Vornado Realty Trust isn’t waiting for final approval of the state’s Empire Station Complex plan, in which Vornado would play a central role, to pursue its dream for the Penn Station/Madison Square Garden area.
The publicly traded giant is building at one site and demolishing at a site across the street. Neither project is part of the proposed wider-area redevelopment that would raze old buildings for new skyscrapers to be built mostly by Vornado and improve much-hated Penn Station. But they reflect chairman Steve Roth’s obsession with the neighborhood that long preceded former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Empire proposal.
Despite criticism of the larger Penn district scheme that’s now backed by Gov. Kathy Hochul — some of it reflected in these pages — there’s no denying Vornado’s transformational investment in properties it has owned for decades.
Last week, Vornado topped off The Bustle, the dramatic new, 80,000 square-foot entry atrium to the office building known as PENN 2 on Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets. To open next year, it’s the street-level public face of the 1.6 million square-foot tower previously known as 2 Penn Plaza.
Among other changes, the once gloomy structure is getting an all-new curtain wall. Although the work won’t be finished until 2023, the tower is already unrecognizable from the 1968 original. It boasts gleaming glass all around and corner loggias on every floor.
The Bustle will boast a triple-height lobby with art suspended 50 feet in the air. It will provide direct access to the train station and also lead to an office entrance for PENN 2, although the main entrance will be through a new public plaza on West 33rd Street.
A big chunk of the tower is leased to Madison Square Garden, which recently renewed its lease for 365,000 square feet for 20 years.
Meanwhile, on the east side of Seventh Avenue, demolition is rapidly reducing the Pennsylvania Hotel to a memory. Roth long wanted to replace the unglamorous, 800-room inn with a super-tall office tower — Merrill Lynch was once touted as the anchor tenant — but the Great Recession and, more recently, the pandemic put the plan on hold.
Among Vornado’s other $2 billion in upgrades to the area, PENN 1 — the sister building to PENN 2 — now boasts an acre of public space. Recladding of both towers made them significantly more sustainable.
Vornado also recently spearheaded the $1.6 billion launch of Moynihan Train Hall in the Farley Building. All 730,000 square feet of the Farley’s office space is leased to Facebook.