New York on Its Way to Building Grand, New Train Station

Wed August 10, 2005 - Northeast Edition
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NEW YORK (AP) Plans for a grand, new train station that will seek to recreate a well-known landmark are a step closer to being realized.

New York officials have designated developers for a monumental project: the transformation of a beautiful and sprawling post office into a gilded transportation hub that will seek to match the splendor of the old Pennsylvania Station.

The old Penn Station — not to be confused with the congested, subterranean station bearing that name today — was a Beaux-Arts gem torn down four decades ago, despite strong public opposition.

The demolition of such a well-known landmark was widely deplored and is often cited as a catalyst for the architectural preservation movement in the United States and for laws restricting such demolition. Soon after the demolition of the original Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal was declared a monument and protected by law.

“It wasn’t just an act of vandalism,” Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society of New York said July 19 of the original Penn Station’s destruction. “It was the thought that air travel would replace train travel. But there has been growth in inner-city rail travel, and when [the] station is finished it will be the busiest in the U.S.”

Barwick said the Arts Society, a leading voice in New York’s historical preservation, approved of the choice of developers for the new project, but that they will remain vigilant.

“We and other groups will keep our eye on it. It is a very important development for the future of the city,” he said.

The $818-million project to convert the massive Farley post office — which sits just across from Madison Square Garden and covers two city blocks — will maintain the structure’s giant columns and steps while adding new entrances and boarding platforms for the commuter rails that serve the city.

The Related Companies LP and Vornado Realty Trust will oversee the project.

“One of the reasons The Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust were selected for this project was because their proposal leaves the landmark Farley building basically intact, without building a tower overtop of this grand structure,” Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corp., said in a statement.

The Empire State Development Corp. is the state government agency overseeing the project.

“They also presented the most financially rewarding package for the public sector investment. We will be preserving the architectural grandeur of this building while creating a new train station that will serve as a tremendous gateway to the city for millions of visitors and commuters,” Gargano said.

The new station will be named after New York’s late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a longtime proponent of the project, and will house retail shops, restaurants, a hotel and a public event space. The Postal service will retain a small service for retail patrons.

“The Daniel Patrick Moynihan station is another example of the spirit to build big and build grand, redressing one of the most tragic architectural crimes in the city’s history,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said July 18, announcing the selection of the developers. “This will be a magnificent gateway for New York.”

The modern-day Penn Station is New York’s busiest transportation hub, serving 550,000 passengers a day.

Maura Moynihan, daughter of Sen. Moynihan, said her father, who died in 2003 at age 76, would have been proud of the project and the design of the station.

“He would be absolutely thrilled,” she said. “He would be over the moon.”

The station project is scheduled to get under way with restoration work on the facade of the post office at the end of this year and construction of interior spaces next year. It would be completed at the start of the next decade.

The Farley post office, bearing the inscription, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” is a national historic landmark, according to the U.S. Postal Service Web site.

The building opened in 1914, and in 1982 it was named for Farley, a New York state native who served as the 53rd postmaster general and died in 1976.

The Farley building backed up operations for the postal station across the street from the World Trade Center complex after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack.