When Madison Square Garden opened in 1968 on top of Amtrak's Pennsylvania Station, the operators of that arena secured a 50-year special operating permit to house the arena on the above-ground portion of that block. That was was the fourth iteration of MSG and the second move from its original location at Madison Square. That 50 year permit expired in January, less than a year before the completion of a $1 billion renovation project to breathe new life into the facility.
Yesterday, the New York City Council voted to limit any new permit for MSG at it's current location to just 10 years. Garden officials had been hoping for a much longer extension -- perhaps even the right to operate at the site in perpetuity.
New York City officials, as well as community groups like the Alliance for a New Penn Station, have been pushing for a lesser extension. Those groups scored a win with yesterday's vote.
The impetus for the MSG opponents is the desire to renovate or re-build the Amtrak and commuter-rail train station that currently sits underneath the arena. The former Penn Station was a grand neo-classical masterpiece that stood above-ground over the current site of MSG from 1905 until it was demolished in 1963 and featured a waiting area modeled on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It was replaced by a subterranean mess of narrow hallways and stairwells.
For the Big East, this may become a concern down the line. The new conference has a contract to hold its postseason tournament at the midtown Manhattan arena every March until at least 2026. Three years before that deal ends, MSG officials could be packing up the World's Most Famous Arena for a move -- and to where? Nobody knows.
What made MSG an important arena and location was less the name or other tenants of the facility, but instead it's location -- near the center of Manhattan's business and shopping districts, the 34th-street location makes it one of the most accessible arenas in the nation's biggest city. If another suitable location in Manhattan can't be found, MSG and the Knicks, Rangers and, yes, the Big East Tournament, could be headed to one of the other boroughs.
A move to one of the outer boroughs would really diminish the value of the arena and brand, however, with the Brooklynite Barclays Center selling gobs of tickets since opening its doors, there is no reason to believe that such a move couldn't be a success. MSG has always been a Manhattan thing, however, so if the arena has to move, expect them to work a deal to get free or cheap land somewhere else on that island -- or on a pier adjacent to it, as one architectural firm has proposed.
Other possibilities include purchasing properties from the cash-strapped Postal Service, that could keep the arena in business around that neighborhood.
Stock in the Madison Square Garden Company is down over 2% in today's trading after this news broke after the bell, yesterday.
All isn't lost for the New York Arena, however, and MSG officials will get another chance to apply for a permit to stay at their current location before the current 10 year extension expires. In the meantime, the Garden better cross its fingers and hope that the political tides in New York City change.
There will be several mayoral, gubernatorial and city council elections between now and 2023, so anything can truly happy in the next decade, but this blow is a significant one for the arena officials, who were hoping for an indefinite extension. It is also a blow to Mayor Bloomberg, who had offered a 15 year compromise plan that could have been extended if the city found another solution to the train station dilemma.
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