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Can Moynihan Station survive the loss of Madison Square Garden?

The Moynihan Station project hit another roadblock with Madison Square Garden’s departure from the deal table. Our readers were split almost down the middle this week. Many of you (46%) think the project has lost most of its steam, while an almost equal number (40%) believe the Garden’s owners will return to negotiations. Only 14% think the redevelopment project will make progress without the help of New York’s most famous arena. Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society, was nice enough to give us his thoughts on the subject.

“We don’t really know what went wrong this time. Madison Square Garden is rumored to be very difficult to negotiate with. It was rumored that the state thought it had a deal. The arena chose to walk away from the table; of course, they’re a private company and they can do it. But we think there is so much in this for them. Now they have the chance to replace the arena—the well worn, fatigued and difficult-to-get-into Madison Square Garden—with a brand new state-of-the-art facility. We hope that not having to close the place while this goes on will lure the Garden back to the table.

“We’re worrying that Madison Square Garden is pushing too hard for their point of view on design issues, but we also respect their need for a new arena. There’s a legitimate interest on their part to get this resolved. However, I don’t think anybody has been more difficult to bring into a constructive relationship than Madison Square Garden.

“I don’t believe Gov. Spitzer’s resignation created any particular problem in relation to Moynihan Station. This project wasn’t conceived by Spitzer. It was conceived by Sen. Daniel Moynihan with widespread public support and advanced in the Pataki administration. Spitzer and his people were doing what they could, particularly in the last couple of months, to give attention to it and I think they understood how important it was. It was gratifying to all of us that even in the midst in all the discussions about the budget that last week Gov. David Paterson issued a statement saying how important he thought this project was. Paterson will quickly get a grip on things.

“Real estate development occurs not as a matter of whim or of the wishes of those making public policy plans, but of the market. The strenuous competition to develop the Hudson Yards indicates that the most intelligent marketers are not pessimistic about its long-term value. Instead, you had the most capable teams of developers and planners and architects competing fiercely to get the opportunity to develop this.

“I don’t see the fact that the station project hasn’t happened yet—that all the pieces haven’t fallen into place—as any evidence of irreconcilable issues. Obviously, given that the private market is facing a slump and the public sector is going to have less revenue, there could be some short-range economic difficulties. We believe that this project is so significant to the future that it ought to be pursued.

“These aren’t quick projects. When you get them going, there’s probably a decade’s worth of work to do. The fact that negotiation is still going on demonstrates a strong interest in the project.

“If we put the right rail station here, we imagine we’ll see development similar to what’s north from Grand Central Terminal just above Park Avenue. That’s the most attractive area for top-quality America corporations and banks—near the great rail facility of Grand Central.

“It’s to the credit of the Bloomberg administration that unlike their predecessors, they have been doing long-term thinking. Don’t forget it’s been a long time since anybody built 10 feet of subway track or thought about new transportation terminals.

“These visions for the future are very important and laudable. We have to prioritize. In a declining economy I think this should be the first priority.”

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