NYT Sports Columnist Pans the Plans for MSG Engulfing Moynihan Station

Sports of The Times
With the Dolans Involved, Expect More Ugliness
By GEORGE VECSEY
July 15, 2007

Just wonderful. Now it turns out that the friendly folks from Madison Square Garden, who have enough trouble qualifying the Knicks and the Rangers among the top 16 teams in their leagues, are glomming in on the dream for a new Pennsylvania Station.

That is all we need. I’ve been waiting four decades for New York to atone for the sin of destroying the beautiful Beaux-Arts train station, and now we learn that the proposed station may have to share space with the cable guys.

The way I read it, a proposed new Garden would sprout like some mutant fungus from the west side of the handsome James A. Farley Post Office, where the new train station was supposed to dwell in spacious grandeur.

The worst part seems to be that the Cablevision folks who own the Garden also want to dominate the east facade of the old post office, with ticket booths and gaudy advertisements of the horrors of the Dolan stewardship.

Instead of inviting travelers into the mystery and romance of rail travel — or at least the prosaic suburban lines — the blighted exterior would urge sports fans to visit the latest and always-suspect version of the Knicks and the Rangers. This is progress?

The proposed next Garden would be part of a rebuilding of the West Side of Manhattan around 34th Street, a very big real estate deal indeed. My main concern, as it was in the mercifully defeated plan to build an impractical Olympic complex in Manhattan, is that public officials do not cave in to the demands of wealthy sports proprietors. Take it from a sports columnist: Sports aren’t all that important in the overall scheme.

New York deserves a second landmark train station to go with the gilded, renovated Grand Central Terminal on the East Side. A spacious new terminal should aim to match the escalators that climb toward the shimmering open-air heavens in the magnificent station in Kyoto, Japan, or the awesome panorama of platforms and shops in European stations like Zurich and Leipzig and Milan.

Knicks and Rangers fans know the ugliness of a train station buried because of greed. The current Garden squats atop the site of the former Penn Station, once a wondrous airy glass-and-steel haven for travelers that was torn down in 1963 to make money for the proprietors of the failing Pennsylvania Railroad, now tucked into the squalid enterprise known as Amtrak.

Instead of a beautiful train station, New York got itself a dump of a sports arena five awkward stories above the ground. The “new Garden,” as I stubbornly call it, forces every sentient being, from lanky basketball players to sturdy hockey players to ponderous pachyderms to Garden patrons, to funnel into dismal little entrances, corridors, elevators and escalators.

Pardon me for sounding like an old-timer, but the previous Garden, the third one by actual count, induced much more of a sense of community, with its famous marquee (N.Y.U. vs. C.C.N.Y. — ask your grandparents) facing Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. Meet me outside Nedick’s, you would say to a friend, but there is nothing that social at the current architectural blight.

It gets worse underground.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. A latter-day Dante might write these words after descending the lower depths to catch the 5:33 to Hempstead or Rahway. The more favored commuters to Westchester and Connecticut get to use Grand Central, where no basketball or hockey teams abide. Maybe there is a moral to that.

Many Knicks and Rangers fans have suffered from the triple witching hour of a ghastly station, an eyesore and lousy teams, particularly in the past decade. Rangers fans put up with no Stanley Cup playoffs at all from 1998 through 2005, but actually won a playoff series this spring and made some enlightened signings afterward.

Knicks fans have seen exactly one playoff appearance, a quickie sweep by the Nets, in the past six years, and last season even looked like a team sometimes, until David Lee was hurt.

Now the Knicks have brought in Zach Randolph to try to coexist with Eddy Curry near the basket, but at least the Knicks shuffled off Steve Francis, the oldest-looking 30-year-old player I have ever seen.

Portland did what Knicks fans demanded for two torturous seasons, buying out Francis’ contract in a heartbeat. For all the shuffling by Isiah Thomas, Knicks fans who renew their season tickets must consider it a mixture of financial speculation, like buying a faltering stock, and an act of faith, like believing in some future lottery nirvana.

There’s not much anybody can do about the incompetence of the Garden management. But Gov. Eliot Spitzer can make a statement early in his term by insisting on the original goal of a world-level train station in the name and vision of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

New Yorkers like to think we deserve the best in everything. We shouldn’t sacrifice or alter the potential glory of a public project for the self-interest of a private enterprise just because of the elusive glitter of two sports franchises.

E-mail: geovec@nytimes.com

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Posted Under: Midtown, Stadium, Transportation

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