2016-01-20 / Front Page

To The Editor:

Corporate Welfare

To The Editor:
TANSTAFL – “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” or in this case “New Penn Station.” Governor Andrew Cuomo promised that this $3 billion project would be built by private developers at little cost to taxpayers. Just like the Hudson Yards project several blocks west of Penn Station, this project will end up being heavily subsidized by taxpayers, commonly known as corporate welfare. Between direct government funding, low-interest below market rate loans, long-term tax exemptions, favorable eminent domain and free infrastructure improvements, the bill to taxpayers could end up greater than the so-called public benefits. Watch for these “favors” to be granted to the future developer of New Penn Station in exchange for “Pay to Play” campaign contributions accepted by public officials who are in a position to deliver these “gifts.” With the glut in office space at the nearby Hudson Yards along with the World Trade Center site, there is no guarantee that the developer for any New Penn Station will attract enough tenants to make a multi-billion dollar investment worthwhile. Most commuters are in a rush to get home with no time for shopping. Why would anyone invest in upscale stores for consumers who will never patronize their establishments?
In 1994, the estimated cost for a new Penn Station was $350 million. Past Governors George Pataki, Elliot Spitzer and David Paterson, along with present and former Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Hillary Clinton, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer have held periodic press conferences over the past 22 years. Just like Governor Cuomo, each promised that it would be a new day for Penn Station. Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road riders have grown tired of these unfulfilled promises made by career politicians. These same elected officials move on to their next Sunday press conference leaving taxpayers holding an empty bag. There is no guarantee that the federal Department of Transportation, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey along with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will combine to come up with their share of over $300 million toward the overall $3 billion project cost as promised by Cuomo.
Cuomo’s proposed $3 billion New Penn Station Improvements Project fails to add any new track or platform capacity for Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, LIRR or future Metro North Rail Road service. These improvements are necessary to accommodate thousands of new riders and run additional trains during peak AM & PM rush hours. It also missed a key low cost option that could benefit tens of thousands of riders.
Until the 1970s, both LIRR and New Jersey Transit riders exiting east at Penn Station had a direct underground passageway known as the Hilton Corridor. It was also known as the Gimbel’s passageway. Gimbels was Macy’s chief competitor at Herald Square. This provided a simple indoor connection to the 34th Street Herald Square IND and BMT subway, along with Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) station complex.
Further, there was an underground passageway along 6th Avenue which went as far north as 42nd Street. As a teenager, I remember avoiding the rain and snow by using this indoor path. It would provide easy access to both the main branch of the New York public library and the long gone Stern’ s department store on 42nd Street.
Both passageways were closed many decades ago by New York City Transit and the LIRR, due to security issues. If reopened today, commuters would have easy connections to the Broadway N, R and Q and 6th Avenue B,D, F and M subway lines along with the PATH system – rather than walking outside on the street exposed to both inclement weather and heavy vehicular traffic. By using either the subway or walking a few blocks to work, riders would have direct access via these subway lines to midtown or the East Side of Manhattan along either the Broadway, 6th Avenue, 42nd, 53rd, 59th or 63rd Street corridors, served by numerous subway lines and stations.
It is disappointing that the old Hilton corridor, which previously provided transit options for thousands of rush hour commuters continues to lay dormant after so many decades.
Intermodal connections would have become available for the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, 1, 2, 3, 7, A, E and C subways along with the 34th Street Bus Rapid Transit route and other local bus services. Long term, there is also the possibility of future connections with Metro North. These new Metro North services would use existing Amtrak connections via the Bronx and Manhattan Westside or Bronx/Queens via the Hellgate Bridge at a later date to begin service.
Virtually all the connections would be underground and indoors, so easily walk able within minutes between services. With climate-controlled facilities, passengers would be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. No one would be exposed to either rain, wind or snow.  This could be the greatest intermodal transportation facility moving more riders utilizing public transportation than any in America.
Consider transit riders’ disappointment that a proposal submitted by one of New York City’s developers, Vornado Realty Trust, to pay for construction to reopen the old Hilton Corridor (also known as the Gimbel’s passageway) was never completed.
They had offered to do this in exchange for a city zoning variance to construct a high rise office building at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street. While the zoning variance was approved, Vornado Realty Trust never moved forward with construction of a high rise office building. This was due to a weak market for potential renters.
This connection could probably be restored in several years. Vornado Realty Trust estimated that the cost for reopening this 800-foot indoor corridor would be under $150 million dollars. The Vornado Trust developers proposal would widen it where it narrows to 9 feet for $50 million. Converting the total length to 15 feet wide could cost up to another $100 million. Diogenes is still searching for an elected official or MTA Board member to step forward and suggest adding this project for $150 million to the proposed MTA Five Year 2015-2019 Capital Program. Why not add reopening of the old Hilton Corridor to the scope of work for New Penn Station?
Larry Penner
Great Neck

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