Kathy Hochul’s Penn Station plan has business owners worried
Business owners around Penn Station are worried about Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plans to seize and raze properties in the area to make way for 10 new skyscrapers.
The state’s Empire State Development Corporation is expected to vote in the coming weeks to approve the plan, which authorities say will displace 473 businesses and 128 households.
The program, backed by Mayor Eric Adams, would use tax revenue from new office towers to fund cosmetic renovations at Penn Station, the nation’s largest transit hub.
Local merchants, who have only heard rumors about the plans, told the Post they are worried about what might be in store for their neighborhood.
“This pub is my livelihood and basically my life,” said Angela Reilly, the 68-year-old owner of the Molly Wee Pub on Eighth Ave. and 30th Street.
Reilly – who opened the bar with her late husband more than 40 years ago – first heard rumors of state plans to bulldoze his entire block a year ago.
But she has not been officially informed of the fate of a building she owns, which houses the pub and seven residential tenants who live above it.
“They need to renovate Penn Station but they don’t need to remove the whole block,” she said.
Hochul inherited the ex-governor’s effort. Andrew Cuomo. In November, she said the state had reduced the size of towers by 7% — but did not back down from Cuomo’s plan to bypass the city’s zoning process to seize and destroy private buildings.
Neighborhood groups and government watchdogs have accused the governor of embezzling billions in much-needed tax revenue that would now line the pockets of property developer Vornado Realty Trust. Vornado CEO Steven Roth and his family donated tens of thousands of dollars to Hochul’s re-election campaign.
“There should be enough room to have the best of old and new. They just don’t want to hear that,” said Samuel Turvey, an architect battling the project as ReThinkPennStationNYC. “They’re like grasshoppers, they have this insatiable appetite.”
Turvey’s group pegs the number of residences and businesses to be hit at 6,000 and 2,000, respectively — far more than state estimates.
Other historic structures that would be demolished as part of the plan include the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue, the Gimbel Skybridge on 32nd Street, and a church that houses several Franciscan friars.
Rocker Steve Marshall, 71, fears New York could lose a piece of music history if his soundproof recording studio – where Madonna recorded tracks before she was a celebrity in a name – were to be destroyed. The studio overlooking Madison Square Garden was one of 100 on West 30th Street.
“Almost every great musician in New York lived, rehearsed or recorded on West 30th Street,” he said.
When Marshall moved into the building in 1976, punk rock band Ramones drummer Tommy Ramone lived on the 2nd floor while Eric Clapton, Roberta Flack and Paul Simon drummer Steve Gadd lived on the 15th floor.
“I feel like Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Don’t Look Up’ running around warning people not to tear down these buildings with so much musical history,” Marshall added, referencing the 2021 Netflix film.
Up the street at 307 West 30th Street is an 1876 brownstone that stores the genealogical records of more than 100,000 Lithuanians who moved to the United States from 1886 to 2012.
The non-profit Lithuanian Alliance of America (LAA) has occupied the brownstone for 112 years. The location was the first port of call for newly arrived Lithuanian immigrants before they boarded trains at Penn Station bound for coal mines in Pennsylvania, steel mills in Pittsburgh, or stockyards in Chicago.
“If we lost this building, we would lose our history,” said LAA board member Antanas ‘Tony’ Dambriunas. “More than 100 years of our history and culture would be gone. Generations of memories would be gone. It would hurt.
The Molly Wee isn’t the only legendary watering hole threatened by redevelopment.
After serving beers for 17 years inside Penn Station, the Tracks sports bar was razed in 2019 to make way for ongoing renovations. The owners have not been financially compensated by the State.
Three days after the owners of Tracks reopened their bar across from Penn Station, Cuomo announced plans to bulldoze Tracks’ new home on West 31st between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. If Tracks is evicted again to make way for new office towers, bar owners won’t be able to afford to start over a third time.
“We could be kicked out again by the MTA,” co-owner Michael O’Brien said. “After COVID, and with the economy as it is, we couldn’t afford to open a third location.”
“It’s been a long road and everything is very uncertain, which is frustrating.”
ESD spokesman Matthew Gorton said the plan laid out for a vote by the ESD does not actually involve any seizure of property – as properties not already owned by developers will be treated separately by the authority responsible for extending Penn Station south.
“Whichever railway entity is responsible for the relocation, should this occur, they will be required to provide relocation assistance in strict accordance with applicable laws and procedures,” Gorton said in an email.
Properties already owned by Vornado contain around 150 different businesses that will close when the developer builds its skyscrapers, with hundreds of employees.
O’Brien, the owner of Tracks, expects to hear more after the primary election concludes on Tuesday. ESD’s board will vote on the plan in July 2022, Gorton said.
Barfly Abe Figuero, 73, has been drinking at the Molly Wee Pub since 1988, which has become a “second home”. He held his retirement party there earlier this month.
“Check the hearts of people in this neighborhood and they will be devastated to lose this pub,” Figuero said.
“People here have become like a family.”