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West World


With the old Garden all but demolished, two builders propose a new station and a major high-rise upzoning.

The 1909 Penn Station, shortly before its demise.  

If Steve Roth succeeds in purchasing the current Madison Square Garden site in partnership with Steve Ross, his play will go down in history as one of New York’s great real-estate coups. Why? As of this July, the answer was simple, if audacious: They would tear down the structure and redevelop the site as an eastern entrance to Moynihan Station, adding two 90-story towers rivaling the Empire State Building in size. Ross was to take charge of this development—the nearby Time Warner Center was a similarly complicated site and proved a financial success—and he hired the same architect (SOM) to design the complex, this time together with Norman Foster.

But the Roth-Ross plan immediately encountered problems. The architects reportedly clashed (no surprise, given the demands of the site and the egos involved); Spitzer’s team and civic organizations like the Regional Plan Association, while in theory supportive of Moynihan Station, expressed misgivings over a scheme to once again bury a train station under massive development (see the nightmare of today’s Penn Station); and the developers themselves reportedly got cold feet. So the two-iconic-towers plan has been scratched, and instead, the developers are lobbying the city to let them redistribute the buildings’ bulk, piecemeal, all over the neighborhood.

Principals: Steve Ross and Steve Roth
Potential Roadblock: The Dolans
Even without the pair of planned skyscrapers on top, Moynihan Station East will still sit beneath a glorified shopping mall. (The two halves of the station will, together, contain 1 million square feet of retail space, three times as much as can be found at the Time Warner Center.) Total project cost for the stations is estimated at about $2 billion, of which Vornado and Related have offered to put up only $450 million. It’s expected the state will squeeze more out of them, but the remaining funding would come from the city, the state, and the Feds. But will this part of the complex take Moynihan’s name? Amtrak wants to stay on this side of the avenue, and stick with “Penn Station”—a link to its own history.

Principals: Steve Ross and Steve Roth
Potential Roadblock: City Planning
Under the Related-Vornado proposal, the city would rezone the immediate neighborhood to accommodate 4 million to 5 million square feet of development rights—in effect, chopping up the two hypothetical towers and sprinkling them into smaller parcels from Ninth Avenue almost all the way over to Fifth. Conveniently for Roth, Vornado has spent the last decade acquiring about a dozen sites within the zone. He and Related would develop the sites (mostly as office buildings) in a 50-50 joint venture.

Principal: Steve Roth
Potential Roadblock: Sheldon Silver
It was only about a month ago that Vornado announced plans to build a new headquarters here for Merrill Lynch, but already the plans are in doubt. Despite a ruckus by a few preservationists, it’s hard to see what about the building is worthy of preserving, aside from its famous phone number (Pennsylvania 6-5000). Still, that’s the least of the problems: Merrill’s new CEO, John Thain, may not support the move to midtown; the rezoning might not move through in time, given that Merrill’s current lease runs out in 2013; and Sheldon Silver will put pressure on Merrill to stay downtown. If Merrill walks away, the KPF-designed building across Seventh Avenue would also be in jeopardy.


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