I’m not going to mince words here: New York Penn’s Station, the busiest passenger transportation hub in North America, is an outdated dump that should have been razed years ago.
Completed in 1969 to replace a soaring Beaux-Arts beauty of a rail station designed by McKim, Mead and White that woefully stood a little over 50 years (1910-1963), this architecturally forgettable facility is best known for two things: being criminally overcrowded and being completely located underground, tucked beneath two office towers and Madison Square Garden, a massive multi-purpose arena. Both aesthetically and functionally, it’s the antithesis of New York City’s other main rail station, Grand Central Terminal, which is an iconic landmark worth visiting even if you're not descending to one of its 44 platforms.
With Penn Station, which serves Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Long Island Railroad customers, you get in and then you get the hell out. It’s the kind of place you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy.
City and state officials are obviously aware of Penn Station’s nightmare status and they have been for some time. A new and improved — and potentially entirely relocated — Penn Station has been in the works for years although what the New York Times refers to as the “ugly stepchild of the city’s two great rail terminals” isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
In the meantime, developer Brooklyn Capital Partners has proposed a novel way to raise revenue needed for a new and improved Penn Station: an insane, 1,200-foot tall free-fall attraction — excuse, a “vertical urban amusement ride” — to be built directly atop Madison Square Garden.
Either that or the admission-based barf-inducer, described as a “high-tech version of the Eiffel Tower” that would rise higher above the NYC skyline than the Empire State Building, would be mounted one block west of Penn Station atop the historic Farley Post Office Building.
Most people pass the time waiting for a delayed train at Penn Station by imbibing heavily at Tracks Grille or finding a quiet corner in which to close their eyes and take deep breaths. Just think, in the future delayed commuters — and tourists, of course — can literally ride out the wait by plunging thousands of feet in the air while strapped into a gondola.
That’s certainly one way to kill time.
Dubbed the Halo, the steel lattice structure (a “diaphanous, gauzy superstructure as Brooklyn-based project designer AE Superlab calls it) would be the tallest and fastest tower ride in the world, equipped with 11 different parallel gondolas that plummet at varying speeds/degrees of barfy-ness.
You can quietly observe your heart rate increase and your palms perspire as you are securely locked into our fail-safe restraint system. Relax, and trust our safely record and observe the ground as it moves farther and farther away. Notice the yellow taxi cabs on the streets shrink to the size of tiny toys or, lift your head a little and watch the awesome New York City skyline appear and look out over the ocean. Your gondola will be raised 1,200 feet into the sky. You will pause momentarily at the top. Your five senses will be on high alert as you painfully wait for the plunge. Without warning your seat will plummet. You will, likely, gasp as you begin your free fall toward the city far below. You will, likely, feel an exhilarating flutter in your stomach. You will reach speeds in excess of 100 mph! Will you be clutching your harness with super human strength or will you be surrendering to the sensation with your hands held high? There is one way to find out.
Like those who would willingly fork over cash to plummet down a glass-bottomed outdoor slide affixed to the top of California’s tallest skyscraper, there’s a certain kind of person who would pay good money ($35 per head) to experience the terror described above. I’m not one of them.
In fact, Brooklyn Capital Partners is banking on a lot of people showing up at Penn Station — and not necessarily for the 5:01 to Ronkonkoma.
As reported by the New York Daily News, the estimated cost of the Halo would be in the ballpark of $637 million. At the same time Brooklyn Capital Partners anticipates the attraction would pull in as many as 7.8 million annual riders. “The tickets they buy on the Halo will contribute money needed to pay for a new Penn Station below without raising taxes or waiting for a government subsidy,” explains the proposal, noting that the Halo would “add $1 billion to make Penn Station a safer and better gateway.”
“This is an idea that could radically change Penn Station for the better," Alexandros Washburn, former chief urban designer of New York City and a highly regarded expert on coastal resiliency, explains to the Daily News.
Washburn serves as president of Brooklyn Capital Partners.
Described as a 'kinetic monument for public use and enjoyment,' the 1,200 foot tall Halo thrill ride would either top Madison Square Garden or a neighboring post office building. (Rendering: The Halo/Brooklyn Capital Partners)
In conceiving a scheme that would make a ton of money — and quick — for the redevelopment of deteriorating Penn Station, Washburn and Brooklyn Capital Partners chairman John Gerber were largely inspired by the urban Ferris Wheel craze. They mulled over housing and other theme park-y attractions like a roller coaster but, in the end, they kept on coming back to a super-tall free-fall wide that would generate needed revenue while also acting as “an unforgettable icon on the skyline.”
And as the proposal notes, out-of-towners will never again have to ask for directions to Penn Station.
Just walk toward the deafening screams.
In addition to the ride itself, the structure, a “smart and optimistic 21st century beacon of aspiration architecture” per AE Superlab, would function as a sort of massive digital billboard:
It will also serve as the cities largest and most visible interactive info display, programmed to display an ever changing array of city-relevant information driven by the data-sets made available through NYC’s open data initiatives as well as direct interaction with New Yorkers via mobile and web apps and real-time information driven by such events as environmental data and sports results from the games taking place in MSG Arena directly below.
It’s hard not to admire such a bonkers, pie-in-the-sky concept, a concept that Brooklyn Capital Partners believes to be completely feasible from an engineering standpoint. While the Halo may not ever see the light of day, you do have to applaud Washburn and Gerber for the chutzpah and sheer creativity of it all. If it takes a 1,200-foot-tall amusement park ride to get people to pay attention to the dire state of America's busiest rail station, so be it.
But seriously, I’ll throw my weight behind most anything that dramatically and quickly remedies the embarrassment that is Penn Station — so long as I don’t have to pay $35 to ride on it.
This all said, the Halo has more than a few hoops to jump through before being considered as a serious redevelopment proposal. And as pointed out by Jonathan Gouveia of the Municipal Art Society to the Associated Press, there’s the not-so-small issue of zoning: Midtown Manhattan is not zoned for amusement park rides.