New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to press ahead with a project to build 10 new skyscrapers in the heart of Manhattan, a construction project that could become one of the largest in the United States and help redevelopment of the nation's most-used rail station, Pennsylvania Station.
The buildings－five taller than 1,000 feet (304.8 meters)－would flank the area around the station, also known as Penn Station, and fund part of an upgrade to the transit link that served 600,000 passengers daily on trains, buses, subways and Amtrak before the pandemic.
Under the plan, dubbed the Empire Station Complex, Penn Station would undergo massive expansion. The proposed building project would create a high-rise business district. It would include two hotels and stores, and three quarters of the buildings would be office space.
While Cuomo has wanted to kick start the project for several years, some elected officials, transportation advocates and residents in the area oppose it, saying it is not the right time.
The project would begin after a difficult year for New York real estate. There is more office space available for lease in Manhattan than at any point in 30 years, The New York Times said.
The market value of the city's office buildings have fallen 25 percent over the past year and residential sales took a hit due to the pandemic.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been a political nemesis for the governor, called the plan a "land grab that relies on overriding city rules".
State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat representing Manhattan, said it was "a mega real estate deal posing as a transit improvement plan".
The Empire Station Coalition, a group of transportation officials and civic groups, has said the project must focus on upgrading Penn station.
"Any master plan for Penn Station must start by getting the actual transit plan right－the current proposal treats that foundational question like an afterthought," said Barry Caro, senior adviser to ReThinkNYC, a New York nonprofit organization specializing in transportation infrastructure.
New York has traditionally regulated the use of most land in Manhattan. But the state has taken over the process around Penn Station by designating the area as "blighted".
Cuomo, who is in his third term, has less political clout this year after several women accused him of sexual harassment. He has also been accused of covering up the number of deaths in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
In February he doubled down on the benefits of the proposed complex, saying it would be crucial for the city and forge "the next great investment".
The state of New York would put up $16 billion toward building the new towers. Revenue from their leases and retail sales would be used to help cover costs, including billions of dollars in bonds needed for improving the rail terminal.
Neighborhood civic groups are concerned the project could change the area forever.
"This is a neighborhood with a character, a history and a soul," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a citywide advocate for New York's historic buildings and neighborhoods. "It cannot be treated as a blank space for ill-conceived and unsustainable real estate power fantasies."