Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced plans to move forward with her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo’s controversial Penn Station redevelopment plan — while claiming to have adjusted the plan to satisfy community concerns.
Hochul’s plan presented Wednesday would keep Cuomo’s plan to finance renovations to Penn Station through the construction of 10 skyscrapers in the immediate vicinity — but reduce the overall size of those towers by 1.4 million square feet, she said during an afternoon press conference in Manhattan.
“We can scale it down and still generate the revenue we need to fund the transformation of Penn Station while benefiting the surrounding neighborhood,” Hochul said.
She said the state would not wait for the completion of the new Gateway tunnel under the Hudson River and additional track capacity at Penn to improve the passenger experience there.
“Gateway and Penn expansion, yes, are both projects I fully support. And we will get them done,” she said.
Hochul said her version of the Penn rehab will take four to five years to complete and cost $6 to $7 billion, funded by taxes on the new skyscrapers. The station will be renamed after a New Yorker when all is said and done, she said. MTA public materials about the project have dubbed it the “Empire Station Complex.”
“Has anybody ever asked the question why we have the largest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere, named after a neighboring state?” Hochul joked. “I believe the new station for New York should be named for a New Yorker, or something to do with how iconic New York State is, and how amazing it is.”
“There’ll come a time when people say, ‘I never even heard of Penn Station,’” she added.
Cuomo once compared the station’s many corridors and tunnels to “the seven levels of Hell.” Hochul, for her part, on Sunday likened the subterranean transit hub — which carries more daily riders than the city’s three airports combined — to a haunted house, calling it “scary” and “dark.” On Wednesday, she called it “disgusting” and “depressing.”
But neighborhood activists oppose the project, which would seize and demolish an entire block of buildings south of the station. They are also upset that the plan will circumvent the city’s typical zoning process known as ULURP.
The project would be developed by Steve Roth’s Vornado Realty Trust, and consist primarily of commercial office space.
Hochul on Wednesday insisted her administration had “scaled” the project “in a way that will have the revenues necessary to fund what we have to do without being any larger than necessary.” She said they had further listened to community groups by expanding the amount of affordable housing and public plaza space included in the effort.
New York City’s office buildings remain relatively empty compared to before the COVID-19. But Hochul said she is confident things will turn around.
“I believe, and I spoken to so many people in the real estate industry, they’re very optimistic about the future,” she said. “This office space will not be there next year. It’s going to be years down the road and by the time the office space is done, people will be back.”