Panel reviews options for refurbishing Penn

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Comparing the original Pennsylvania Station to the present Penn Station, Yale architecture professor Vincent Scully once remarked:

"One entered the city like a god. Now one scuttles in like a rat."

None of those who spoke on the subject last week was as trenchant as Scully. All appeared to be in support of a new, more elegant railroad terminal to replace what Mayor Michael Bloomberg called "a sad, subterranean failure."

Several audience members characterized the present Penn Station as "an embarrassment" and "a disgrace."

Panel members' opinions differed as to how the project should be accomplished and who should be in charge.

The occasion was a panel discussion on the topic "Moynihan Station:What Needs To Happen Next?" It was held by the Municipal Art Society, a dedicated advocate of the Moynihan station.

Charles Bagli, a New York Times reporter and expert on the subject, served as moderator. For his part, Bagli was not optimistic about the immediate future of the Moynihan Station.

"It may be that the time has now passed for this project to become a reality, at least for now," said Bagli, who has covered the Moynihan station story since the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan came up with the idea of converting the Farley Post Office into a new rail station.

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said "this project is a top priority or should be. But with a money shortage and so many projects, we are facing a lot of choices."

Anna Hayes Levin of Community Board 4 and chairwoman of the Clinton/Hell's Kitchen Land Use Committee, said "this should not be a dead issue. If we get real deal-making leadership, it should work."

The question of leadership touched off a spirited back-and-forth between Dan Biederman, co-founder of Grand Central Partnership, the 34th Street Partnership and the Bryant Park Corp., jousted with state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester).

"The developers can do what government cannot do," Biederman said. "They have the skills. And government officials have to consider the next election. The developers do not."

Brodsky questioned what he called the concept of "pouring cash into the hands of private developers on the premise that they will everything into gold."

Kent Barwick, president of the Municipal Art Society and a preservationist of great renown, pointed out details and locations of the Moynihan project on a large map on the wall and answered questions about the lesser-known aspects of the plan.

Several members of the audience that filled the MAS auditorium asked why the Moynihan Station was being held up.

"One reason is that we're broke," Brodsky said.

But Frederic Papert, president of the 42nd Street Development Corp, rose from the audience at the conclusion of the discussion to deliver an impassioned entreaty for the Moynihan project.

"We must get going on the Moynihan Station," Papert said. "The time is now."

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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