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Request for Reconsideration by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the determination of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places for Pennsylvania Plaza, aka Block 781.

At the regularly scheduled monthly Community Board Five meeting on Thursday, January 13, 2022, the following resolution passed with a vote of 37 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:

WHEREAS, Block 781 is a ‘superblock’ bounded by West 31st Street, West 33rd Street, 7th Avenue, and 8th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan; and

WHEREAS, The superblock is the site of Pennsylvania Plaza, designed by architect Charles Luckman Associates and, constructed simultaneously with the current Penn Station (rebuilt between 1963 and 1968), the aboveground plan includes the circular-plan Madison Square Garden (MSG) arena which opened on February 11, 1968, and the high-rise office tower 2 Penn Plaza, completed in 1969 and located on the west and east sides of the block and connected by a pedestrian skybridge; and

WHEREAS, This is the fourth venue to bear the name “Madison Square Garden”; the first two (1879 and 1890) of which were located on Madison Square on East 26th Street and Madison Avenue with the third Madison Square Garden (1925) further uptown at Eighth Avenue and 50th Street; and

WHEREAS, Re-cladding is underway at 2 Penn Plaza, involving the replacement of the structure’s dark façade with a lighter glass enclosure; and

WHEREAS, The original Penn Station — located on the site from its opening on August 9, 1910 until demolition began on October 28, 1963 — was an ornate station building considered a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style and one of the great architectural works of New York City; and

WHEREAS, The original station was designed by Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead, and Stanford White, who were giants in the architecture of their time and came to define the practice of urbanism; and

WHEREAS, According to SHPO’s statement, the NJ Transit submitted a request for comment to SHPO on September 28, 2020, for the status of existing historic resources as part of the approval process for planned minor construction of an elevator within Penn Station; and

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania Plaza was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in a resource evaluation dated April 7, 2021, citing criteria for inclusion in the areas of urban planning and transportation, historic preservation, and engineering design; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five only recently became aware of the determination of eligibility by happenstance and as a result of rigorous inquiry; and

WHEREAS, The New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC) d/b/a Empire State Development (ESD) is the sponsor of a land use proposal to override New York City zoning rules to redevelop all or a portion nine blocks around Penn Station; and

WHEREAS, ESD was not the sponsor nor did they initiate the nomination process with the SHPO for evaluation of Pennsylvania Plaza; and

WHEREAS, Block 781, while depicted on ESD’s General Project Plan (GPP) Block and Lot Map, were not part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement  (DEIS); and

WHEREAS,  As part of the nomination process, each State is required to notify in writing the property owner(s), the State's intent to bring the nomination before the State Review Board; and

WHEREAS, The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, d/b/a Amtrak, a federally chartered corporation operated as a for-profit company (rather than a public authority) owns Penn Station; and

WHEREAS, The General Project Plan (GPP), bounded by West 30th Street, West 34th Street, 6th Avenue, and 9th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan is the revised vision for Penn Station and its adjacent environs and, pursuant to the provisions of the New York State Urban Development Corporation Act requirement and in response to calls for community engagement, the State convened  the Community Advisory Committee Working Group (CACWG); and 

WHEREAS, The determination of eligibility was not communicated directly to the CACWG, which works with ESD, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), Amtrak, and NJ Transit; and

WHEREAS, Several members of Community Board Five participate on the CACWG; and

WHEREAS, The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation; and

WHEREAS, The National Register nomination process usually starts with a submission from property owners, historical societies, preservation organizations, governmental agencies, and other individuals or groups to the SHPO; and

WHEREAS, A determination of eligibility is a decision by the Department of Interior that a district, site, building, structure, or object meets the National Register criteria for evaluation although the property is not formally listed in the National Register; and

WHEREAS, The National Register is an authoritative guide to be used by federal, state, and local governments, private groups and citizens to identify the nation’s cultural resources and to indicate what properties should be considered for protection from destruction or impairment; and

WHEREAS, Further, the National Register was designed to be and is administered as a planning tool, with federal agencies undertaking a project having an effect on a listed or eligible property and required to provide the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, as amended; and

WHEREAS, Because of Section 106, federal agencies must assume responsibility for the consequences of the projects they carry out, approve, or fund on historic properties and be publicly accountable for their decisions; and

WHEREAS, The SHPO coordinates the state’s historic preservation program and consults with agencies during Section 106 review; and

WHEREAS, Districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects are eligible for the National Register if they possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and: 1) are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history (Criterion A); 2) are associated with significant people (Criterion B); 3) embody distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, represent the work of a master, possess high artistic value, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction (Criterion C); or 4) may yield [archeological] information important in prehistory or history; and

WHEREAS, Properties that are younger than fifty years of age are ordinarily not eligible, unless they have achieved exceptional significance; and

WHEREAS, The SHPO administers programs authorized by both the NHPA of 1966 and the New York State Historic Preservation Act of 1980, with the same eligibility criteria used for both the State and National Registers; and

WHEREAS, The administered programs are separate and different from work undertaken by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), which is “responsible for protecting New York City's architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings and sites by granting them landmark or historic district status, and regulating them after designation”; and

WHEREAS, LPC designates historically significant properties as New York City Landmarks (NYCLs) and/or Historic Districts, following the criteria provided in the Local Laws of the City of New York, New York City Charter, Administrative Code, Title 25, Chapter 3. Buildings, properties, or objects are eligible for landmark status when a part of such resource is at least 30 years old; and

WHEREAS, NYCLs have a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation. There are four types of landmarks: individual landmark, interior landmark, scenic landmark, and historic district; and

WHEREAS, The SHPO cited Pennsylvania Plaza as eligible for the National Register under Criterion A in the areas of urban planning and transportation (with the decline of the railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad sold the property’s air rights and in exchange, the original 1910 Penn Station was demolished and a smaller underground station was constructed, and the proposed redevelopment combining MSG and 2 Penn Plaza office tower was viewed as a catalyst for economic development in the area by many in the business community) (SHPO Resource Evaluation, April 7, 2021); and

WHEREAS, Penn Station, as it currently stands, is a multi-level, subterranean railroad station constructed from 1963 to 1968 and then “expanded and renovated between the 1980s and 2000s by three railroads, Amtrak, Long Island Railroad (LIRR), and New Jersey Transit” (SHPO Resource Evaluation, April 7, 2021); and

WHEREAS, After the passage of fifty years, the reconstruction of Penn Station has not attained its own significance for what it reveals about the period in which it was built, rather than the historic period it was intended to depict; and

WHEREAS, The Pennsylvania Plaza complex was deemed significant by the SHPO under Criterion A in the area of historic preservation, related to the demolition of the original Penn Station which prompted tremendous public and editorial outcry and leading to years of local efforts to protect significant buildings; and

WHEREAS, The complex was also deemed eligible by the SHPO under Criterion C in the area of engineering for Madison Square Garden’s roof system — a 404-foot diameter steel cable suspension roof designed by structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel —the first permanent roof of this kind in New York City and one of the largest in the United States; and

WHEREAS, “Aboveground, the 1960s plan is readable with contributing features including Madison Square Garden, 2 Penn Plaza and its raised platform, with their connecting pedestrian bridge, the former taxiway that is closed to vehicular traffic, and the five entrance locations to Penn Station below” (SHPO Resource Evaluation, April 7, 2021); and

WHEREAS, Operational remnants in no way evoke the original engineering and architectural work of the original 1910 Penn Station, and is missing the “progression of spades, the light, the materials, and in no way speaks to the original architecture or its experience”; and 

WHEREAS, “Belowground, despite the application of non-historic materials, the historic circulation pattern from the 1960s on the upper and lower levels is extant” (SHPO Resource Evaluation, April 7, 2021); and

WHEREAS, “Surviving vestiges of the 1910 Penn Station include two stone eagles sited on Seventh Avenue, and belowground, iron and brass railings at several stair locations, a cast-iron partition located in the LIRR waiting area, and areas of stone paving” (SHPO Resource Evaluation, April 7, 2021); and

WHEREAS, In accordance with National Register Bulletin (NRB)-15, (Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 36 - Parks, Forests, and Public Property, Chapter I - National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Part 60 - National Register of Historic Places), to be eligible under Criterion C, “a property must clearly contain enough characteristics to be considered a true representative of a particular type, period, or method of construction representing the work of a master, possess high artistic value, and represent a significant and distinguishable entity”; and

WHEREAS, Moved and/or reconstructed properties not presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan are not usually considered for listing in the National Register; and

WHEREAS, The Resource Evaluation lacks a clear distinction between the possibly significant roof structure of Madison Square Garden and the insignificant rest of the building, and fails as a guide for future evaluation under Section 106 review because of its unclear limits; and

WHEREAS, The SHPO noted the period of significance as between 1963 to 1968, encompassing the redevelopment and construction of Madison Square Garden, 2 Penn Plaza, and Penn Station and not beginning 1910, in reference to the original Beaux-Arts Penn Station; and

WHEREAS, When evaluating a property for a period of significance, a range is used to define the importance of a property to the history, architecture, or culture of a community per NRB-15; and

WHEREAS, The vagueness of the determination of eligibility document throughout may cause difficulty in its use as a guide to review proposed alterations or tax credit projects in Section 106 review; and

WHEREAS, In 2018, however, the SHPO found no merit for Penn Station’s eligibility for the National Register when LIRR undertook the reconstruction of the North Concourse/new exit and SHPO determined that the site was ineligible; and

WHEREAS, That same year, the New York State legislature passed the Pennsylvania Station Public Safety Improvement Act of 2018, which “found and declared, that the rail and transportation facility known as New York Pennsylvania Station (‘Penn Station’) is antiquated, substandard, and inadequate to meet current transportation and public safety needs and presents an unreasonable safety risk to the public”; and

WHEREAS, Penn Station serves as a major transportation hub for the MTA, New York City Transit, Amtrak, the LIRR, and NJ Transit and serves hundreds of millions of passengers on an annual basis, with well over 600,000 passengers traveling through Penn Station on a daily basis which is is more people than travel through LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International, and Newark Liberty International airports combined; and

WHEREAS. Penn Station is in need of modernization to meet public safety needs as it is currently overcrowded, hard to navigate, at times often chaotic and has a limited capacity for security and proper policing; and

WHEREAS. Penn Station is in desperate need of more access and egress to allow better entrance and exit capacity and expedited evacuation procedures, and needs more controlled points for security monitoring and equipment with passenger flow and security access allowing for manageability in emergency situations; and

WHEREAS, The current situation poses a clear public safety hazard; and

WHEREAS, The number of commuters entering Penn Station is expected to increase dramatically and it was further found and declared that such conditions and circumstances require action to repair or redevelop such facilities into safe, modern, efficient facilities to assure the safety and comfort of travelers; and

WHEREAS, This is a pressing public safety and transportation issue, and is a major objective for the State to resolve and should be made a top priority; and

WHEREAS, “MTA and the New York state Urban Development Corporation (‘UDC’) should coordinate and consult with community leaders, business groups and federal and city government to design a solution”; and

WHEREAS, According to SHPO’s statement, they undertook another review of Penn Station in 2019 at the request of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and concluded that they were unable to make a determination; and

WHEREAS, In December 2020, the New York City LPC, in their role as a certified local government, evaluated historic resources within the Empire Station Complex environmental review study area and determined MSG and the Penn Station Plaza ineligible for local, State, and Federal designation; and

WHEREAS, Between 2018 and 2021, SHPO’s evaluation led to the determination of eligibility status for Penn Station in 2021 although nothing material has changed in the three years separating these decisions; and

WHEREAS, MSG, 2 Penn Plaza, and the rebuilt Penn Station do not possess the integrity nor convey the significance necessary, nor does it offer an expression of the aesthetic or historic sense of a particular period of time to merit historic designation; and

WHEREAS, In 1965, hundreds of advocates for preservation and adaptive reuse of Penn Station took to the streets, united, and organized as The Action Group for Better Architecture in New York City and successfully helped pass the New York City Landmarks Law and created the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), widely regarded as the birth of the modern preservation movement in the United States; and

WHEREAS, In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the National Historic Preservation Act, creating a national-level historic preservation program in partnership with the states; and

WHEREAS, The Act created the National Register of Historic Places, the system of State Historic Preservation Offices, and the review known as Section 106; and

WHEREAS, Purporting to honor the rise of the historical preservation movement and establishment of the City’s landmarks law — the very law resulting from the demolition of the original 1910 Beaux-Arts Pennsylvania Station — by designating Pennsylvania Plaza as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places is a cruel and strikingly ironic juxtaposition; and

WHEREAS, Madison Square Garden, this being its fourth location, was destroyed of its relationship between the property and its surroundings, nor does it possess any historical significance and while its roof may have some engineering merit, other works by the structural engineer are better examples; and

WHEREAS, 2 Penn Plaza, a 400-foot tall aging commercial building described as “a nondescript, monolithic slab” is not a good reflection of the mid-century architectural style of the era; and

WHEREAS, Prime examples of iconic mid-century  architecture celebrated within Community Board Five include the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Lever House (designated as the City’s first modernist landmark in 1982 by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission), and the Seagram Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; and

WHEREAS, Other notable architectural  examples in Midtown Manhattan include the United Nations Secretariat Building and Ford Foundation headquarters, the latter of which Hannskarl Bandel (engineer of the MSG roof system) helped to build; and

WHEREAS, With poor connections to its surroundings and inefficient circulation, 2 Penn Plaza is being substantially overhauled and re-skinned for a more modern look; and

WHEREAS, Penn Station, in its current configuration, is dismal and dangerous, with only its surviving vestiges historic in nature; and

WHEREAS, Hundreds of people registered for the public hearing on the Pennsylvania Station Area Civic and Land Use Improvement Project on December 8, 2021, voicing their concerns related to its negative impacts affecting the scale and character of the community, and of the potential loss of affordable housing and small businesses through eminent domain; and

WHEREAS, Pennsylvania Plaza, ultimately, does not retain the identity for which it is significant; and

WHEREAS, Transit advocates are appalled by the designation and determination of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places  (Elstein, A., “Historic blunder?! State moves to protect Penn Station and MSG, jeopardizing redevelopment,” Crain’s New York Business, December 8, 2021); and

WHEREAS, Local preservation, historical, or archeological organizations – often the ones first contacted when federal projects commence – were apparently not contacted during the evaluation of Pennsylvania Plaza; and

WHEREAS, Representatives from the City Club of New York, the Empire State Coalition, and Historic Districts Council voiced their concerns to the Landmarks Committee; and

WHEREAS, While acknowledging the technically correct, academically focused determination by SHPO professionals with significant experience and expertise as well as precedential considerations; and

WHEREAS, The nexus has been on the significance of the site rather than the buildings that are present at this time; and

WHEREAS, The focus of preservation advocacy has been on preventing mass demolition of historic resources around the Pennsylvania Plaza ‘superblock’ that would be razed by the proposed area plan; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five strongly supports Penn Station reconstruction and believes that Penn Station cannot be made safe and fully ADA accessible unless MSG is relocated — a move we have advocated for since 2012, and even before; and

WHEREAS, The SHPO determination invokes laws that require that they are consulted throughout project planning, prolonging the process for the opportunity to make recommendations; and

WHEREAS, Registered properties and properties determined eligible for the Registers receive a measure of protection from the effects of federal and/or state agency sponsored, licensed or assisted projects through a notice, review, and consultation process; and

WHEREAS, There are no restrictions placed on private owners of registered properties, who may sell, alter or dispose of their property as they wish; and

WHEREAS, Listing on the National Register could make property owners eligible for federal and state tax credits, the value of which could be monetized in exchange for working capital and further harming the City and State; and

WHEREAS, Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Act of 1966 is triggered by funding or approval from a DOT agency for a project that proposes ‘use’ of historic property; and

WHEREAS, Section 4(f) stipulates that in order for a historic site to be granted protection, it must be considered significant, and that the Section 106 process is the method by which a historic site’s significance is determined; and

WHEREAS, Sections 106 and 4(f) are similar in that they both require consideration of historic preservation in projects with federal involvement; and

WHEREAS, The Section 106 process is integral to the Section 4(f) process, Section 4(f) is not integral to the Section 106 process; and

WHEREAS, Section 4(f) applies to the actual use or occupancy of a historic site while Section 106 involves an assessment of adverse effects of an action on historic properties; and

WHEREAS, Section 4(f) applies only to programs and projects undertaken by agencies of the DOT, while Section 106 applies to actions of any federal agency; and 

WHEREAS, The Section 4(f) process applies a more stringent analysis with respect to totally avoiding historic properties than does the Section 106 process; and 

WHEREAS, Under Section 4(f), agencies of the DOT must avoid the use of historic sites; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five disagrees strongly with the SHPO’s determination of eligibility for Pennsylvania Plaza; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five wishes to emphasize the preservation of significant resources in the surrounding area; and

WHEREAS, The following sites, buildings, and structures surrounding Pennsylvania Plaza are located within the GPP boundaries:

WHEREAS, SHPO, as a state agency, serves the people of New York; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five requests the SHPO reconsider its determination of eligibility for Pennsylvania Plaza (Madison Square Garden [MSG], 2 Penn Plaza, and Pennsylvania Station [Penn Station]) for its flawed methodology, impact in stripping away the potency of our landmarks law, the endangerment to passengers transiting Penn Station, and be it further

RESOLVED, That SHPO reverse the determination of eligibility for Pennsylvania Plaza and instead, focus efforts on preservation of at-risk buildings in the surrounding area listed above; and be it further

RESOLVED, Community Board Five calls upon LPC to take urgent action to evaluate and designate buildings within the boundaries of the GPP deemed NYCL-eligible, to afford them protection and historic preservation.

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