Home USA USA Gov. Kathy Hochul’s controversial Penn Station overhaul faces key vote by state panel English Headline

USA Gov. Kathy Hochul’s controversial Penn Station overhaul faces key vote by state panel English Headline

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Controversial plans being pushed by Gov. Kathy Hochul to transform the area surrounding Penn Station hinge on a Wednesday vote by a little-known government body called the Public Authorities Control Board.

Hochul has called the project pivotal to reinvigorating Midtown Manhattan while critics question the financial feasibility of development plans that could benefit real estate magnate Steven Roth, who has given $69,700 to her gubernatorial campaign.

“Based on demonstrable problems with the state’s plan and the state’s failure to provide basic information about project costs and financing, we ask you to vote no,” government watchdog Reinvent Albany told the PACB in a July 26 letter.

The board has oversight over development projects involving public money, which previously gave leverage in 2019 to opponents of a failed plan to build a giant Amazon campus in Queens.

Its three current voting members – Budget Director Robert Mujica, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) – were named to their posts by Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, respectively.

The Public Authorities Control Board will hold a key vote on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plans to transform the area around Penn Station in Manhattan.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A single vote by any of the voting PACB members would keep the project from moving forward.

Mujica, Paulin and Comrie did not respond to requests for comment sent by The Post Tuesday about how they might vote at the PACB meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the state Capitol in Albany.

Empire State Development, a state agency overseeing the project, has argued that it has sound plans for financing the Penn Station overhaul after striking an agreement with Mayor Eric Adams earlier this month.

The deal allows the state to collect “payments in lieu of taxes” on land currently owned by Vornado Realty Trust, headed by Roth, which would otherwise go to city coffers. New York State would then repay the city some of the lost revenue.

A rendering of the proposed renovations to the area around Penn Station.
A rendering of the proposed renovations to the area around Penn Station.
New York Governor’s Office

Money from these so-called “PILOTS” could then be used to secure billions in additional dollars to finance parts of state plans to renovate and expand Penn Station and the surrounding area.

Roth, meanwhile, would get to develop new commercial real estate in the area with the help of as much as $1.2 billion in tax breaks depending on the final details of the mega-project.

“The state’s long overdue solution to reconstruct Penn Station and revitalize the surrounding area will benefit millions of commuters, residents, and riders,” ESD spokesman Matthew Gorton said in a statement.

“We are proud of the open, public process this project has gone through over the last two years, strengthened by the input of civic groups and community members who made their voices heard and helped improve the plan,” he added.

Critics say money raised by the PILOTs are unlikely to cover the full $7 billion price tag to overhaul the deteriorating transit hub and surrounding area, especially considering the costs of new subway entrances and other infrastructure outside the station itself.

“Any honest accounting will show the real estate part of this mega-deal is a sham and will not provide a meaningful amount of funding for actual transit improvements,” reads the Reinvent Albany letter to the PACB.

People protesting the proposed development plan for the Penn Station area on July 21, 2022.
People protesting the proposed development plan for the Penn Station area on July 21, 2022.
William Farrington

Other skeptics say they have issues with the idea of promoting the construction of new office space at a time when existing stocks are meeting demand following the pandemic.

“There’s a 24% vacancy rate in the office market in New York now, so you ain’t going to build anything for the foreseeable future. If you’re not going to build anything, There’s not going to be revenue, so they’re kidding themselves. It’d be a good idea if there was a market,” former Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch, a former chair of the ESD and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, told the Post Tuesday.

The ultimate fate of the project will hinge on whether it receive approval from the PACB Wednesday despite outstanding criticisms about the financing.

Current plans are far from perfect, but they would move efforts forward to improve an important transit hub after decades of failed efforts with opportunities to make changes when needed, supporters say.

“While there may well have been other, preferable approaches to facilitate the area’s development and renovate the station, [state plans] offer a possible way forward. Critically, many important decisions about the project and its financing remain and will be made in the months and years to come,” good government group Citizens Budget Commission said in a statement Tuesday.



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