Gov. Kathy Hochul is planning the state’s multi-billion dollar revamp of Penn Station in secrecy, according to a group of government watchdogs.
Hochul on Nov. 3 announced plans to move forward with the renovation using tax funding from 10 new commercial skyscrapers — but the state has kept a tight lid on the math behind that funding scheme, the leaders of Reinvent Albany, Common Cause, BetaNYC and NYPIRG charged in a letter to Hochul dated Nov. 10.
The groups accused the state of sharing a taxpayer-funded analysis of the financing with the proposed developer, Vornado — but not with the public. Hochul’s administration has similarly neglected to publish online the agendas and materials of the project’s community advisory committee, the letter said.
“It is completely contrary to the intent of the Freedom of Information Law that a company negotiating with the state on a massive deal, and the state government itself have a partially tax-payer funded report that is being kept secret from the public,” the watchdogs wrote. “This is not consistent with a government agency in a democratic society or the law of the State of New York which states ‘government is the public’s business.’”
Hochul inherited the project from her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo. Despite reducing the size of the towers by 7 percent compared to Cuomo’s plan, she still intends to push the project through a “General Project Plan,” which allows the state to tear down privately own buildings without going through the city’s usual zoning process.
Consultants at Ernst & Young have a $600,000 contract with the state’s Empire State Development for “financial advisory services,” according to records obtained by The Post. Vornado agreed to pay half of the cost of the study, the records show.
Yet the community advisory committee remains in the dark about how the state will pay for the $7 billion project, according to Layla Law-Gisiko, who serves on the committee in her capacity as land-use chair of Manhattan Community Board 5. She expressed doubt that taxes on the new towers could actually fund the entire station rehabilitation.
“We asked for the interim reports from their consultant. This request was not granted, which is especially frustrating because Vornado has this information and we don’t,” she told The Post. “We feel the public deserves to see this data.”
“To us it’s really the part that pisses us [off] the most,” Law-Gisiko added. “They’re making a major decision based on this data, and the public doesn’t have this data — [so] they cannot challenge it.”
The advisory committee includes other community board leaders, elected officials, transit advocates, labor leaders and local business organizations.
A rep for Hochul said in a statement that the governor “is committed to ensuring transparency and accountability throughout this process, and we will work with ESD to make more information related to the project available to the public.”