In the days before he hanged himself, it was the clock that kept Michael Evans up at night.
President of the public-private consortium, Moynihan Station Development Corp., Evans, 40, had already spent the better part of his professional career working on the conversion of the James A. Farley Post Office into the gleaming, light-filled $1.6 billion train hall at Penn Station, which opened Jan. 1.
The Art Deco clock, which is suspended from the center of the 255,000-square-foot waiting area for Amtrak and Long Island Rail Road, was not part of the original renderings for the station. Evans, a handsome Oxford grad who was passionate about public service, was forced to scramble when officials demanded a centerpiece clock with less than a year to go before the monumental project’s scheduled completion date, his partner said.
In the last weeks of his life, Evans tortured himself over “material delays” — stone from Italy; switches for the building’s fiber-optic network; light fixtures; LED screens, and “clock progress,” according to a hand-scrawled note found on his desk a day before his March 17 suicide.
Moynihan Hall “could be in jeopardy,” he wrote. “The schedule was very aggressive to begin with.”
But the hall opened on time, nine months after Evan killed himself in the bedroom of his Chelsea home.
The concept for a giant train hall across from Madison Square Garden was born decades ago, when late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan first proposed repurposing the giant post office. Evans began working on the project in 2011, and tried to keep it on budget and on time.
Although outwardly confident and professional, he worried about his future after the project.
“I am trying to set up this funding solution with the ESD head, in a way that if it doesn’t work out, I can plausibly just say to him I have to resign because I cannot continue to sign change orders for things we will not be able to pay for,” he wrote in a March 4 text, referring to Eric Gertler, president of Empire State Development, one of his bosses. “I have let him know repeatedly that we have to make it happen to cover all these additional costs.”
Michael Joseph Evans was born on March 11, 1980, in Cali, Colombia. He moved to Dallas with his mother when he was 4 months old to join his civil-servant father, according to his obituary in the Dallas Morning News.
His mother was a devout Catholic, and had Evans baptized and confirmed in Dallas, and enrolled him in several small church schools. The obituary says he went to boarding school at St. Andrews School in Middletown, Delaware, where the movie “Dead Poets Society” was filmed in the late 1980s.
His parents scraped together the funds to send him to the private school — a sacrifice Evans never forgot, a friend told The Post. He went on to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania on a wrestling scholarship, although he completed his undergraduate degree in history at the University of Sydney in Australia. He earned a master’s degree in international relations from Oxford University in 2005, according to his LinkedIn page.
In New York, he began a career in state government in the administration of Gov. David Paterson, becoming special assistant for infrastructure and economic development in 2007. Friends say he was passionate about public works and creating ways to make cities more livable, and in his spare time pored over books by journalists Jane Jacobs and Robert Caro. In 2009, he became chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch. By 2011, he was appointed deputy director of the Moynihan Station Development Corp., and became president of the public-private consortium to build the station in 2013.
“Michael was a dreamer,” said Brian Lutz, his longtime partner who met Evans when they were both students at Oxford. “He believed in public service and the possibilities that it presented to do great things for humanity. He was fascinated with public space. He also believed in the goodness in people.”
Lutz said that delays and potential cost overruns dominated the last two weeks of his life, even as the couple took a ski vacation in Austria to celebrate Evans’ birthday shortly before his death. The couple scrambled to return to New York after many countries went into coronavirus lockdown. “He was constantly worried that he was going to be scapegoated,” he said. “We constantly talked about how to manage it.”
While Lutz said his partner had no history of mental illness, friends and colleagues said Evans had difficulties with his family over his lifestyle choices. He had never openly discussed with his parents that he was in a relationship with a man, friends said. While the obituary mentions numerous relatives in Colombia and the US, it leaves out Lutz, who was his romantic partner for more than 16 years.
When Cuomo and Gertler unveiled Moynihan Hall on Dec. 31, Lutz publicly lashed out at the governor. “He died by suicide … after being terrorized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” read one of the tweets that Lutz has since deleted.
But the governor — who had met with Evans in group meetings five times in three years, according to his official schedule — acknowledged the magnificence of the new public space and Evans’ contribution. “This is a work of art in a way we don’t build anymore: it’s almost too ambitious, it’s almost too beautiful, it’s almost too breathtaking, to think that we could do this,” Cuomo said at the ribbon-cutting for the hall last month, thanking Evans, “who really put his heart and soul into this project.”
The massive project, which had faced starts and stops over the nearly 30 years after Moynihan first proposed it, was finally completed with no cost overruns.
“He had a level of calm and confidence,” said one of the sources of Evans. “He was a perfectionist and a professional who always conveyed a sense of having everything under control.”
Gertler also reserved special praise for Evans in public comments at the unveiling: “He was smart, dedicated, detail-oriented,” he said. “We will forever think of him when we step foot in this hall.”
In recognition of his hard work on the project, members of the project team affixed a small plaque honoring Evans for his vision and leadership on a marble pillar. It reads “In memory of Michael Joseph Evans, President of Moynihan Station Development Corp. Leader Visionary Friend.” The view of the plaque is blocked by a temporary hand-sanitizing station.
Evans would not live to see the completion of his life’s work.
“I have tried to make Moynihan beautiful and get done ahead of schedule,” he wrote in an undated, hand-scrawled note found addressed to one of his work colleagues in his room shortly after his suicide. “But I got out over my skis. I have been grappling with how to fix. But I cannot. I am sorry I failed you and Eric and the governor’s team. Try to forgive me someday if you can.”