New York Daily News
Pols train their budget ax on gov’s Penn plan
ALBANY — Gov. Cuomo is getting a scaled-back version of the $1.3 billion in bonding authority he requested for a controversial plan to redevelop Penn Station and surrounding Midtown blocks.
Lawmakers introduced a capital budget bill early Tuesday that partially grants the governor’s wish for billions in borrowing power, but the final language limits the use to “transportation improvement projects” and can’t be used for “above-grade development.”
That means billions in state funds can’t go toward building 10 massive towers, including one supertall structure dubbed “PENN 15.”
Critics have castigated Cuomo’s redevelopment plan, known as the Empire Station Complex project, arguing it sidesteps the usual city landuse process.
The overhaul is going through as a general project plan, which allows the state to skip over the city’s typical bureaucratic building approval steps and may include the use of eminent domain. Officials say revenue eventually generated by the deal will go back into upgrades at Penn and other transit projects in the area.
Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), whose district includes much of the project, voted against the capital budget bill because of the borrowing power included.
“We’ve seen no Penn Station master plan, including the full extent of the proposed transit improvements, and how and if they’re dependent on the real estate development,” he said ahead of casting his vote. “Before we sign the check, I think we should see the plans.”
New York Democratic officials, including Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney; Hoylman and fellow state Sen. Robert Jackson; City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, have all called on the governor to rethink the process.
Others have scoffed at the central tower’s decidedly risque-looking name.
“I am having a hard time being ok with Cuomo’s PENN 15 plan of $1.3 billion dollars,” Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan) tweeted Tuesday.
In January, Cuomo unveiled a $51 billion plan to transform a large swath of Midtown, mixing old plans such as a new train hall south of Penn Station and replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal, with new ideas that include extending the High Line and erecting residential and commercial towers.
The plan, which would transform the area around Penn and is being overseen by the state’s economic development arm with little oversight from city or state lawmakers, has been met with opposition from local elected officials and neighbors alike.
One source last week labeled the project a “sweetheart deal” for real estate industry bigwigs who have padded Cuomo’s campaign coffers over the past decade.
Steven Roth, the chairman of Vornado Realty, which owns a large swath of the land slated for the development, has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the governor throughout his political career.
Roth and his wife, Daryl, have given Cuomo’s various campaigns a total of $412,100 since 2005, including $130,000 to Cuomo’s 2018 reelection bid.
Vornado Realty executives and trustees have given Cuomo at least $82,000 over the past decade and a half, according to campaign finance records.