It looks like Madison Square Garden will be looking for a new home soon: The long-awaited City Council vote for a 10-year permit passed 47-1 today.
The owners of the Garden had requested an in-perpetuity permit, which would have allowed them to remain at that location atop Penn Station forever. The Alliance for a New Penn Station, a recently formed community group, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other elected officials have argued that it is imperative that Penn Station be expanded and remodeled, which cannot happen unless Madison Square Garden is relocated.
"We need to make sure that Penn Station becomes what we need it to be," Quinn said before the vote this afternoon, "a really 21st-century grand entrance into the greatest city in the world."
She added: "Not, I guess, what Sen. Moynihan or others have described as a bunch of rat tunnels that lead people in and out of the city every day. That's not appropriate."
Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron was the one dissenting vote. Barron said his "no" vote was unrelated to the push for a new Penn Station, but was out of indignation that the Garden has remained at that location "paying little or not rent to the city for years."
The 10-year permit continues that agreement, Barron said.
"I just think that they should pay the city their fair share of rent," the Councilman insisted, calling the long-standing agreement equivalent to being on welfare.
Barron said the new permit should not only have changed the agreement so that the Garden would be required to pay rent going forward, but should also have mandated that the Garden pay back rent.
The Garden did not respond to a request for comment, though their owners have persistently balked at the proposal of relocation.
The council-approved permit is, for the most part, binding: The mayor can veto it, but the council could then override his veto.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's spokeswoman Julie Wood affirmed the mayor's support for a new Penn Station, stating that improving the transit hub was "our goal from the outset."
Bloomberg had been a proponent of the City Planning Commission's proposed 15-year permit, which advocates for the Penn Station revamp. The initiative initially received some support, but was ultimately balked at due to a clause the commission said would allow the Garden to remain at the site in perpetuity if they struck a deal with the railyards that operate in Penn Station.
The Garden can reapply for a longer permit at any time, but now that the council has voted, any change would require full public review and go through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
UPDATE: A spokesperson for Madison Square Garden Company provided the following comment in response to the 10-year permit: "Madison Square Garden has operated at its current site for generations and has been proud to bring New Yorkers some of the greatest and most iconic moments in sports and entertainment. We now look forward to the reopening of the arena in Fall 2013, following the completion of our historic three-year, nearly billion-dollar transformation, which will ensure our future is as bright as our celebrated past."
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