On Wednesday, the New York City Council advised the owners of Madison Square Garden that they have 10 years to find a new home for the famed arena. Home to the Knicks, Rangers, the circus, and a wide variety of iconic events, the Garden is a staple of New York City life. The city believes that this extension of the arena's permit will be enough time for the city to draw up plans to revitalize the area and rebuild the aging Pennsylvania Station that lies below the Garden. Removing the emotional attachment I have to the Garden, I understand the urgent need for Penn Station to be reconstructed.
Pennsylvania Station used to be an iconic structure itself, with classical Greek Doric columns adorning its entrance. It was a monumental structure in the middle of the city. In 1963, the above-ground portion was torn down, and Madison Square Garden was built on top. Serving over 500,000 commuters a day, Penn Station is a vital lifeline to accessing the city and it is in dismal condition. The cataclysmic architecture and the maze of passageways make for a confusing, unappealing commute. In 2011, over 9.4 million Amtrak passengers alone traveled through the station, making it the busiest station in the country. The current infrastructure simply can’t handle the quantity of people.
The issue of renovating Penn Station has always been a heated issue. It is becoming a centerpiece for debate in the upcoming mayoral race. Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, and John Liu all agree that the Garden should move while Joseph Lhota and Bill Thompson have come out in defense of the Garden. “This is an opportunity to reimagine and redevelop Penn Station as a world-class transportation destination, ” said Quinn, who is the current City Council speaker. Mayor Bloomberg has also weighed in, suggesting a 15-year extension of the Garden’s permit but affirming the need to improve Penn Station.
However, the renovation of Penn Station is extremely complex and would involve billions of dollars in addition to local, state, and federal approval. Ironically, James Dolan, chairman of the Madison Square Company, just completed close to a $1 billion renovation of the aging arena. Moving in 10 years would completely waste the investment. There are currently no plans to extend the Garden’s permit after 10 years so the question remains, where will the Knicks and Rangers continue to lose after they move?
Now let’s get one thing straight. Thanks to the persistence of one of my friends, I love the Knicks, I really do. But sooner or later, all New Yorkers face the brutal fact that this team just can’t win. (Rangers…you too.) That being said, the Garden has been home to many historic events throughout the years: President Kennedy's birthday celebration where Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier’s fight in 1971, the Rangers' first Stanley Cup win in over 50 years in 1994, and many more. This isn’t the first time the Garden has had to move — in fact, the current structure is the fifth one to exist in the city. Like Penn Station, it is a building of great iconic meaning and importance, but it may have to find a new home out of necessity.
Penn Station will have to be renovated in the near future, and there is no changing that fact. Though there are many years before the Garden will have to move, I know that wherever it may be, New Yorkers will always flock to witness history. The structure may be at a different location, but that will not take away from what it will mean to New Yorkers. We will continue to watch the Knicks and the Rangers lose, and we will love every second of it. Who knows? Maybe it will bring our teams a renewed spirit and purpose, to make their own history in the new Garden.