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Activists call on Gov. Hochul to scrap stalled Vornado office plan for Penn Station area

The Daily News, December 20, 2023

A new coalition is calling on Gov. Hochul to scrap a controversial plan to bring offices to the Penn Station area in favor of building new housing instead, resurfacing simmering questions about the status of the long-stalled plan.

The original concept behind the state’s “General Project Plan” involved funding a revamp of the beleaguered Penn Station in Midtown by allowing developer Vornado Realty Trust to build several new office towers, a project that would have generated tax revenue. First unveiled under the Cuomo administration, it has since become mired in uncertainty and local criticism.

On Tuesday a group of community members and activists launched a campaign called “End Hochul’s Hoax” to push for the plan to be formally dropped in favor of a plan prioritizing housing. Members of the coalition include New York Communities for Change, the Midtown South Community Council, the office of the city’s public advocate and individuals from the local community board.

“There’s nothing that New York needs less than tons and tons of new luxury office space, and there’s nothing that New York needs more than tons and tons of deeply affordable housing,” Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, told the Daily News. “And Gov. Hochul has the opportunity right now to make that pivot.”

The General Project Plan has been in limbo for most of 2023 amid a shift from in-person work, a floundering office market and waning support for the project.

Hochul fueled confusion in June when she announced that the state would be “decoupling” Penn renovations from the plan. But a month later a lawyer for the governor said it was “completely untrue” that the plan was dead, and in September a judge dismissed a pair of lawsuits against the state and indicated that negotiations with Vornado were ongoing.

Hochul spokesman Justin Henry indicated on Tuesday that she still supports the plan, but did not provide specifics about Penn’s future.

“The general project plan realizes Gov. Hochul’s vision for a live-work-play neighborhood in the heart of New York City with as many as 1,800 units of housing, vibrant new open space, better transit access, and a new and improved Penn Station,” he said in a statement.

“Earlier this year, Gov. Hochul announced that she was decoupling the GPP from the station reconstruction to allow station improvements to move forward and the governor will continue to push forward and deliver a station worthy of New York.”

Vornado did not respond to multiple inquiries from The News.

Tuesday’s campaign launch comes as the city is experiencing an ongoing housing shortage while the office market continues to struggle — and Penn Station awaits firm redesign plans.

Source: The Daily News