Four teams of architects presented plans Wednesday for a reimagined Penn Station that would be a spacious, welcoming gateway to New York City instead of the crowded, confusing and dark transportation hub now used by hundreds of thousands of daily commuters.
The four firms that took part in a design challenge sponsored by The Municipal Art Society all said the only way to improve Penn Station would be to move Madison Square Garden from its current home atop the train station.
John Fantillas of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture said the arena crowds the station "like three fat men in a rowboat."
Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill called Penn Station "a disaster" and said his firm has imagined "a magnificent future" for the area with Madison Square Garden moved just to the southwest of its current location.
Madison Square Garden called the plans "pie-in-the-sky drawings."
"It's curious to see that there are so many ideas on how to tear down a privately owned building that is a thriving New York icon, supports thousands of jobs and is currently completing a $1 billion transformation," the company said in a statement.
The design challenge was prompted by an upcoming vote by New York's City Council on renewing Madison Square Garden's permit to operate on top of Penn Station.
Madison Square Garden wants the permit renewed in perpetuity, while the city Planning Commission is recommending a 15-year limit. The Municipal Art Society and some other civic groups want the permit renewed for 10 years.
In addition to H3 Hardy and Skidmore, Owings & Merriill, architects of the under-construction 1 World Trade Center, the firms that presented new Penn Station designs were Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which has worked on the High Line and renovating Lincoln Center, and SHoP Architects, one of the firms that designed the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn.
They offered plans for an airy, light-filled Penn Station with shops, rooftop gardens and other amenities.
Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro called her firm's "city within a city" design "a large sponge-like mass aerated in many directions."
Some plans envisioned paying for the upgrades by replacing existing buildings in the Penn Station complex with new mixed-use skyscrapers.
Madison Square Garden, home to the Knicks, the Rangers and the WNBA's Liberty as well as a venue for concerts and other events, would be moved due west to a pier on the Hudson River under the H3 Hardy plan. The SHoP plan would place it a few blocks to the south and west in the Morgan mail processing facility.
"Penn Station cannot move and the Garden can," SHoP's Vishaan Chakrabarti said in a phone interview. "Right now everything's piled on top of everything."
Diller Scofidio + Renfro's plan puts the Garden in the back part of the Farley building directly west of Penn Station.
Madison Square Garden said an earlier plan to move the arena to that spot "collapsed for a number of reasons that did not involve MSG, but did involve many of the same people now pressuring MSG to move, including The Municipal Art Society, which created enormous obstacles to achieving the relocation."
Its statement concluded, "The fact that this exercise does not include anyone who actually has detailed knowledge of this issue or understands the realities of this complex project exposes this exercise for exactly what it is."
The architects said they would hope to work with the owners of the arena to the benefit of all parties.
"Madison Square Garden should not take this study as an affront," Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro said in interview. "They should be heartened by the fact that no one wanted to get rid of Madison Square Garden entirely or move it very far from its current home."