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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

Madison Square Garden Special Permit

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, April 13, 2023, the following resolution passed with a vote of 34 in favor; 0 opposed; 0 abstaining; 1 present not entitled to vote:

WHEREAS, MSG Arena, LLC (the “Applicant”), seeks a City Planning Commission (“CPC”) special permit pursuant to Section 74-41 of the New York City Zoning Resolution (the “Zoning Resolution” or “ZR”) to continue to allow an arena with a capacity in excess of 2,500 seats (the “Arena Special Permit”) to facilitate the use and operation of the Madison Square Garden arena (the “Arena”); and 

WHEREAS, This application is being made in conjunction with an application by the Department of City Planning (“DCP”) for a zoning text amendment to Section 74-41 to incorporate additional required findings for the Arena Special Permit; and

WHEREAS, The current Madison Square Garden Arena, opened in 1968, is the fourth of a line of facilities in New York since the late 1870s and is located directly above Penn Station, the country's busiest railroad hub; and

WHEREAS, The MSG Complex is located at 3–10 Penn Plaza (Block 781, Lot 9001) in the Borough of Manhattan, and the MSG Site is part of a single Zoning Lot with the rest of the properties on the block include the 2 Penn Plaza office building owned by Vornado Realty and a NJ Transit entrance to Penn Station at 380 Seventh Avenue; and

WHEREAS, An arena, auditorium, stadium or trade exposition with a capacity in excess of 2,500 seats is not permitted as-of-right within any zoning district and an arena is allowed by a special permit within certain zoning districts pursuant to Section 74-41 of the Zoning Resolution; and

WHEREAS, MSG Arena was the subject of a special permit approved by CPC on January 16, 1963, (CP-17682) and the Board of Estimate on January 24, 1963, (Cal. No. 215) for an arena with a capacity in excess of 2,500 seats, pursuant to Section 74-41 of the Zoning Resolution; and

WHEREAS, The CPC resolution approving the 1963 Special Permit established a maximum capacity of 22,000 seats for MSG and included a term limit of 50 years, and MSG Arena and 2 Penn were constructed in accordance with the 1963 Special Permit and were completed in 1968; and

WHEREAS, The construction of the MSG Complex was accomplished by the demolition of above–grade elements of Pennsylvania Station and the reconfiguration of the station levels below, including the insertion of new support columns; the demolition of the station, designed by McKim, Mead & White and opened in 1910, is considered one of the key precipitating factors in New York City’s adoption of a landmarks preservation law shortly thereafter; and

WHEREAS, In an effort to maintain financial solvency, PR sold the property's air rights in 1962. In exchange, the original Pennsylvania Station was to be demolished, a smaller underground train station would be constructed a no cost to PRR, and PR would receive a 25 percent stake in the new MSG arena, which would be constructed above the underground station. These plans resulted in the demolition of the station; The destruction of this iconic structure sparked a public outcry. Commenting on the destruction of Pennsylvania Station, The New York Times Editorial Board stated, "we will probably not be judged by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed." Up until this time, there was a generally held belief that architecture was expendable, and that its loss would be more than justified by new development. However, the loss of the original Pennsylvania Station fueled the historical preservation movement in New York that fed to the creation of New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission; and

WHEREAS, The grant of the 1963 Arena Special Permit was subject to a term of fifty years that expired on January 24, 2013, and to allow the continued use of the Arena beyond the initial fifty-year term, the applicant, MSG Holdings, sought a special permit in perpetuity; a new special permit pursuant to Section 74-41 (the “2013 Arena Special Permit”) was approved by CPC on May 22, 2013 (C 130139 ZSM), and approved by the City Council with modifications on July 24, 2013 (Res. No. 1888), for a term of 10 years; and 

WHEREAS, Because the 2013 Arena Special Permit will expire on July 24, 2023, and because it cannot be extended or renewed, a new Arena Special Permit pursuant to At. 74-41 is needed for the continued use and operation of the Arena; and


WHEREAS, MSG Arena is a sports and concert venue of international reputation, dubbed the world most famous arena, and hosts basketball and hockey games for the Knicks and the Rangers, as well as concerts and other large events such as bull riding, and political conventions; and


WHEREAS, The area surrounding MSG Site is zoned primarily with commercial zoning districts; the C6-4 (HY) zoning district extends to the north and northwest and the C6- 6(MiD) zoning district extends to the east and northeast; the area to the south includes M1-5, M1-6, and M1-6D zoning districts, and the area to the immediate southwest is located within a C6-3X zoning district; critically, an area farther to the southwest, bounded by West 31st Street, Eighth Avenue, West 30th Street, and Ninth Avenue, is zoned as an R8B District; and

WHEREAS, The Site located on the western portion of the Zoning Lot, is occupied by the MSG Complex, designed by Charles Luckman and Associates and completed in 1968 and consists of a 12-story, precast concrete-clad cylindrical building with a diameter of approximately 425 feet, as well as a substantial portion of “Chase Square,” the pedestrian bridge that connects the cylindrical building to the Penn 2 office building; the westernmost portion of the building, fronting on Eighth Avenue, extends from the cylindrical massing as a roughly rectangular volume at Levels 1 through 5 to accommodate portions of the Theater at MSG (also referred to as the Hulu Theater), which has a maximum capacity of approximately 5,600 seats; and 


WHEREAS, The Site also contains at-grade open areas surrounding the MSG Complex. The open areas consist of designated pedestrian-accessible areas (portions of which constitute “plazas” under the plaza standards of the 1961 Zoning Resolution) and exterior loading areas for the Arena, the Theater at MSG, Penn 2, and Penn Station. The area between the MSG Complex and Penn 2 contains a midblock driveway connecting West 31st and West 33rd Streets The Midblock Driveway is owned by the Applicant and is subject to easements benefiting Amtrak, LIRR, NJ Transit, and Vornado Two Penn Property L.L.C. It was originally operated as a taxiway accommodating two-way vehicular traffic between such streets. It was later modified to provide one-way, northbound access through the Site. However, access to the Midblock Driveway has been limited to pedestrians and loading and service vehicles since September 11, 2001, for security reasons; and


WHEREAS, The Zoning Lot encompasses above Penn Station, a 21-track railroad station served by Amtrak intercity trains, ten LIRR branches, and five NJ Transit lines. Penn Station also contains stations for the A, C, E, 1, 2, and 3 subway lines, as described below. The MTA’s Penn Station Access project, which has a projected completion date of 2027, would expand service to Penn Station; and

WHEREAS, MSG sits on top of Penn Station constraining opportunities to make significant improvements; over the years many plans have been developed to build a dramatically improved Penn Station and a great new MSG; and

WHEREAS, Penn Station was designed for a capacity of approximately 200,000 people but now has approximately 650,000 daily users and is woefully outdated; and

WHEREAS, In 2018, the NY State Legislature passed the Penn Station Act that notes that Penn Station is unsafe and needs to be upgraded and modernized, and currently, the MTA is conceiving a plan for Penn Station Reconstruction that would cost $7 Billion and would require transfer of ownership of the MSG taxi-Driveway, enclose the Chase-Box passageway and create a glass atrium with new entrances to Penn Station from 31st and 33rd streets; and 

WHEREAS, The columns supporting the Garden are a major hindrance to upgrading or expanding tracks and platforms, Structures in the station area between 33rd and 31st Streets and Seventh and Eighth Avenues currently depend on 1162 columns. An efficient structure should need only a quarter of that number, as noted in a report by THE PENN STATION PLANNING STUDIO, University of Pennsylvania School of Design in May 2013; and 

WHEREAS, Penn Station is unsafe and does not meet NFPA(National Fire Prevention Association) code for safety. NFPA sets fire safety code for public structures, including transportation venues such as train stations. As noted in the Neighborhood Condition Study prepared for the General Project Plan for the Empire Station Complex, “Passenger overcrowding within Penn Station poses significant safety issues. Platform egress times do not meet governing evacuation criteria, as specified in NFPA 130, due to an insufficient number of vertical circulation elements. (VCEs), such as stairs, escalators, and elevators. This results in passenger congestion even during normal operations. The only platforms that comply with the maximum four-minute time to clear the platforms called for under NFPA Section are Platforms 9 and 10. All other platforms require additional VCEs to evacuate occupants in four minutes or less.”; and 

WHEREAS, Upgrades and improvements to platforms and concourses are extremely constrained due to columns and other structural elements that support MSG Arena that encumber platforms; and 

WHEREAS, MSG Arena greatly limits ceiling height and access to air and light into the concourses of Penn Station and may hinder evacuation and ability to extract smoke in case of a fire; and


WHEREAS, The MSG Complex is the busiest arena in the country, with approximately 400 annual events, and the longest active sports facility in New York City; the MSG Arena is the official home of two professional sports teams, the Knicks men’s basketball team and the Rangers hockey team, and hosts a variety of other major events serving a diverse community of patrons; and

WHEREAS, Since the MSG Complex was first developed, standards for arena loading have changed. Semi-trailers have increased in size, As a result of these changes, semi-trailers are unable to access the Arena’s internal loading facilities today. Most trucks are too tall to clear the 12-foot-6-inch height restriction at the loading entrance, and trucks that are less than 12 feet 6 inches tall but exceed 26 feet in length are unable to negotiate the slope and width of the ramp leading to the Level 1 loading area. For these reasons, semi-trailers carrying equipment for Arena events are loaded and unloaded outside using staging area and public right-of-way; and 

WHEREAS, An average of approximately 235 events per year were scheduled at the Arena from 2017 through 2019. Concerts and shows have grown steadily in number and dramatically in complexity since the opening of the Arena in 1968, with greater requirements for custom lighting, sound and stage setup and, correspondingly, increased truck volumes. From 2017 through 2019, concert events at the Arena required an average of approximately nine to ten trucks, with some shows requiring 20 or more.; and 

WHEREAS, Concerts and special events that involve more than four to six semi-trailers or TV broadcast trucks may also require the use of adjacent streets to load, unload, and/or stage vehicles. For these events, the Applicant obtains a permit from the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting to allow trucks to temporarily park and/or stage along specific segments of neighboring streets; and 


WHEREAS, The Applicant is seeking an arena special permit for continued use and operation of MSG Arena on the site in perpetuity; and 

WHEREAS, For the Special Permit to be issued, all findings contained in Art 74-41 must be made, including findings under Zoning Text Amendment filed in conjunction with MSG Arena Special Permit; and 

WHEREAS, The Applicant is proposing the Replacement of the open areas’ walking surface with high-quality decorative pavers and pigmented concrete, High-quality planter benches that beautify and facilitate public use of the Site’s public spaces without impeding pedestrian traffic, new design elements to beautify and activate portions of the MSG Complex’s exterior walls. A designated bicycle parking area with 40 bicycle racks (sufficient to accommodate up to 40 bicycles); and 


MSG / Penn Station History Since 1968 

WHEREAS, In 1986, MSG owners proposed a plan to move the arena and to build a new one on the rail yards to the west. The Penn Station block would have been redeveloped with two large office towers, coupled with at–grade improvements providing better access to the station below; and

WHEREAS, In 2003 and 2004, as part of plans for the West Side Multi–Use Facility for the Olympics and the New York Jets, MSG considered possible participation in the facility with movable seating adaptable to the arena use. Later, MSG decided against the move; and

WHEREAS, Around 2007, MSG began working with the Railroads and private developers on a plan to locate a new arena in the back end of the Farley Post Office building along Ninth Avenue as part of an expanded Moynihan Station project; and

WHEREAS, This history shows that MSG has considered moving multiple times, even as it demonstrates that a relocation project is difficult to undertake. Relocation would require significant financing and a series of public approvals; most importantly, of course, relocation requires a large, two–block–wide superblock site, something which is exceedingly rare in Midtown; and


WHEREAS, In 2013, many considerations were given to the MSG Arena special permit, the CPC issued a special permit for 15 years and noted that MSG Arena is currently not compatible with Penn Station, and further noted that along with the issuance of a 15 year term special permit, MSG Holding, along with MTA, AMTRAK, NJT, NYC DOT, NYC DCP and elected partners, had an obligation to work together to find a permanent solution to cure the area of its challenges and permit Penn Station necessary improvements; and

WHEREAS, CPC recognized that while a permanent solution leaving MSG Arena in place was a possibility, it was an unlikely one and MSG Arena relocation would be the more preferred alternative to create both a 21st century train hub and a 21st century arena; and 

WHEREAS, City Council determined that the CPC-approved special permit needed to be modified to limit the term to 10 years and also struck out various steps and conditions required by CPC, leaving all parties to not work towards a permanent solution; and 

WHEREAS, CPC noted “The Commission believes this application raises a series of fundamental planning and land use issues for the City given the location of the MSG Complex – directly above Penn Station – the most important rail facility in the region and a facility that is vital to the economic success of the Midtown business district; and

WHEREAS, However, the Commission believes the unresolved relationship between these two major uses represents one of the most critical planning problems of the City and region and its resolution will be necessary to facilitate the long–term growth of Midtown and, therefore, the continued vitality of the City’s overall economy; and

WHEREAS, CPC carefully evaluated issuing a term-limited special permit and concluded it was adequate and necessary; and 

MSG Site Plan Issues because of loading, Penn Station Issues 

WHEREAS, Penn Station itself faces a number of challenges, which generally fall into two related categories: tracks and station capacity constraints; the 11 platforms serving the 21 tracks of the station are severely overcrowded at peak hours, are considered far too narrow given current planning standards, and have few vertical access points to upper levels of the station and as a whole, these deficiencies in the station result not only in severe operational challenges for the Railroads, but also pose safety issues for the traveling public; and 

WHEREAS, The relationship between MSG and the problems of Penn Station underscored above can be generally described as a situation in which Penn Station is sandwiched between tracks below and the MSG Complex above, with no room to grow; and

WHEREAS, In 2013, the Commission strongly believed that the City, State and Federal governments should work jointly with MSG and the Railroads to develop a comprehensive relocation and funding plan to both rebuild a new arena on another site and fully redevelop Penn Station, as relocating the MSG Arena to another site could provide substantial benefits for Penn Station, as well as for MSG itself; and

WHEREAS, Most importantly, relocating the MSG Arena would allow for a ‘fresh start’ on the Penn Station site that would permit substantial improvements to be made below grade at the track and concourse levels, provide generous means of access and egress from the ground level to the station below, and could also include a ‘head house’ structure to serve as a train hall in a manner befitting the busiest train station in the country; and



WHEREAS, There are currently five major planning efforts related to Penn Station: 

1- The Moynihan Train Hall project to relocate Amtrak operations to the Farley Post Office building is mostly completed.

2- The Gateway Commission, part of PANYNJ initial planning work on the Trans-Hudson Tunnels which would include two new tunnels under the Hudson River and refurbishment of existing tunnels with completion date of 2035, budget $16 billion. 

3- The Empire Station Complex General Project Plan, led by ESD, introduced in 2020 and currently on hold due to market conditions, with a completion date of 2038 in best case scenario and potential 75 years construction timeline. Budget not available. 

4- Penn Station Reconstruction aka Penn Master Plan, led by MTA, in early design phase with a design contract approved but not commenced. Budget $7 billion.

5- Penn Station Expansion, proposing to add 6 to 9 tracks to the south of Penn Station. Completion date 2042, Budget $12 billion.


WHEREAS, the special permit and the zoning text amendment were certified by CPC on Jan 12, 2023; and

WHEREAS, CB5 LUHZ Committee held two public hearings on 2/22, and 3/8, and one public meeting on 3/22, with a total of 88 speakers, 26 in favor, 59 opposed, including MTA, Municipal Art Society, Regional Plan Association, ReThink Penn Station, Save Chelsea, Chelsea Consortium of Block Associations, London Terrace Tenants Association among others; and 

WHEREAS, Numerous speakers who spoke in favor of MSG were recipients of a Garden of Dreams Foundation grants, a philanthropic organization fully funded by MSG, and MSG indicated that the Foundation would continue to operate regardless of MSG Arena’s location; and 

WHEREAS, MSG stated on 2/22/2023 at a LUHZ committee public meeting and hearing that a site to the east of 7th Avenue would be an acceptable site for MSG relocation, and also stated at subsequent meetings that MSG did not wish, nor was contemplating to relocate; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 evaluated in-depth numerous aspects of the special permit application, including all aspects related to findings pursuant to art 74-41 and specifically loading, public realm, impact to Penn station, compatibility with Penn station, proposed improvements, 

WHEREAS, CB5 finds that MSG does not meet the findings introduced in the ZT amendment, and 


WHEREAS, CB5 finds that MSG will overburden the public realm, and finds its proposed improvements to be underwhelming, inadequate, including benches and planters would obstruct the public plazas and impede pedestrian traffic; the pavers improvements are very modest and do not reflect the civic purpose and significance of the area; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 encourages DCP to work with MSG to create an ambitious public realm scheme for the time the venue will stay at its current location, that include positive activation of the plazas, high quality public realm design, and improved wayfinding; and

WHEREAS, The bike storage proposed is too modest and should include locked secure storage and more than 40 bike storage; and 


WHEREAS, CB5 finds that loading will unduly interfere with the use of public spaces; interfere with transit facilities; interrupt the flow of pedestrian traffic in the pedestrian circulation network; or interfere with the efficient functioning of adjacent #streets# including for the staging or queuing of vehicles for loading or for security checks; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 finds the proposed loading plan submitted by MSG to be grossly inadequate and not respectful of the needs of commuters, pedestrians, neighbors and other users of the public right-of-way; and

WHEREAS, Until a permanent acceptable solution is found for MSG, trucks parked in public right-of-way shall be charged a steep parking fee that reflects the burden to the area and the area’s needs to capital improvements; the parking fee should be commensurate with the onerous loading operation, and the fees collected shall be directed to either a public realm improvement fund, or a fund dedicated to Penn Station reconstruction, or other capital improvements at the site; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 notes that the loading operations at the Theater at MSG (aka Hulu Theater) is not part of the special permit application, is not mitigated by the proposed loading plan and would continue to overburden the area by creating congestion and unsafe conditions, and such loading shall also be subjected to a parking fee for the use of public right-of-way; and 


WHEREAS, CB5 finds that MSG is has become inconsistent and incompatible with the existing transit facilities on or adjacent to the zoning lot, and with proposed improvements to such transit facilities by the affected rail agencies; and 

WHEREAS, MSG has stated at multiple committee meetings of CB5 that it will fully cooperate with MTA and Amtrak, and it is critical that MSG makes a tangible, enforceable commitment to MTA and AMTRAK, to address both existing conditions such as waterproofing and water infiltration, as well as future improvements such as MTA reconstruction of Penn Station, transfer of property and easements and to permit urgently needed upgrades to Penn Station, including HVAC, new Vertical Circulation Elements (VCE), platform engorgements; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 notes that MSG admitted at a committee meeting of CB5 that a site east of 7th Avenue may satisfy MSG for a new location, and notes that existing relocation sites will become rarer as time goes by and Midtown gets fully developed and therefore the time is now; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 believes that for MSG, a new site could provide a modern, more generously– sized event space and relief from some of the operating constraints at the current site; and

WHEREAS, CB5 notes that under the current application, a restrictive declaration would be issued in conjunction with the issuance of a special permit and is concerned that this restrictive declaration may be too vague and too hard to enforce to effectuate necessary changes to upgrade Penn Station; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 notes that relocation of MSG Arena is preferred alternative to properly and perennially upgrade Penn Station and to give it a dignified above grade presence consistent with its place as the largest transit hub in the western hemisphere; and

WHEREAS, MSG has stated at multiple committee meetings of CB5 that it will fully cooperate with MTA and Amtrak, and it is critical that MSG makes a tangible, enforceable commitment to MTA and AMTRAK, to address both existing conditions such as waterproofing and water infiltration, as well as future improvements such as MTA reconstruction of Penn Station, transfer of property and easements and to permit urgently needed upgrades to Penn Station, including HVAC, new Vertical Circulation Elements (VCE), platform engorgements; and 

WHEREAS, MSG must contribute financially to improvements made to Penn Station that will benefit the arena, including but not limited to loading area reconstruction and broadcast facilities; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 notes that MSG admitted at a committee meeting of CB5 that a site east of 7th Avenue may satisfy MSG for a new location, and notes that existing relocation sites will become rarer as time goes by and Midtown gets fully developed and therefore the time is now; and


WHEREAS, While not connected to the Special Permit application, CB5 notes that MSG is the beneficiary of a full tax exemption since 1982 and CB5 is on record since 2013 asking for repeal of tax exemption and notes that according to IBO tax exemption the exemption cost $42 million last year in foregone revenue, and amounts to over $750 million in foregone revenue in the lifetime of the tax exemption; and 

WHEREAS, Legislation is pending in the State legislature to repeal MSG tax exemption and CB5 supports such legislation; and 

WHEREAS, While not connected to the Special Permit application, CB5 notes that MSG uses facial recognition technology to discriminate against patrons based on their involvement with law firms undertaking litigation against MSG and its subsidiaries (although those patrons are not involved themselves in litigation), and numerous employees of law firms involved in litigation against MSG have been barred from entering the venue; and 

WHEREAS, There is legislation pending in the State legislature to prohibit the use of facial recognition to discriminate against patrons and CB5 supports such legislation; and 


WHEREAS, CB5 finds that MSG Arena does not meet any of the findings of the zoning text amendment, and consistent with CB5’s position of 2013, finds that the preferred alternative to address the numerous issues at and around Penn Station require the arena to relocate; and 

WHEREAS, There may be realistic sites elsewhere in Manhattan and especially in CB5 and a good faith effort by all parties, including the applicant themselves, the other majority property owners, the railroad operators, elected officials at the city, state and federal level, must be made now to find an adequate, sustainable and permanent solution; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 is extremely concerned that issuance of a permit for a middle to long term will not accomplish a permanent solution but only delay any tangible action; and 

WHEREAS, CB5 recognizes that issuance of a 10-year permit in 2013 did not accomplish the stated goal to “give ourselves time” to develop a permanent plan and urges all parties to not repeat this mistake; and

WHEREAS, CB5 is strongly opposed to issuance of a permit in perpetuity; Therefore, be it 

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends denial of a special permit pursuant to art. 74-41 for MSG Arena unless MSG Holding agrees to pursue a permanent sustainable solution, including relocation, and unless the length of the special permit is restricted to a 3-year period; and further be it

RESOLVED, CB5 recommends that a relocation plan that includes a full funding scheme be designed and implemented for such permanent solution and urges all partners to create a binding working group that must provide regular updates (at least once/year), as well as a full review of the conditions and progress at year-2, and reports to elected officials, relevant agencies and the community board on progress being made; and further be it

RESOLVED, CB5 recommends the following improvements be made in the interim: 

PUBLIC REALM: public bathroom in the plaza, positive activation of the plaza with ambitious public realm design and concepts, wayfinding improvements, bike storage exceeding 20 bikes and locked bike storage,

LOADING: Keep all tractor trailers, busses and broadcast vehicles off public right-of-way, including vehicles for Hulu Theater, or when vehicles are parked in street or on sidewalk, establish a parking fee structure commensurate with the burden placed on our blocks, 

RESOLVED, CB5 believes a full relocation of MSG Arena is in the best interest of both Penn Station and MSG corporation; and must be the preferred alternative; and further be it

RESOLVED, CB5 urges the full repeal of the real estate tax exemption; and further be it

RESOLVED, CB5 urges the state legislature and city council to adopt legislation banning the use of facial recognition to discriminate against patrons.

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