By Sean Hartnett
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The battle lines are drawn. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Madison Square Garden head honcho James Dolan have dropped their gloves and are locking horns in a massive fight for the sacred ground above Penn Station.
Quinn’s “pie in the sky” idea is to evict the Knicks and Rangers from the premises for a more aesthetically pleasing Penn Station by hanging a ten-year guillotine over Dolan’s head. The mayoral hopeful wishes to tear down the thriving, iconic “Mecca” that is Madison Square Garden. It would be bolstered, of course, should she get into the city’s high office.
First off, where is this money coming from to give Penn Station a dramatic facelift? It’s an enormous undertaking to transform Penn Station into a modern, 21st century gateway into city — so who is going to pony up the dough?
Secondly, Penn Station doesn’t need a major overhaul to satisfy commuters and tourists. New Yorkers don’t care whether Penn Station looks like a palace or not. Sure, it would be wonderful if the old Penn Station was never torn down. All New Yorkers really care about is whether Penn Station is efficient and safe — which it is.
There are plenty of entrances and escalators, the halls are wide and there are a ton of shortcuts for those who know how to get around the complex.
It’s fairly easy to navigate the current Penn Station for both commuters coming in and out of the city through NJ TRANSIT, LIRR and Amtrak, as well as those taking various subway lines uptown and downtown.
Outside of the unavoidable rush-hour bottlenecking, it isn’t all that cramped.
OK, Penn Station not a jewel. Quinn dug out that famous, old quote from Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to drive her point home.
“We need to make sure Penn Station becomes what we need it to be a really 21st century grand entrance into the greatest city in the world,” Quinn said. “Not what Senator Moynihan and others historically described as a bunch of rat tunnels that lead people in and out of the city every day.”
What Quinn doesn’t understand is that MSG is the jewel on top of Penn Station. It is a living, breathing structure that truly lives up to its nickname of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
Whether you appreciate or despise Dolan, he has plunged nearly $1 billion into enhancing one of New York’s most famous landmarks. After old Yankee Stadium was torn down, it became the undisputed greatest sporting venue in the city.
Walk around the Garden and you’ll be encompassed in history: the championship banners of Walt “Clyde” Frazier and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe hanging down from the rafters; the image burned into our minds of Mark Messier raising the Stanley Cup to the heavens in 1994; Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Michael Jackson and Billy Joel playing memorable sold-out shows.
The Garden has also helped bring healing to New Yorkers at their greatest times of need. An all-star lineup of musicians and performers honored the first responders and those lost in the September 11 attacks when MSG hosted The Concert for New York City. Policemen and firemen rocked out with The Who as New York boldly showed the world that America will stand together and not back down in the face of terrorism.
More recently, the 12/12/12 concert gave victims of Hurricane Sandy a much-needed distraction from the devastation and raised more than $30 million in ticket sales alone.
Those walls inside the Garden can almost reach out, touch you and speak to you.
It pained me to see old Yankee Stadium torn down piece by piece. The new park in the Bronx hasn’t been able to replicate the electric atmosphere of the old building, and MSG does not deserve a similar fate.
Madison Square Garden deserves to continue to stand as the gathering hall of New York’s finest events.
Tearing down this wonderful old building would be unforgivable, Quinn.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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