11th Hr. Appeal: Local Bars, Other Small Business Owners, Urge City Council to Renew MSG’s Special Permit Forever

Nearly two dozen small businesses, including a dozen pubs, one real estate tower, two parking garages and the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, sent a last minute appeal to the City Council asking its committee to recommend renewing in perpetuity the special permit that Madison Square Garden needs to operate the arena above Penn Station. But the Council’s landuse and franschise sub committee voted on Monday, Aug. 28 to only grant a five extension. It still must go to the full City Council for a vote next month before the permit lenght is finalized.

| 28 Aug 2023 | 11:30

A raft of restaurants, bars and other businesses around Madison Square Garden–saying the Garden’s crowds provided much of their business–appealed to the City Council to give the arena a new permit to operate permanently.

The eleventh hour appeal came as the Council worked toward an August 28th deadline to decide on whether, or for how long, to grant The Garden a new permit to operate and on what conditions, including what MSG will be required to do to facilitate the reconstruction of Penn Station beneath it.

“Madison Square Garden is the economic lifeblood of our community, not only employing thousands but attracting many thousands more to local businesses all year round,” the businesses wrote in a letter to the speaker of the Council, Adrienne Adams and three pivotal members, Erik Bottcher, who represents the neighborhood, Rafael Salamanca Jr., who chairs the land use committee and Kevin Riley, chair of the subcommittee on zoning and franchises.

“With its ability to operate at full capacity for the long term now at stake, we urge you to approve its request to renew its special operating permit in perpetuity”

The letter was signed by twenty local eating and drinking establishments, two parking garages and the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.

“Our establishments are located within walking distance of The Garden, and we rely on the arena for a great deal of our evening and weekend business.”

Richard Constable, The Executive Vice President of MSG Enertainment, which owns the Garden said: “Our local businesses understand how important Madison Square Garden is to their neighborhood and we appreciate their ongoing support.”

When the Garden bought the right in 1963 to build a new arena on top of Penn Station, relocating from Eighth avenue and Fiftieth Street, the City granted it a fifty year permit to operate, necessary for any arena of over 2,500.

In 2013, with rising complaints that the below ground remnants of Penn Station were increasingly cramped and unsafe, the City Council extended that permit for ten years on condition that the Garden move to make way for an improved Penn station.

That move never happened. While many advocates still would like to move the Garden, the recent fight has largely focused on how to fix Penn Station with the Garden still operating on top.

The City Planning Commission proposed another ten-year permit, linked to a requirement that the Garden return for review when plans for renovating Penn Station were further along.

Three state legislators suggested last week that The Garden be kept on a shorter leash with a maximum three-year extension, echoing an earlier recommendation from Community Board Five.

The MTA, leading renovation planning on behalf of the three railroads which use the station, has been appealing to the council to link any new permit, whatever its length, to The Garden agreeing to a renovation plan that would include turning over parcels of property at no cost.

The local businesses did not offer any view on what The Garden should agree to do in exchange for its new permit. They simply emphasized the vital importance of The Garden to their businesses.

“Prior to events, our businesses are packed with fans getting a drink or something to eat before the game and then walking over to The Garden. The Garden generates $2 billion in revenue for New York City each year, and a great deal of that pours into our establishments. For many of us, it’s those customers that keep our doors open. Without them, many of us would be forced to cut staff – if not outright close.”

While the Garden years ago threatened to leave New York City and as a result won an exemption from property taxes, now valued at $50 million a year or more, all recent discussions of relocation have involved sites right near its current location, including the western end of the Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue, the site of the Pennsylvania Hotel across Seventh Avenue and Hudson Yards three blocks west.

The letter to the Council was sent on the stationary of Tracks Raw Bar & Grill, a restaurant that was forced to move out of Penn Station by recent renovations. It relocated across 31st street, a block that itself is threatened by potential plans to extend the station to the south to make way for more New Jersey Transit Trains after a new Hudson River tunnel is finished.

The signatories were: American Whiskey, Biricchino, Bourbon and Branch, Butcher and Banker, Cromptom Ale House, Haymaker Bar and Kitchen ,Juniper, Keens Steakhouse , Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Meyers Parking, MGP Parking, Mustang Harry’s, Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse, OCabanon, Pennsylvania 6, The Joyce Public House, The Tailor Public House, Tick Tock Diner, Tír na Nóg, Tracks Raw Bar & Grill, Trattoria Bianca, Versa, Walter’s Bar