New York

Gov. Hochul forges ahead with NYC Penn Station redesign plan that stands to benefit major campaign donor

Gov. Hochul pressed full steam ahead Thursday on a plan to redesign Manhattan’s Penn Station that has drawn pushback from government watchdog groups as it stands to benefit one of her biggest campaign donors.

Joined by Mayor Adams and other local officials in Penn’s Moynihan Train Hall, Hochul announced that the state will accept applications through July 28 from developers and architects to carry out the multi-billion dollar overhaul of the outdated and much-maligned transit hub.

“We will return this station to its former glory,” Hochul said before quoting from a 1962 poem by the late Langston Hughes that describes Penn as a “vast basilica of old that towers above the terror of the dark.”

“There will no longer be terrors of the dark in Penn Station,” the governor continued. “That’s what we are changing. No terrors in the night, of the dark. This is going to be an enlightened experience, literally and figuratively.”

First rolled out last fall, the plan would phase out the station’s cramped underground waiting areas and consolidate them into a ground-level concourse with high ceilings, more windows for natural light and greater connectivity to platforms, among a range of other updates, according to the governor’s office.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in partnership with NJ Transit and Amtrak, is effective immediately opening up the solicitation process for proposals on how to execute the behemoth project, state officials said.

“We’re going to turn an embarrassment into a symbol of light of what’s great about our city,” said Adams, an early supporter of the initiative.

But transit advocates and government watchdog groups claim the project is a financial giveaway to Steven Roth, the chief executive of Vornado Realty Trust and one of Hochul’s top campaign donors.

As envisioned by the plan, a large chunk of the roughly $6 billion that the Penn project is expected to cost will come from tax revenue generated from 10 office towers that Roth’s firm would develop in the area.

New York City’s Independent Budget Office released a study last month casting doubt over the reliability of that funding proposal, as the use of office space has trended downward during the pandemic, raising the specter that local taxpayers may actually have to foot the bill.

Following Hochul’s announcement, Trains Before Towers, a group made up of local residents, housing and transit advocates, lambasted the governor for moving forward with the Penn project.

“Rather than pursuing this dog-and-pony show for a much-needed new Penn Station, Gov. Hochul needs to stop the Steve Roth plan to build 10 megatowers around Penn Station, which will devastate the neighborhood and enrich a massive donor to the governor’s campaign at the expense of New Yorkers and the millions who commute through Penn Station every year,” said Sam Turvey, chairman of ReThink NYC, a group that’s part of the Trains Before Towers initiative.

Roth, whose firm ranks as one of the city’s largest developers of commercial real estate, did not immediately return a request for comment via a spokesman.

Roth donated $69,700, the maximum amount allowed by law, to Hochul’s campaign in December. His son, Jordan Roth, contributed another $20,000 to Hochul around the same time, campaign finance records show.

Asked about the criticism over the Roth connection, Hochul told reporters that she had nothing to do with that aspect of the project.

“They’re using existing owner sites, so those decisions have been made long before I became governor,” she said. “The community is going to benefit from more public space and amenities and just a sense of pride in this neighborhood, so I’m very proud to move this forward.”

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