Jim Dolan Wants Madison Square Garden to Get a Lifetime Deal to Stay Put

Local politicos and activists want Garden to move to make way for a new Penn Station.

| 10 Feb 2023 | 11:42

Madison Square Garden dug in against demands that the company move the arena to make way for a better Penn Station, saying such a move would be wildly expensive, unnecessary and impractical.

“Our millions of fans and thousands of employees love and rely on our location and proximity to public transportation, and don’t want The Garden to move,” MSG Entertainment said in a statement.

The statement was a line in the sand by Jim Dolan, the head of MSG Entertainment–which owns the Garden–and MSG Sports–which owns the Knicks and the Rangers, the two principal teams that play there. The company added that MSG Entertainment has “full ownership” or the arena. Only a permit for the site is at issue. The extant permit from the city to operate the Garden in its current location expires this July.

“There have been no substantial conversations about moving The Garden since the City granted the last permit ten years ago,” MSG Entertainment insisted, to groans from critics who note that the condition of that previous permit was that the Garden move within the ten years.

“In fact, no realistic proposal or financial model for moving The Garden has ever been presented,” MSG Entertainment said. “This includes during 2007-2008, when discussion of moving MSG to the Farley Building never came close to being viable due to political and financial considerations, through no fault of MSG’s.”

Madison Square Garden, originally on Madison Square, has been at its current location since the Pennsylvania railroad, desperately trying to stave off bankruptcy, tore down its famous 1910 rail station in 1963 and sold the rights to build the Garden above it.

The city issued a permit to allow this and that permit must be renewed this year. MSG Entertainment noted that Mayor Adams had said just the other day that he likes the Garden where it is.

But ultimately, the decision to extend the permit will rest with the City Council.

The Garden said it had applied to the City Planning Department to extend the right to its present location “in perpetuity.”

Additionally, calls from various parties that link the extension of the permit with an opportunity to move The Garden are misguided, according to MSG Entertainment. The Company believes ongoing confusion about ownership of The Garden, has contributed to attempts to use the special permit process to fuel discussions surrounding completely unrealistic efforts to move The Garden. “The fact is, MSG Entertainment has full ownership of the arena, the land it sits on, and the air above it – there is no public lease of any kind,” MSG Entertainment maintains.

A decision in favor of the MSG Entertainment motion, would dash the hopes of community organizations and design groups who argue that the only way ultimately to salvage Penn Station is to remove the Garden from on top of it.

“MSG Entertainment’s surprise announcement today that it is determined not to move The Garden was not only filled with misleading statements, it charted the wrong course for our city,” declared Alexandros Washburn, chief architect of Grand Central Community Alliance, one of the groups pressing for a new station. “Moving The Garden is necessary not only to give us the train station and public space we deserve, but also to create a better and far more lucrative sports and entertainment arena. No, it won’t cost taxpayer money. No, it won’t be harder to get to.”

Washburn notes that “A spectacular hotel and casino complex is already envisioned for the West Side rail yards” by the owners of Hudson Yards, Related.

“A new MSG could be part of that. It would generate more than $4 billion a year for the city–MSG today generates $2 billion. Meanwhile, the city would have a spectacular new station, one that is both modern and harkens back to former glories, and an expansive new park.”

Samuel Turvey, Chair of RethinkNYC, which recently hosted a presentation at Cooper Union of three very different plans for a better Penn station if the Garden was moved said: “Moving Madison Square Garden is the right decision for New York City and metropolitan area residents.”

“It’s the only solution allowing for the City, State and Region to develop and assign a viable financing strategy for needed transit modernization and a worthy above ground Penn Station. New Yorkers and Tri-State commuters deserve such a modern transit hub that would allow through-running to outer boroughs, Long Island, and outlying counties in much the same way the subway provides access and ‘connectivity’ to our outer boroughs.”

The Garden and the Mayor both said the present location of the Garden right on top of rail and subway service was a huge boon for those attending events. But Turvey dissented.

Turvey disagrees. “The incremental convenience Madison Square Garden provides to attendees sitting above our current problematic Penn Station is not a reason to flatten an honest chance to build a unifying regional mass transit hub capped by a worthy above ground station, Turvey said.

Governor Kathy Hochul has embraced a development plan, originally proffered by her predecessor, to build ten sky scapers around Penn Station and siphon some of the revenue to help fund a renovation of the current station. But critics say the plan, known as the GPP, was vastly overblown and a gift to the neighborhoods largest property owner, Vornado, without adequately fixing Penn Station.

“All levels of government agree: It’s essential that we have a fabulous new Penn Station that we can be proud of,” said Assemblyman Tony Simone, who represents the area. “Unfortunately we do not have a plan that has any unified support right now. Local elected officials oppose the plan, and Senator Schumer has called on the State to compromise. With Vornado having declared it can’t provide funding for years, maybe even a decade, the GPP appears dead. Isn’t it time to consider a new approach?”

Penn Station has generally been seen as one of the worst rail stations in America, cramped and dark. Amtrak recently completed construction across the street of a new station for intercity passengers. But Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit passengers continue to use the old station.Simone said after Dolan’s “in perputity” plan came to light: “If the Garden’s claims were grounded in reality, the city would not have given them just a ten year

extension on the special permit a decade ago,” Simone said in a statement. “To claim a right to an unlimited extension before the city has even set the standards by which the approval will be judged, all while paying zero in property taxes, is the height of arrogance.”

NYS Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who like Assemblyman Simone has been at odds with Dolan over his use of facial recognition technology to ban lawyers who work for firms that have pending suits against MSG Entertainment, was also sharply critical of Dolan’s latest position seeking an “in perputity lease.”

“The hubris of MSG and its CEO is breathtaking,” said Hoylman-Sigal. “If MSG has ‘full ownership’ of the arena as they claim, then it is about time–after 40 years–that they start paying their fair share of property taxes to the people of New York City. The world’s most famous arena has benefitted from the world’s biggest sweetheart deal by not paying a cent in property taxes since 1982. We should end it.”

“If the Garden’s claims were grounded in reality, the city would not have given them just a ten year extension on the special permit a decade ago.” Tony Simone, NYS Assemblyman.