that the proposal is simply a massive real estate deal.
“Project financing is not part of the EIS scope,” the FEIS states. “ESD has no authority to authorize Penn Station expansion.” Instead, even if no improvements are made to the Station, “… the proposed Project would transform a significant portion of the Project Area from economically stagnant substandard conditions into a vibrant, transit-oriented mixed use neighborhood…”
The State has some nerve declaring the blocks it seeks to destroy “economically stagnant and substandard.” They are filled with homes, businesses, jobs and historic buildings. Yet the FEIS found “no adverse effects” from demolishing them. Yes, a beautiful, 1872 historic church that provides social service programs, and nearby community facilities, will be lost, but there are “comparable facilities in the project area.” Yes, people would be forced to move, but it would result in a “richer population.” If Federal agencies found that any buildings needed to be saved as a condition of federal funding. “ESD would conform.” They just can’t imagine saving any in the first place.
The Conservancy opposes the State’s promotion of eminent domain and urban renewal, and its end-run around City zoning and land use procedures, We also question the near total silence of elected City officials. State Senators Liz Krueger, Brad Hoylman, and Leroy Comrie are asking questions and letting the public have an outlet for its concerns. It was a big deal when a past Charter Revision Commission gave the City Council land use power. Why are they letting themselves be bypassed without a peep?
We agree with the Post editorial. There are so many unanswered questions, the State should pause and answer them. Chris Ward may have asked the most basic question: “And, finally, is this the City we will want to live in?”
Peg Breen, President
The New York Landmarks Conservancy