Lawmakers seek to halt Hochul’s Penn Station project until funding issues are resolved
A coalition of 15 state senators has urged the Empire State Development Corporation to put on hold all redevelopment plans for Penn Station until the agency answers basic questions about cost, design and how the work will be funded.
The group, led by Sens. Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman sent the letter at ESDC this week, detailing their concerns. The project â which Governor Kathy Hochul said would cost $7 billion last November â would be one of the biggest redevelopments in the city’s history, but details of how it will be paid for are up to now. present rare.
âWe agree that New York’s transportation infrastructure â and Penn Station in particular â needs to be updated and adequately funded. We also know that we have limited resources to devote to improvements and that we must use them as wisely and efficiently as possible,â the letter states. “Yet vital information about the proposed deal with Penn Station has still not been provided to taxpayers and elected lawmakers to ensure their money is spent wisely and their city is developed smartly.”
Krueger and Hoylman represent parts of Manhattan that will be affected by the redevelopment.
The letter follows a similar letter written by New York City’s outgoing planning commissioner in January, who also wanted to know how the state would pay for the project.
The Empire State Development Corporation does not yet have an answer on exactly how it will fund the project, or what impact it might have on taxpayers. In a statement, project spokeswoman Kristin Devoe said ESDC is still finalizing details with the city.
“We appreciate the letter from the senators and are committed to continuing productive conversations with all stakeholders as we review and develop the plan,” Devoe wrote. “Together, we can embrace an equitable framework that delivers the public benefits that New Yorkers have been denied for too long.”
Plans call for the construction of 10 new skyscrapers, some of which would be mixed-use â including offices, retail space and 1,800 homes; 540 of which would be “affordable”, although how the state defines “affordable” has never been publicly stated.
The project would also involve a 450 square foot concourse at Penn Station which the developers and the MTA say would have more light than the current station. Hochul pointed out that eight acres of open space, along with ample bicycle parking and benches, would also be created.
The only thing that has been made public about the funding source is that it would likely use a structure known as PILOT – payments in lieu of taxes – in which the city does not tax property owners. real estate, but developers would pay fees directly to the state. PILOT was used for the Hudson Yards and the Moynihan train hall projects; Hudson Yards developers have received approximately $5.6 billion in grants.
Many of the questions cited in the senators’ letter relate to developer Vornado, which owns half of the property where the 10 proposed buildings are located: whether the company will receive subsidies; how much will it contribute to transportation and surface improvements; and if the PILOT plan is too generous.
Several people associated with Vornado have given the maximum contribution allowed by law to the governor’s current election campaign, called Friends for Kathy Hochulaccording to the Board of Elections disclosure information.
They include Steven Roth, president and CEO of Vornado Realty Trust, who donated $69,700; Roth’s daughter Amanda Salzhauer, who also donated $69,000 last year; and Jordan Roth, Roth’s son, who made two donations totaling $20,000 last November and January. David Mandelbaum, Minnesota Vikings owning partner and a Vornado director also donated $69,700 to Friends of Kathy Hochul, as did Russell B. Wight Jr. an independent trustee of Vornado Realty Trust.
Even opponents of redevelopment, such as Arnold Gumowitz who owns a building on Seventh Avenue that may have to be demolished as part of the project, donated to the governor’s campaign. Gumowitz donated $69,700 to Friends of Kathy Hochul on January 13, 2022, while her son Gary Gumowitz donated $50,000.
“There are more questions than answers at this point, and before we move forward with one of the biggest real estate projects in New York’s history, we need to have greater transparency,” Sen. Hoylman told Gothamist. .
Conservationists oppose the project, saying buildings of historical and architectural significance will be lost.
âThe group of state senators who oppose this bill is growing, which is good news,â wrote Sam Turvey, president of RethinkNYC and co-coordinator of the Empire Station Coalition, in a statement. âThe funding and missing details on so many fronts are ripe for criticism and among the main issues among many that justify opposing this project.
Turvey argues that redevelopment plans should be withdrawn altogether: “All must be focused on protecting as many tenants, small businesses and historic sites as this wayward bus continues on its journey.”
The MTA â which would benefit from Penn Station’s new entrances and a more welcoming lobby â supports the plan, despite the uncertain funding. MTA Chairman Janno Lieber, who oversaw the World Trade Center redevelopment after 9/11, said Midtown could benefit from more modern office space and said he hoped the state would find a way to to extract money from promoters to pay for it.
“We can capture some of that value and use it to pay for infrastructure, it’s in the public interest,” Lieber said earlier this week at an independent press event at Penn Station. “It’s the only way to get underground concourses and new entrances to Penn – those are really important from a transit perspective.”