EDITORIAL: Penn Station project needs more scrutiny

People walk past Penn Station in New York City.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
People walk past Penn Station in New York City.

The fate of billions of dollars of our state tax dollars are resting on a single vote today over a massive New York City development project for which many details about the financing and scope are still unknown.

Rather than rush this project through and risk those tax dollars for what could end up being a $10 billion boondoggle, the state Public Authorities Control Board needs to vote against the proposed Penn Station railroad rehabilitation project when it meets today, and send it back to the drawing board for more scrutiny and more transparency.

The project calls for the construction of 10 skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan in the area surrounding Penn Station and Madison Square Garden, and rehabilitation of the outdated and rundown train station.

There’s no doubt, especially if you’ve ever taken the train into the city from the Amtrak station in Rensselaer, that Penn Station needs a major upgrade. It’s especially noticeable when compared to the shiny new Moynihan Train Hall right across the street.

But the renovation project, which is being pushed heavily by Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, involves massive tax breaks to developers of the surrounding area, including one developer who’s contributed heavily to Hochul’s election campaign.

And when the developer gets all these breaks, including relief through payments in lieu of taxes, there’s no guarantee there’ll be enough money available to actually rehabilitate the train station — which is the whole purpose of the project in the first place.

According to some opponents, the cost could very likely be borne by state and city taxpayers, those who pay Metropolitan Transit Authority taxes and those who pay to ride mass transit in New York City,

Factors working against the success of the leasing scheme including more people working from home due to changes in the workplace due to covid, and the unstable Manhattan real estate market, which still hasn’t fully recovered from the pandemic.

Many factors that backers of the project are counting to come to fruition may not actually happen. And that could leave taxpayers, including those of us here upstate on the financial hook for overly optimistic revenue projections.

If the project is so vital and will be so profitable, it should be able to withstand public scrutiny.

Since that basic element of the project hasn’t been met, there’s no way for the Public Authorities Control Board to meet its obligation to ensure “there are commitments of funds sufficient to finance the acquisition and construction of such project.”

The board needs to vote no on this project today and only reconsider it when all of the public’s questions have been fully answered.

We’re a long way from that day.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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