Thursday, June 27, 2013

As City Council Committees limit Madison Square Garden to 10-year permit, a provisional big win for Barclays Center

Well, there was a nice puff-piece on Fox Business yesterday, Madison Square Garden’s $1B Transformation, which cited the company's stock rise and quoted CEO Hank Ratner saying "we'll get through the special permit process, and life will go on as we know it."

Actually, however, it was a very tough day for MSG, which was unable to convince two City Council committees to let it operate in perpetuity, as Crain's reported in City Council committees limit the Garden to 10 years.

That doesn't mean MSG will be gone, because plans to renovate Penn Station must find funding, but it was, as Crain's suggested "a huge win to preservationists" or, rather, those like the Municipal Art Society and the Regional Plan Association who want a new Penn Station.

And it's a provisional big win for the Barclays Center, which not only may see rival MSG hamstrung by a relocation--though watch who ends up paying for it--but also might emerge, at least for a while, as the city's leading arena.

Does that give an edge to the Barclays Center in its competition with MSG for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game? It surely gives the Brooklyn arena more positive buzz, though the Manhattan arena is better located in terms of hotels and other nightlife.

Not 15 years, but 10

Crain's reported:
Earlier, the City Planning Commission called for a 15-year term on the permit. But Ms. Quinn, following the lead of the activists and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, reduced the term to 10 years.
In a letter announcing her position last week, Ms. Quinn declared, “Given the uniqueness of the site, with the arena sitting above the most heavily trafficked transit hub in the city, as well as the nation, a term for the permit is warranted. Moreover, the findings associated with the Special Permit are important and need to be reviewed more regularly than the 15-year period approved by the City Planning Commission last month.”
...Other changes to the permit include the elimination of a loophole that would have allowed the arena to strike a deal with the three railroads for infrastructure improvements only to be approved by the City Planning Commission. Such a deal would have extended the permit indefinitely.
MSG did get the opportunity to use new electronic billboards and two additional electronic signs

Mayoral candidates split

In Rebuilding Penn Station Becomes Issue in Mayor’s Race, the Times reported that Democrats Quinn, Bill de Blasio and John Liu support moving the Garden, while the company's resistance is supported by leading Republican candidate Joe Lhota (a former MSG executive) and Democrat Bill Thompson, who "has tried to position himself as the pro-business candidate in a crowded Democratic field."

The Times noted:
Last winter, civic activists from the Regional Plan Association and the Municipal Art Society decided it was time to put Penn Station back in the public spotlight, after discovering that the Garden had to apply to extend its special permit. They expected to use the permit process to build publicity, but few of them expected it to become an issue in the mayor’s race.
Perhaps they didn't expect that Times architecture critic Michael Kimelman would make the issue a crusade.

What's needed: federal money

The Times acknowledges that the vote does not necessarily mean change:
But even the most ardent advocates for a new Penn Station concede that little will happen unless both the mayor and the governor take the unusual step of agreeing to make it a priority and go to Washington for the money.
“None of these things happen unless there is leadership at the top,” said Vin Cipolla, the president of the Municipal Art Society. “If the mayor is truly committed to seeing this through, then the probability goes up.”
Note that long-serving Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a big ally of MSG, so any assistance from Albany may have a rough road, as long as Silver remains in office.

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