Recycled Ideas? Penn Station Plan Similar to JDS 2016 Proposal

The plan called for acquisition of the block south of Penn Station

Nearly four years ago, a team led by JDS Development recommended that the state buy properties surrounding Penn Station to make way for a new terminal. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a similar plan.

JDS was among a group of developers, including Vornado Realty Trust and Brookfield Properties, who had responded to a 2016 request for expressions of interest (RFEI) for the redevelopment of Penn Station. The developer’s proposal, dubbed Empire Crossing, called on the state to acquire properties south of Penn Station to build six new tracks and three mixed-use towers — and soon.

“The built environment will only become more dense,” the proposal states. “The cost of eminent domain will continue to rise. Construction costs will continue to escalate. We cannot afford to push this problem to the next generation.”

In its proposal, JDS acknowledged that a new terminal south of the station — called Penn South — was not a new concept and had been contemplated as part of the Gateway project since at least 2011. But the development team asserted that increasing track capacity was an essential part of redeveloping Penn Station.

Cuomo announced a similar plan on Monday, saying the state would move to acquire a rectangular block south of Penn Station to build a terminal and eight tracks. The terminal would be part of an “Empire Station Complex” including Moynihan Train Hall. The new terminal would allow parts of the existing Penn Station to be closed down and renovated.

The governor’s office indicated that it’s in discussions with property owners and that eminent domain would be a last resort. In a press release, the administration said the latest iteration of Empire Station Complex would “create opportunities for redevelopment on the blocks surrounding Penn Station, setting the stage to transform antiquated and underutilized buildings into a new economic engine for New York.” The state has tapped FXCollaborative, one of the architecture firms that had collaborated on JDS’ proposal, to lead a consultant design team on a portion of the project.

The CEO of JDS, Michael Stern, declined to comment.

In January 2016 the Cuomo administration rolled out a joint request for proposals and RFEI to reinvent Penn Station and the Farley Post Office across Eighth Avenue. Eight months later the state named Vornado, Related Companies and Skanska as the lead developers of the Farley project, known as Moynihan. The broader Penn Station overhaul, however, didn’t move forward.

Vornado in 2018 bought the majority of Related’s stake in the redevelopment and now owns 95 percent of the project. In addition to the train hall, the project includes an 850,000-square-foot office and retail component that has become a hot commodity on the Far West Side. Facebook is reportedly in talks to lease 700,000 square feet of office there.

On Monday, Cuomo repeated other concepts in the 2016 RFEI, including a new entrance to Penn Station at Eighth Avenue. That would require removing Madison Square Garden’s theater, something that JDS included in its proposal. The RFEI described Penn South as a future project that developers would need to keep in mind with their Penn Station overhaul.

It’s unclear whether the state will issue another RFP or RFEI. Representatives for the Empire State Development Corporation indicated that discussions with Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, private property owners and community stakeholders would determine the structure of Penn Station’s redevelopment.

By Kathryn Brenzel
January 8, 2020
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