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A project to convert the city's main post office on Eighth Avenue into a new Penn Station got a big boost Monday with an infusion of $160 million in federal loans.

The loans will provide critical funding for the project, which has been endorsed by preservationists and city officials as a way of reclaiming some of the splendor of the old Penn Station that was demolished 36 years ago.

President Clinton in May declared his support for the redevelopment of the 1.4 million-square-foot James A. Farley Post Office into a massive transportation hub with access to Amtrak's high-speed trains, commuter and subway rails as well as airports, buses and taxis.

The expansion and renovation of the Farley building is slated to begin next year and be completed in 2003.

Charles A. Gargano, state commissioner of Economic Development and chairman of the Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corporation, said the loans "will make it possible to attract significant participation from the private sector, both from bond investors and developers interested in the project's significant potential in the retail sector."

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