Saving Penn Station



Everly Isayan

With an estimated cost of 16 billion dollars, 10 new skyscrapers are planned to be built in New York City in an attempt to fund a makeover for the widely disliked Penn Station.

Located between 7th Ave. and 8th Ave. in Midtown Manhattan, Penn Station, or Pennsylvania Station more formally, is among the busiest railroad stations in the world. Prior to the pandemic, Penn Station saw 600,000 people per weekday come through its doors.

Predicted to be one of the biggest projects in the United States for real estate, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has for years prioritized the creation of a monstrous development in the center of Manhattan.

According to the New York Times, “Ten new buildings — five taller than 1,000 feet — would rise around Pennsylvania Station and form a towering business district stretching west toward Hudson Yards, the biggest private development in the country, and east to the Empire State Building.”

At the center of this huge constructural district would be Penn Station, which is now referred to with dread as a despised railroad station, which multiple sources have given telling titles. For example Business Insider writes,“the worst place in New York City” and Gizmodo writes “The worst transit experience in the U.S” to name just a few of the many.

Despite current hatred, Penn Station architecture was not always disliked, and surprisingly was considered a NYC jewel in its original days. According to Andrew J. Hawkins of The Verge, “Built in 1910 on the West Side of Manhattan, the original structure was majestic, a reflection of principal architect Charles McKim’s vision to celebrate “the entrance to one of the great metropolitan cities of the world.” And celebrate it did, from its Beaux Arts exterior of pink granite and marble, to its stately colonnade, to its cavernous main waiting hall inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla.”

There are many listed reasons why Penn station is considered to be a topic of such architectural flaw. Penn Station is often called depressing, and one contributing factor backing this statement is the fact that there is no natural light at all in Penn Station because Madison Square Garden sits atop the station, creating an extreme lack of natural light so awful that it leaves citizens in the station unable to tell whether it is day or night. Other factors of discussion include the architectural oddities, cleanliness, and dated design of the Station.

An example of Architectural and design oddities include the format and layout of the building and specifically its stairs. Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit are the three different railroads within Penn Station.

After touring Penn Station, Hawkins reveals that, “The NJ Transit concourse is on the upper level of Penn Station, along with Amtrak, with the LIRR running a grade below. But even this upper level has multiple sublevels, forcing riders to dash up a set of stairs to purchase tickets, down another set of stairs to find their gate, and down even more stairs to get to the train platform. It’s an MC Escher painting of commuting chaos.”

According to the New York Times, in Cuomo’s plan the funding would come from the state which, “intends to pay for the rebuilding of Penn Station, which would cost an estimated $16 billion, through the development of the new towers, whose owners would contribute part of the revenue from office leases, retail sales and other sources.”

Although Cuomo argues that NYC is in need of this ambitious development and a significantly refined transit hub, with this plan comes many doubts from other political officials who have joined together in opposition to Cuomo’s plan.

Though these officials are aware of the needed refinement of the station, they question whether now is the opportune time to take on such a hefty plan, with pandemic restrictions slowly and recently loosening their grip over the city. State Senator Liz Kruger and Brad Hoylman are a few of the influential officials currently opposing Cuomo’s plan.

Kruger questions, “Do we need 10 more supertalls in the surrounding area of Penn Station?…Will there be demand for it?”

As do many, Holyman also questions Cuomo’s motives in regards to the skyscrapers, calling the proposed buildings, “a mega real estate deal posing as a transit improvement plan.”

In conclusion, although Penn Station is in need of great refinement, this plan is still many years and discussions away from coming to a head, posing the commonly asked question, “Will it actually take place?”

While there is an inevitable recognition towards the need to revitalize Penn Station, timing is key, and there are also many opposing points to consider. These points include cost, funding, motivations, demand, and largely, the effects on the community that would potentially surround the buildings.