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New York City limits Madison Square Garden's lease to 15 years.
Isa Dim

The expiration of Madison Square Garden’s 50-year lease has left the arena—home to the Knicks and Rangers—hanging in the balance. Even as the Garden requests a special permit to operate in its current location in perpetuity, opposition to that plan is mounting. In recent months, advocacy groups, critics, and local government officials have called for a ten-year limit on the Garden’s lease. They want the arena to relocate, opening up the possibility of revamping the notoriously congested Pennsylvania Station.

At a review session with the City Planning Commission (CPC) in May, the staff at the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) recommended a permit extension of 15 years for the Garden. DCP counsel David Karnovsky said such a term would be an “aggressive but realistic” time frame to reach an agreement with the Garden that would either result in the relocation of the arena or a “comprehensive plan” for significant improvements.

“We believe a term is warranted due to the uniqueness of the site and importance of Penn Station to the city,” said Amanda Burden, director of the DCP and chair of the CPC.

City officials are using the limited-term lease as a tool to prompt the arena to establish a plan that would allow for Penn Station’s critical infrastructure challenges to be addressed. The number of commuters passing through the station, which already operates well over capacity, is expected to increase in the coming years. “It is a failsafe mechanism to make sure that we don’t end up in the long-term with no resolution for Penn Station,” Karnovsky told AN.

While several commissioners expressed support for the 15-year term limit, Commissioner Irwin Cantor questioned whether a 15-year permit extension would “create an atmosphere of necessity,” as opposed to a five or ten year permit.

Karnovsky argued that 10 years wouldn’t provide the Garden with adequate time for planning. In the case that the 15-year mark approaches and the Garden has reached an agreement with the city and railroad, but needs more time to either relocate or implement major improvements, the arena would be granted an additional extension. However, if the Garden fails to come to any decisions during this time period, the CPC would reevaluate and move forward with its own agenda to update the station. To ensure that the Garden is working towards a plan, the DCP is suggesting a progress report be required about every five years for the CPC to review.

For a number of civic groups the hope is that the arena will relocate, but DCP said this isn’t necessarily the objective. “We have to plan for the possibility that there will be no plan for relocation, and rebuilding Penn Station from top to bottom is a hugely complicated process,” said Karnovsky.

On May 22, the CPC voted unanimously to limit the Garden’s permit to 15 years. Now City Council has until July 17 to approve, modify, or reject CPC’s decision.

Nicole Anderson