Editor's Note

Opinion: A tiny plaza adds life outside the entrance to Penn Station

The centerpiece of a $65 million streetscape project proved to be a hit with New Yorkers before even opening.

Sedi Donka performs at Plaza33 on June 21.

Sedi Donka performs at Plaza33 on June 21. Ralph R. Ortega

Vornado Realty Trust, the developer holding off building several tall buildings that would have helped fund the redevelopment of Penn Station, is now focusing on the streets around the transit hub. Vornado is unveiling the “centerpiece” of a $65 million project to make the streetscape around Penn “safer, greener, more accessible and more pedestrian-friendly,” according to a press release. What Vornado is referring to is Plaza33 outside the station’s East End Gateway on 33rd Street, most recognizable by its glass canopy leading into the Long Island Rail Road concourse. Vornado CEO Steven Roth, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Assembly Member Tony Simone and Council Member Erik Bottcher were expected at a ribbon-cutting on June 24.

The small promenade, developed in partnership with the New York City Department of Transportation, has trees, circular stone benches, folding chairs, tables and landscaping. Sedi Donka, a self-described Eastern European, Balkan and Gypsy band, was already performing at the plaza on June 21. Despite a heat wave, nearly every seat was filled. It appeared this little plaza had the potential to win over New Yorkers. Perhaps not so much with Penn Station advocates, who want a more robust redevelopment of the transit hub, even on the streetscapes surrounding it. “I think these improvements are nice at launch and an improvement over a very low bar,” said Sam Turvey, chair of ReThink Penn Station NYC, which is pushing for a redevelopment that evokes the grandeur of the original station razed in 1963. Turvey fears more piecemeal improvements will result in a “collection of architectural body parts.” Bluntly, he said, “These are Band-Aids where major surgery is the order of the day.”