James Dolan’s facial recognition policy may force Madison Square Garden to find a new location

What will happen to the Madison Square Garden arena? (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Madison Square Garden may soon begin to feel the effects of this controversial facial recognition policyas the arena wants to renew its operating license.

MSG Entertainment, which owns the arena alongside other venues such as Radio City Music Hall, has been sharply criticized in recent months for using facial recognition technology to block access to lawyers working for companies involved in lawsuits against the company.

On February 2, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) announced it formed a group to investigate the legal and ethical ramifications of MSG Entertainment’s policies, and said it could consider taking further action. “A law firm should be able to represent clients in a personal injury lawsuit, concert ticket dispute or any other legal matter without fear of retaliation,” NYSBA president Sherry Levin Wallach said in a statement.

And in January, New York State Attorney General Letitia James wrote an open letter to MSG Entertainment demanding an answer to the question of whether the use of facial recognition complies with human rights law. Despite the public outcry against the ban, James Dolan, CEO of MSG Entertainment, has done it anyway mention that he will not shy away from the company’s policies.

Madison Square Garden is currently seeking to renew its license to continue operating in the arena above Penn Station, where it has been located since 1963. On January 13, MSG Entertainment began the application process for a special permit, which is required for city venues with more than 2,500 seats. Madison Square Garden’s current 10-year permit, which was granted in 2013, expires this year.

The venue has changed locations numerous times over the decades. It first opened in 1879 at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 26th Street and was renovated in 1890, before being demolished in 1925. The same year, a new Madison Square Garden was built on 8th Avenue, until the arena was demolished in the mid-1960s. and moved to the current location. Mayor Eric Adams has Reportedly considered rebuilding the arena to make room for a Penn Station redevelopment.

The process for obtaining a permit renewal will include a New York City Council vote and a number of public hearings, which will likely focus on the arena’s use of facial surveillance. “I’m definitely getting frustrated that this is going to continue,” said Councilman Alex Bores, who represents Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Murray Hill neighborhoods. “All options are on the table in terms of their ability to serve alcohol, get tax exemptions and be licensed to be in that location.”

Can the license be used as leverage?

If granted, the renewal will likely include specific requirements, as was the case in 2013 when Madison Square Garden’s permit was reduced to 10 years despite the venue previously being licensed for 50 years. At that time a city council press release called the permit a “first step toward finding a new home for MSG,” and expressed the council’s desire to move the arena to renovate Penn Station.

“I hope the City Council can issue a special permit that includes some of the points we’re looking for,” said New York State Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who represents the borough in which Madison Square Garden is currently located. Earlier this month, Holyman-Sigal insisted professional sports leagues to penalize MSG Entertainment until the company ends its facial recognition policy.

MSG Entertainment should also be questioned about their use of facial recognition technology during public licensing hearings, Hoylman-Sigal said. “Madison Square Garden is the beneficiary of so many privileges from the State and City of New York, the special permit is an example of that,” he said, adding that its location above the Penn Station transit hub is another privilege.

City council decisions regarding land use typically follow the tradition of “respect for members”, and that is when the council goes out to the position of the member representing the area in question. Erik Bottcher, a member of the New York City Council representing the Madison Square Garden borough, suggested that the arena move to the Western Rail Yards on Manhattan’s west side. “New Yorkers deserve a first-class entertainment and sports arena and a first-class train station, and moving Madison Square Garden to the Western Rail Yards would accomplish both,” Bottcher said in a statement.

According to Hoylman-Sigal, the permit is a serious consideration for the municipality to review. “We officials must use this influence to get Madison Square Garden to treat New Yorkers with the respect and dignity we all deserve.”

James Dolan's facial recognition policy may force Madison Square Garden to find a new location

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