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Concern mounts over Moynihan plan.

Rife with political intrigue, the delayed approval process for Moynihan Station has raised concerns among state economic development officials that the project, as it is currently envisioned, could be in jeopardy.

On August 18, the Public Authorities Control Board, whose approval is necessary for public development projects in New York, postponed its vote on the station after State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Comptroller Alan Hevesi raised questions regarding the project's financing and scope.

"If they don't vote for this project, the project is dead, can you imagine?" said Charles Gargano, the chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, which was responsible for the station plan.

Gargano's very mention of such a scenario comes as a dramatic reversal from the confidence he expressed just days before the PACB's August meeting when he indicated his expectation that the project would be approved.

In addition to outlining concerns having to do with the project's financing such as the inclusion of outdated and undervalued construction cost estimates and insufficient contingency funds, Silver and Hevesi took issue with the proposal's failure to include a new Madison Square Garden.

"Perhaps the most fundamental question is how is it possible to approve part of the project when the new Madison Square Garden... will probably require that the entire plan be revised?" said Hevesi in a letter to the PACB dated August 17, the day before its last meeting. "It would make more sense to consider a comprehensive plan that includes both the impact of a new MSG on the Farley Complex and any new use for MSG's current site."

According to the state's formal approval process for such developments however, the revision of the Moynihan Station plan to include MSG would take well over a year if not two years before it could be brought again before the PACB. Given that Governor Pataki will be leaving office well before then, such a lengthy time frame would put the project under the control of his successor and could prompt the current plan to be replaced with a different station design and potentially also new developers.

Such a scenario would be a blow to Pataki's legacy, which has already suffered from his choppy handling of Ground Zero's development.

The ESDC tried to avoid the current situation and grease the wheels for the project's approval by attempting to position the station plan in recent weeks as simply the first phase in a greater overall vision for the site's redevelopment that could also eventually include MSG.

"The functional heart of the current Moynihan Station project can be built, and will have its own independent utility, regardless of what happens with Farley's Annex, and therefore there is no reason to delay Moynihan Station in the meantime," the developers stated in a letter to the ESDC, in what seemed like a carefully orchestrated response to Silver's calls for a unified plan.

Its developers preferring to keep its details in the shadows, the MSG relocation never was championed as an inclusion whose impact could be minimal. Instead, it seemed too large an addition not to disturb the station design and ESDC's insistence that the two projects could be mutually exclusive came across as unconvincing.

"I think what happened was, the developers out of courtesy showed a number of people including Speaker Silver the overall plan and so he said which is the plan?" Gargano said, giving his explanation of how MSG came to become such a pivitol issue in the station's development. "I think the developers were just being courteous about what could happen in the future, that didn't mean that they didn't want to move along with the Moynihan station now. I stated over and over that the important project here is Moynihan Station. Why people don't understand that is mind boggling to me."

Eliot Spitzer has been vocal about his opposition to the current plan, and has recommended the questions regarding its finances be answered before it is approved.

"Eliot supports the Moynihan Station project and the broader vision of the relocation of Madison Square Garden and would like to see these projects proceed," a spokeswoman from Spitzer's office stated in an email to REW.

"There is a concern, however, that the Moynihan Station project was hastily submitted to the PACB for approval and therefore lacked adequate preparation and left major questions unanswered about ongoing financial commitments by the State and other matters.

"Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern of irresponsible actions by the outgoing Pataki Administration.

"The PACB should not approve this project until these unanswered questions are resolved. We hope these issues will be resolved so the project can proceed without further delay."

The ESDC maintains that those questions have already been answered. Spitzer, the front running gubernatorial candidate, would gain control over the project if he is elected and the PACB either rejects the current station plan or postpones it until he is in office.

There has been speculation the project is being held up politically so that he can assume control.
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Author:Geiger, Daniel
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Sep 6, 2006
Words:836
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