Mayor’s delay threatens W.T.C. redevelopment

By David Stanke

The latest skirmish in the struggle for control of the World Trade Center site is sailing under the radar of public awareness. Finally, after four years, the self-appointed leader of W.T.C. redevelopment has stepped forward in both words and action, presumably to rescue his legacy. But Governor Pataki’s failure to more determinedly hold the course in the past has opened the door for a contender with a very different view of Downtown. The real battle for the future of Lower Manhattan is shaping up between Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg.

Discussions about the W.T.C. are now phrased in tactics, market rates, and square feet, but visions, concepts and ideals are still at stake. A process that was supposed to be publicly driven has become a toss up between two public officials who are not responsible primarily to Downtown and who will not face re-election for their current offices.

Liberty Bonds are the primary tool to drive these competing visions. These bonds are government-subsidized loans intended to stimulate recovery through private investments. Just over $4.5 billion of Liberty Bonds have been approved and almost $3.5 billion remains. Bonds have unconscionably gone to projects in Brooklyn, Queens, and Midtown as well as the broader Downtown area. It is generally agreed that the remaining funds should be spent at or near the W.T.C. site. What they should be spent on and who they should be awarded to are still open questions.

If the Liberty Bonds are committed to Silverstein Properties quickly, final planning for the site can be completed and full-scale construction can move forward. If they are not, there will be further negotiations and delays as plans are questioned and new players are evaluated.

Governor Pataki stepped up as a leader of redevelopment at the recent announcement naming Lord Norman Foster as the architect for Silverstein’s second W.T.C. tower. He detailed the projects currently underway and explained how they create the infrastructure to support a commercial center of national and international significance. He emphasized the importance of rebuilding quickly. For the first time in four years, I saw a leader fit for handling the rebuilding with a positive vision for Downtown that was matched with actions.

Governor Pataki put weight behind his words by dedicating his share the bonds to Larry Silverstein for redevelopment of lost office space. He has asked the Port Authority and Silverstein to resolve outstanding issues within 90 days. Issues include control over commercial buildings 3 and 4 (which the P.A. wants), the division of infrastructure costs between Silverstein and the P.A., and the retail configuration between Church and Greenwich Sts. The problems are solvable.

On the commercial future for the site, Mayor Bloomberg speaks theoretically about other uses and “determining what the marketplace wants,” as he told this newspaper in a recent interview. While Bloomberg planned to build 30 million square feet of office space just last year by the West Side Stadium, he clearly believes that N.Y.C. does not need 10 million on a $2 billion transportation hub at the W.T.C. Since Silverstein is obliged to build office space with his insurance proceeds, Bloomberg challenges Silverstein’s role on the site.

Bloomberg is withholding the bonds pending resolution of issues with Silverstein. One issue is Silverstein’s ability to build the office buildings (that Bloomberg doesn’t want) quickly. Unfortunately, the Port Authority, not Silverstein, controls preparation of the site for development, so Silverstein cannot guarantee start or completion dates. Bloomberg also wants Silverstein to take lower development fees, but rapid development would presumably require higher fees.

Bloomberg obviously has an alternative and unstated plan for the W.T.C. At this stage, if he can’t state it, everyone dedicated to Downtown should be afraid of it. The hesitation to commit funds and lack of clearly stated vision for the site make him a dangerous steward of these federal funds and a great risk to the future of Downtown. Why Downtown redevelopment of actual property destroyed by foreign terrorists should be held up while Liberty Bonds go to enrich other developers in N.Y.C. is beyond explanation.

Bloomberg should listen carefully to the testimony of Downtown representatives at a recent Liberty Bond hearing. Business and residential representatives (including myself) called for dedication of money to the W.T.C. site and to Silverstein Properties. The conditions recommended were clearly meant to produce a desired result, not to be a deal breaker.

Pataki is the man most likely to stand for the needs of Lower Manhattan. His credibility on the national scene depends on a W.T.C. that is a source of pride for the nation and a vital success in urban planning for Downtown. Bloomberg has very little at stake in the W.T.C. beyond a legacy of park improvements.

The generosity of this nation was given with the trust that the new W.T.C. would make a statement of determination and resilience. We have the obligation to see past the destruction of 9/11 to create the W.T.C. into a place where Americans and the world come to see that this country will not be deterred by terrorism, one that goes about business in the face of adversity. Downtown will never be Midtown. But with the right decisions, it will be better.

David Stanke lives and writes in Downtown Manhattan. His e-mail is

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