It has been just over a month and a half since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Empire State Development Corporation's (ESD) adoption of the Empire Station Complex General Project Plan (GPP), a sweeping proposal that would allow for the clearing of several existing Midtown blocks to make room for 10 new skyscrapers (roughly 20 million square feet of offices, retail, hotel, and residential) and a slew of transit improvements, including an updated Penn Station.
While Cuomo's declaration did not see much immediate criticism, discontent has certainly been brewing over past the weeks. With the scope of the GPP now fully absorbed, transit advocates, civic organizers, local pols, and Manhattan residents have emerged ready to push back.
A group that has dubbed itself the "Empire Station Coalition" is calling on elected officials to halt the GPP, a motion prompted by their discontent with the governor and developers' failure to address Penn Station's core issues and, above all, engage the community and local lawmakers in any part of the planning process.
A scathing piece published on The City today critiqued Cuomo's plan as a pocket-lining real estate development disguised as a transit project, furthermore highlighting that the path to construction "would be approved not through the typical city-led land use review process, but via the ESD. The Cuomo-controlled entity has the authority through the 1968 Urban Development Corporation Act to make sweeping changes to the urban landscape without city approval — if the state determines an area to be blighted."
They continue that the ESD has deemed the subject area outlined in the GPP to be “significantly underutilized and characterized by blighted and substandard conditions.”
To begin, the project will also require a significant investment of $1.3 billion — now rolled into the proposed state budget — which will be bonded out to generate the additional funds needed to improve and expand Penn Station. The plan also relies on cash coming in from the new developments, particularly those of Vornado Realty Trust, which owns most of the sites named in the plan, including the Hotel Pennsylvania at 401 Seventh Avenue, a circa-1919 building that will eventually be razed and replaced with a 1,200-foot tower called Penn 15.
The Empire Station Coalition has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday, April 7, 12:00 PM, in front of the Hotel Pennsylvania. They will outline their key issues with the GPP, offer alternative solutions, and call for the removal of the Penn Station expansion from the New York State Budget until more community input can be given.
"Building out a Hudson Yards 2.0 around Penn Station is the last thing New York City needs — it’s the wrong vision," says Lynn Ellsworth of Human-Scale NYC, a coalition member. "We need to defund Cuomo and Vornado’s terrible idea, step back, and consider the better alternatives.”
Other organizations affiliated with the coalition include ReThinkNYC, The City Club of New York, CNU NYC, the 29th Street Neighborhood Association, Untapped New York, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, TakeBackNYC, and the Victorian Society New York.
Live streaming of Wednesday's press conference will be provided through the TakeBackNYC Facebook page.