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Moynihan Station Is Being Built Now

Today’s groundbreaking ceremony for Moynihan Station was scheduled for 10:30 in the morning , moved to 2 p.m., and started 27 minutes later than that. The off-again-on-again, here-again-there-again plan to convert the old post office and mail depot into a grand replacement for Penn Station is officially on, at least to some small extent, 17 years or so after the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan started pushing the idea.

The project being a retrofit of an existing building, there was no ground to break as such. A ceremonial enclosure of gray bricks, like cinderblocks, had been built on the south side of the foot of the post office’s wide, grand stairway, which runs along Eighth Avenue. Eight ceremonial sledgehammers leaned against it. The bollards nearby were black and glossy, their paint not entirely dry.

Elected officials and guests, including Moynihan’s widow, his daughter, and his grandson, filled in rows of seats next to a podium. There are 17 credit lines on the Future Home of Moynihan Station sign at the northwest corner of the old post office, from Governor David Paterson on the upper left to New Jersey Transit in the lower right.

Timothy Gilchrist, the president of the Moynihan Station Development Corporation, introduced Governor Paterson. Governor Paterson spoke for a while and then introduced Senator Charles Schumer. Schumer spoke for a while. A fire engine drove by, with its sirens wailing, and Schumer kept talking over it. Not long after, a Beth Israel ambulance went by, again with sirens, and Schumer kept talking over the ambulance. The Empire State Building was built during the Great Depression, Schumer said, and Moynihan Station can be built in an economic downturn too—”smartly and with good focus.”

Schumer introduced his junior Senate colleague, Kirsten Gillibrand, who spoke briefly, then yielded again to Schumer, who introduced Ray LaHood, the Secretary of Transportation. “You cannot stop Charles Schumer,” LaHood said. “I don’t care if you’re a fire truck or an ambulance.”

LaHood praised the Obama administration’s stimulus package, which was supplying $83 million to the Moynihan Station project. The station, he said, “will be at the heart of America’s high-speed rail system.” There will be a high-speed rail system, he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke. The traffic on Eighth Avenue made it hard to hear him. He said something about the IRT, then added “The IRT is the subway that I still take to work every day,” which is not precisely true . Representative Jerrold Nadler followed Bloomberg and expanded on the history lesson about how the city had taken over the formerly separate subway companies, as they went bankrupt, and turned them into a single system.

Finally Sheldon Silver, the state assembly speaker, made it to the podium. “Everything that has to be said has been said,” he said, “but not everyone has said it.”

The speakers took questions from the press—”on-topic questions only.” A man pushed a shopping cart past the scene, heading uptown. “Yo! What’s going on over here? What’s happening? Is that Mayor Bloomberg?”

The dignitaries moved over to the wall and got their hammers. One at a time, they poked at the bricks. The bricks were stacked without mortar, and fell right over. Schumer marveled aloud at how easy it was. He hefted his sledgehammer and marveled that it was a real one.

More people had feelings about the mayor, or expressed their feelings, than about anyone else on the scene. A man with a camera shouted at Bloomberg to turn around, so he could get a picture. New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman stopped Bloomberg for a brief chat, one plutocrat to another. Someone asked what the fuss was. “Bloomberg. You don’t recognize that runt?” Another passerby: “He got more protection than the president! Shit!”

The mayor left the scene by motor vehicle, not by subway.