Madison Square Garden collided head on with the Democrats who control the State Senate over whether to continue the property tax exemption granted the Garden 40 years ago when its owner, James C. Dolan, was threatening to take the Knicks and Rangers out of New York.
“Today, the Senate Majority stood up for New York City taxpayers and straphangers by finally advancing legislation to repeal Madison Square Garden’s egregious property tax break,” proclaimed State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, praising his colleagues for supporting a repeal of the exemption.
“MSG enjoys a sweetheart deal from the 1980s where it pays absolutely nothing in property tax, a boon worth $43 million each year and will soon reach $1 billion in foregone revenue for New York City. Meanwhile, it benefits from sitting on top of the busiest train station in the Western Hemisphere... I hope the Assembly and Governor will join the Senate in repealing MSG’s property tax break so we can use that money to fund the MTA.”
But a spokesman for the Garden threw a body check at Hoylman-Sigal that would have made any Ranger’s defender proud.
“It’s interesting that Senator Hoylman is rallying to end governmental subsidies for corporations when just last year he voted in favor of legislation that extends a $420M governmental subsidy for the film industry and currently sponsors legislation to create new subsidies for the musical and theatrical production industry,” the spokesman said. “Madison Square Garden is a significant job creator and an economic leader within both our community and the city.”
Hoylman-Sigal said that “no other major sports venue in New York City” has a deal matching The Garden’s, but the Garden said that was flat wrong:
“Our tax abatement is no different than the government subsidies that every single stadium and arena in New York city and state receive and in fact, is hundreds of millions of dollars less than most other venues. Where is the revocation of the subsidies of all the other teams and venues around the state?”
The Garden included with its statement a chart purporting to show that Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, The Barclay’s Center and the Buffalo Bills stadium all benefited from more government largess than Madison Square Garden. It claimed that Yankee Stadium, the top beneficiary, received $1.78 billion in government incentives over the past 40 years far exceeding the $645 million that MSG received over the same span.
The Senate action was one more step in the escalating political pressure being mobilized by local political and community leaders on Dolan and his companies, one of which owns The Garden and other venues including Radio City Music Hall and the other of which owns the Knicks and the Rangers.
Some of this pressure is out of anger at his use of facial recognition technology to idendify and bar from his venues lawyers at firms representing clients who are suing MSG.
But the bigger collision is over the future of Penn Station and its surrounding neighborhood.
MSG’s special permit to operate the Garden on top of Penn Station, first granted when the original Pennsylvania station was torn down in the 1960’s, expires July 28.
A number of community, transit and planning groups are pressing demands to rebuild Penn Station by moving the Garden, something MSG officials say they would consider if someone presented a viable plan. They say no one has done that.
MSG has not defined viable, but it presumably would include a renegotiation of the tax breaks. By the same token, critics can hold repeal of the tax breaks as a cudgel to try to pressure the Garden to move.
“I’m proud to continue the fight to end this egregious waste of New York City’s resources,” Hoylman-Sigal said.